When my time is limited, I tend to forget many things especially when I am multitasking. It often happens when I am cooking. That is why as much as possible, I want all the ingredients ready long before the event. However, I always follow proper storage rules, especially for poultry.
Just how long can a chicken sit out unrefrigerated? Whether you are thawing or not, chicken meat is vulnerable to contamination by harmful bacteria. Hence, I take extra precaution on the temperature and time when cooking.
Safety Must Come First
Proper handling and storage of poultry products, may it be raw or cooked, must be taken seriously to avoid health problems for you and your family. Poultry is one source that gives fatal food-borne illness worldwide. Poisonous bacteria are hard to kill especially they have spread and penetrated the meat too far.
Salmonella and Campylobacter are the number one health risk that is associated with chicken. Diarrhea is usually the first obvious symptom, and the infection that would follow could be fatal. Hence, observance of proper food handling and storage is of importance.
In general, packing and keeping it the right way is the key to extend your food’s shelf life. Let me break down to you the factors that you should consider before determining how long your chicken can sit out.
Temperature is an essential factor when it comes to the food’s shelf life. Bacteria thrives between 40 deg. F and 140 deg. F and multiplies fast. They are desperate to survive, so expect them breeding in your food. Now you know why the fridge’s temperature must always be below 40 deg. F and food steamers keep it beyond 140 deg. F.
Hence, anywhere near that temperature is already borderline. Bacteria contaminates your chicken as soon as you set it aside on the table.
How long can a chicken sit out unrefrigerated? Knowing that bacteria multiplies fast at every 20 minutes (I read about it in some forum), imagine them spreading and feeding with your chicken in time. Clearly, the longer it stays, the quicker it will spoil.
I am actually guilty on this before I learned the proper food handling at home. I thought that as long as I will cook (165 deg. F) the chicken later, it would be all right. However, do you know that the higher the level of bacteria in the chicken before cooking, the more remains after? This is utterly a health hazard considering that some bacteria release toxins that are fatal even after destroying them.
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How long can a chicken sit out unrefrigerated?
It does not matter if the chicken is raw or cooked; it is acceptable to set aside a chicken unrefrigerated for a maximum of two hours.If the temperature is more than 90 deg. F, one hour is the safest. Regardless what the state of the chicken is, the two-hour rule is always applicable. Meaning, there is no exemption to the rule whether you are thawing the chicken at room temperature or just a freshly bought meat waiting for your cooking.
On the other hand, chicken that has been sitting out under the heat of the sun is another case. Especially during summer days when barbecues are a hit, we find raw chicken cuts waiting for the grill. Do not leave your chicken meat longer than an hour under the heat of the sun and cook it right away. Therefore, it is better to keep your meat cool and out of the sun until it’s grilling time!
Therefore, make sure to take note of the time when thawing chicken or simply to set it aside especially during warmer days. I suggest keeping an indoor thermometer to know the room temperature accurately. Learn how to use a food thermometer to monitor the temperature of your dishes as well. A food thermometer is a vital tool in controlling bacteria.
How to know if the chicken is already spoiled?
Unless it already took long hours, you cannot tell if the chicken is already spoiled. Hence, if you are not sure how long it has been set aside, I find it safe to throw it out. Otherwise, take note that a spoiled chicken (left out for almost a day unrefrigerated) will look greyish in color instead of the pink meat. Besides, it will also smell sour or ammonia-like especially during the cooking.
There are several ways wherein you can prolong the shelf life of your chicken outside the fridge. You can follow these tips to prevent spoilage even if you let it sit longer than 2 hours.
- Thaw it at room temperature but place it inside a bowl full of ice cubes.
- If it is a cooked chicken, it is safe to let it sit out inside as long as you keep it warm. You may want to invest in buying food warmers then.
Here is a video about how to choose fresh chicken:
How to thaw chicken meat the right way?
Before I learned about the risk of bacterial contamination, I used to defrost my frozen chicken over the kitchen counter until it’s completely thawed. Now I know that I have been putting my family at risk.
Sometimes, I leave the frozen chicken over the kitchen counter, and when it’s almost thawed, I put it inside the fridge. This way, it will defrost fast but will not give time for bacteria to spread (so that is what I thought). I do this when I cook the chicken later within the day. Now, not anymore. I never knew that even though the center of the chicken is still frozen, the outer layer of the food is already swarming with bacteria.
When I am in a hurry, the microwave is always the choice. Take note that microwave heats unevenly and can create hot spots. A condition that bacteria will really love. Remember to choose the microwave method only if you are going to cook the food right away.
Nevertheless, the best way is to thaw it in the fridge. The fridge temperature is always safe. Do you know that after thawing your chicken in the fridge, it will extend the shelf life into another day or two before cooking?
Here is what to do:
Just transfer the chicken meat from the freezer to the fridge and leave it there. This method takes longer than the others do. If you do not have the time to wait that long, just place chicken meat in a bowl under cold running water. This method would only take 30 minutes to an hour to thaw.
Food safety tips:
- When in doubt, throw it!
- Let your chicken sit out in a clean area.
- Separate your raw meat from other types of food.
- Do not rinse your raw chicken meat. It will not remove the bacteria but the other way around. You can only destroy raw meat bacteria by cooking it through a safe internal temperature.
- When shopping, pick poultry the last. This way, it will not be sitting out for a long time in your cart while you are looking for other grocery items.
- Buy chicken meat from a store that places their raw meat in a cooler or refrigerator. Never buy from a marketplace that lets the meat sit on a counter under room temperature until it sells.
- Use separate cutting boards for meat, vegetables, and fruits.
How long can a chicken sit out? I have emphasized that temperature and time are the major factors in determining how long your chicken will stay safe. Remember that the acceptable length of time that raw meat remains unrefrigerated is 2 hours. You can apply some techniques to prolong the shelf life, but I suggest cooking it right away.
Playing safe is much better than putting our health at risk. It is better to practice the right way of food handling and storage to prevent illness. I encourage you to share this article with your friends. If you have more queries, you can drop comments, and let us talk about it.
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