If you have frozen raw chicken in the fridge and want to cook it today, you must keep it out to thaw. Now the question is, for how long can raw chicken sit out?
Raw chicken generally can sit out for around an hour and below 40°F (4°C). And keeping it out for too long at a higher temperature will result in bacterial contamination.
To understand this further, let us check out the science behind spoilt chicken and how to preserve it.
|Stored at Outdoor temperature (More than 32 degrees Celsius)
|Stored at Room Temperature (Less than 32 degrees Celsius)
|Stored in the Freezer ( 0 degrees Fahrenheit)
|Less than an hour
|1 to 2 hours
|More than a Month
Factors That Keep Chicken Fresh for an Hour Outside
Now you might wonder why a fraction of a change in the room’s temperature can affect raw chicken’s freshness. Thankfully, some crucial factors help determine how long raw chicken stays fresh outside the fridge.
When you keep the raw chicken out for too long, it attracts the growth of life-threatening bacteria like:
- E. coli
- Staphylococcus aureus, etc.
These bacteria multiply rapidly when you keep the raw chicken out to thaw at any temperature above 40°F (4°C) for longer than an hour. So if your room temperature is too warm, you risk food poisoning by letting the chicken sit out for too long.
The Chicken’s Quality
Many of us prefer buying foods on sale as they help save money. But doing the same for meats is never a good idea. If you buy frozen chicken a day or two back and keep it out to cook, it will spoil soon enough
This is because fresh chicken stays fresh longer at room temperature than pre-frozen or old chicken. If the chicken smells funny when you let it stay out, it had begun spoiling before you purchased it.
Fresh chicken tastes better, is healthier, and is safer to cook for yourself and your family!
Where and how you keep your raw chicken out also determines the freshness of the meat.
For example, if you let the raw chicken thaw out in a dirty and humid kitchen, it will go stale in no time. Similarly, if the meat stays out without any cover under warm temperatures, it encourages rapid bacterial growth.
A clean environment and sealed containment are the best ways to ensure your thawed chicken is fresh and contamination free. So before you bring the chicken out to un-freeze, clean your kitchen and prepare a lidded bowl for the meat to stay fresh.
Sealed meat in a clean environment is the safest to cook.
How to Tell if Raw Chicken Is Spoilt?
You must detect the raw chicken’s freshness before you prep and cook it. And if the chicken seems stale, there are ways to determine it immediately.
The following are easy and safe steps, so there is no need to worry about any health risks:
The Chicken’s Texture
If your chicken feels firm to the touch, it is fresh. Stale raw chicken has a repulsive texture. It is slimy, moldy, and sticky to the touch.
While fresh chicken is supple and slippery, stale ones are soft and often dry in some areas. Always wear clean, sterilized gloves when detecting raw chicken’s freshness so the bacteria does not touch your skin.
The Raw Meat’s Surface Color
Fresh raw chicken has a light pink color on the white meat portions (wings and breasts) and dark-ish pink for the dark meat (drumsticks and thighs.) And all the fatty parts have a whitish hue.
Any other color on the chicken signifies that it is not suitable for consumption. But keep in mind that fresh chicken’s color also changes when it freezes. The surface has a lighter color than usual.
However, not all frozen chickens are fresh. Various departmental stores thaw and re-freeze chicken to make sales. These packages have fluid stains inside and are unhealthy to eat. So always buy fresh chicken.
Package Expiry Date
All products come with an expiry date. So if you buy frozen chicken, check for the expiry or “best before” date. Now it is rare for stores to sell meats past their expiry dates.
So buy meat with the farthest expiry date to bag the freshest produce. That way, you can store it for longer and cook it anytime before the last date of freshness to enjoy a healthy meal.
The Smell of Meat
All meat smell strange when raw, but rotten chicken emits a disgusting odor. If you left your raw chicken out for too long, and the room smells of rotten eggs, the meat has become stale.
It is a sour and foul stench, which can make anyone feel sick. In such cases, dispose of the meat altogether.
The Risk of Eating Contaminated Raw Chicken
When raw meat is left out for too long, it creates an ideal environment where harmful bacteria multiply rapidly. These bacteria exist naturally on the surface of the meat and can thrive when not refrigerated promptly or not handled appropriately.
