Prepping for a barbecue is a time-consuming task. You know you should keep your ingredients refrigerated as long as possible, but that gets tricky if you’re seasoning a large batch of wings. How long can raw chicken sit out before you should start worrying whether it’s still safe?
How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out?
Don’t allow raw chicken to sit out for any longer than 2 hours, or 1 hour in hot weather. The chicken won’t be safe to eat if it’s exposed to warmer temps for too long. On a related note, try to cook the chicken on the same day you bring it home.
Why You Need To Know
Food safety is always important, but when it comes to raw poultry, it’s critical. That’s because bacteria multiply at a rapid pace at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
In fact, this is the case whether the meat is raw or cooked, as we’ll explore later. The window between 40 and 140 degrees is called the danger zone because meat can only be held at these temps for so long before it becomes unsafe to eat.
What will happen if you eat the chicken anyway? Possibly nothing, but there’s a definite risk of food poisoning. Common food-borne illnesses include salmonella, e. coli, and campylobacter, among others. The symptoms of these diseases can range from mild to life-threatening, which is why preventative measures are so important.
How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out and Still Be Safe?
Raw chicken should not be left out of the refrigerator for any longer than 2 hours. When the temperature outside exceeds 90 degrees, put the meat back in the fridge after 1 hour.
As we mentioned, you should follow this rule even when the chicken is cooked. Although it’s fine to eat chicken that’s cooled to room temperature, if it stays that way for longer than 2 hours, it’s more likely to harbor the bacteria that cause food poisoning.
Does It Help To Cover The Chicken?
If you wrap raw chicken in plastic or keep it in an airtight container, it will be safe from airborne particles—for example, if someone coughs nearby.
However, covering the meat won’t prevent bacteria from multiplying. It doesn’t matter how tightly the meat is wrapped—if it’s been left out for longer than 2 hours, you’ll need to discard it.
When the meat is in the refrigerator, that’s another story. In this case, wrapping the raw chicken can keep it from drying out. If it’s well-sealed and kept on a lower shelf toward the rear of the fridge, you could extend its shelf life by several hours.
How Long Will Raw Chicken Last In The Fridge?
Don’t plan on keeping fresh raw chicken in the fridge for longer than 2 days. We recommend cooking it off within a day if possible.
If you’re running out of time, consider putting the meat in the freezer instead. It will keep indefinitely as long as the freezer temp is 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below. It’s preferable to thaw and cook the chicken within 9 months, though. A longer storage period might have a negative impact on the texture.
Remember: Even if you won’t be able to eat it right away, you can buy yourself time by cooking the chicken off. Once the meat is cooked, it can keep for up to 4 days in the fridge. You can always freeze the cooked chicken afterward if you still can’t manage to work it into your meal plans.
Will Raw Chicken Stay Fresh Longer If It’s Marinated?
While most marinades contain acidic ingredients that can act as preservatives for certain foods, they don’t extend the shelf life of raw chicken. Regardless of whether the meat is marinated, you should cook it off within 2 days.
In fact, it’s a bad idea to leave chicken in marinade for any longer than 24 hours. We actually prefer a 4- to 6-hour marinating period when it comes to poultry. When you marinate chicken for too long, the acid will start to break down the meat’s fibers, which will make it mushy once it’s cooked.
Can You Tell If The Chicken Has Gone Bad?
Spoiled meat has several distinguishing characteristics. The texture might be slimy or sticky, or it could be grayish-white instead of pink. It will usually give off an unpleasant odor, similar to rotten eggs. There might even be patches of mold growing on the surface.
However, the meat doesn’t have to have these characteristics in order to contain dangerous bacteria. It might look, feel, and smell fine, but it could still cause food poisoning if it’s left unrefrigerated for too long. That’s why you should always discard any raw meat product that’s been left out for longer than two hours.
Tips On Handling Raw Chicken
When purchasing raw chicken, keep a plastic bag on hand. That way, you can double-wrap the package before putting it in your cart. The packaging tends to leak, which means the raw juices could contaminate other items.
Before and after you handle the meat, wash your hands thoroughly. Use warm, soapy water and scrub for at least 20 seconds.
Don’t be tempted to rinse the raw chicken. This could cause raw juices to splash all over your sink and countertops.
Use a cutting board made of a non-porous material, such as plastic. Chicken juices can seep into the fibers of a wood cutting board, so it’s impossible to tell if the surface has been fully sanitized or not. Avoid glass if you’re planning on using a knife to prep the chicken, as this could dull the blade.
Use separate utensils for handling raw and cooked chicken. Don’t put cooked meat on any surface that’s been used for raw product unless you’ve washed it thoroughly in between.
Wash all cutting boards and utensils in a hot, soapy sink as soon as possible.
Disinfect countertops after prepping raw chicken.
Always cook chicken to at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’re making chicken thighs, wait until the internal temp registers 180 degrees. An instant-read thermometer is the best tool to use when testing the temperature.
Although 2 hours represents the outer limit in terms of food safety, we try to keep raw chicken in the fridge as long as possible. Don’t take it out until you’re ready to use a seasoning rub or put it in a marinade. As soon as you’ve finished the prep, put it back in the fridge until you’re ready to start cooking.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!