The primary risk associated with eating such contaminated meats is food-borne illnesses that stem from bacterial overgrowth in time, which could present digestive issues ranging from mild to severe symptoms. Common examples are diagnosed due to exposure to contaminated uncooked chicken bacteria such as pathogens like Salmonella, E.coli, and Listeria among many others.
These micro-organisms cause feverish-like symptoms targeted at multiple organs including:
- Stomach cramps
- Heavy sweating
In situations where you suspect your chicken has been left out for a prolonged period, experts advised discarding them immediately as “prevention” might be better than cure!
Best Preserving Techniques to Keep Raw Chicken Fresh
If you properly preserve your chicken, it helps it stay fresh and healthy for longer. No one likes to work with stinky, slimy, and stale meat.
|Meat Shelf Life
|More than a Month
|6 Month to a Year
So here are some ways to preserve raw chicken so it doesn’t go stale when kept at room temperature:
Most of us like to marinate chicken for a day before cooking it for a robust flavor profile. Airtight glass jars come in handy in these moments.
Canned chicken can last about 5-7 days if you take the correct procedure. To preserve in jars, cut off the fatty portions and store them in an airtight jar. When preserving raw pieces, do not add any liquid inside the container.
Keep the pieces boned in, as the boned portions stay canned longer. You can refrigerate these and cook them without worrying about stale chicken pieces.
Freezing Sealed Chicken
Freezing chicken helps to preserve its shelf life. But you must freeze them properly. For example, if you keep chicken without any covers, it will be unsafe to eat.
On the other hand, sealing the chicken before refrigeration prevents exposure to air and contaminants. Hence, sealed containers are perfect to freeze-store chicken.
They are airtight, sturdy, and moisture-proof. And they work best when you place them in the coldest part of your freezer.
While sealed freezing helps lock moisture, dehydrating chunks of raw meat helps remove it altogether. This way, no bacteria can grow on the meat and spoil it.
Dehydration is one of the best ways to preserve perishable food items from spoiling too soon. However, this process needs you to pre-cook the chicken pieces before dehydrating them.
Doing so helps keep the chicken at an average temperature without risking salmonella. For this, you can use electric dehydrators. The dry pieces are easy-to-store in airtight, sealed food-grade bags for days.
Can I keep the raw chicken out for 4 hours?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests keeping raw chicken at room temperature for more than 2 hours That is also under favorable cold temperatures.
If your room temperature is around 90°F (32°C), that is optimum for just one hour.
I left the raw chicken out all night. Is it safe to cook?
Raw chicken kept out of the freezer for too long is a health hazard. In such moments, it is best to throw it away. Cook fresh instead, and ensure safety precautions while dumping stale meat.
What is the most unsafe temperature zone for raw chicken?
Do not keep your chicken out for too long within temperatures 40°F to 140°F (4.4°C to 60°C.) Time your thawing process to stay within 1 hour to remain within the food safety zone. A few minutes more and your meat can have rapid bacterial formation.
Can I kill harmful bacteria?
If you are worried that your raw chicken has bacteria, cook till the meat pieces reach 165°F (73.8°C.) The meat becomes hot enough to kill Salmonella and make the chicken safe to consume.
You can use a kitchen-grade food thermometer to check the chunks’ temperature while cooking.
Can heat kill all foodborne bacteria?
While high temperatures can kill Salmonella, Staphylococcus and Bacillus cereus do not die to heat. These bacteria spread toxins that hot temperatures cannot kill.
Hence, if you feel the chicken has gone stale, it is best to discard it for your safety.
How safe is raw chicken stored without a fridge?
If you do not have a fridge or have a power outage, you have to wash and dry out the chicken and store it in a cool, dry place. Make sure that place has no insects or dust build-up for optimum safety.
Of course, this is only possible if you live in a place with a predominantly cold climate. Do not try this if you live somewhere warm or hot.
All in all, you can keep the raw chicken out of the fridge for around an hour, but never more than that. You need to ensure the room’s temperature is cool and below 40°F (4°C) so that the heat does not cause bacterial contamination.
As long as you follow the safety guidelines for thawing raw chicken, no need to worry about its freshness.
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken Scratch The Foundry.