How Long Can Raw Chicken Sit Out? Essential Guidelines for Safe Handling

Ellisha Rader Mannering

Written by: Ellisha Rader Mannering

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How long can raw chicken sit out

If you are someone who loves to cook new dishes and experiment in the kitchen, you might often use chicken in different recipes. But do you know how long can fresh raw chicken be left out safely?

Knowing the guidelines for properly handling and storing raw chicken is essential to avoid foodborne illness. As a savvy cook, you want to ensure your meals are delicious and safe. 

In this article, I’ll explain how long you can leave raw chicken to sit out and the factors that affect its safety.

Chicken is usually handled in three forms in any household. I will discuss all these separately so there isn’t any confusion about their safe handling. These three forms are:

  • Fresh raw chicken
  • Cooked chicken
  • Frozen chicken

How long can you safely leave raw chicken sit outside?

The duration you can leave the raw chicken meat out depends upon the room temperature. On average, this is around 2 hours for raw chicken.

As mentioned above, the temperature range from 40°F to 140°F (4°C to 60°C) is considered dangerous for food safety. Microorganisms rapidly multiply between these temperatures and spoil the food. It makes the food left out for longer periods unsuitable for consumption.

How long can you safely leave raw chicken sit outside

If the room temperature is slightly above 4°C, leaving the uncooked chicken out for about 2 hours is safe. However, this allowance reduces to 1 hour if the temperature is near 32°C.

Some people have a misconception that marinating chicken increases its shelf life. However, there aren’t many studies to support this claim. So if you prepare raw chicken using a marinade, keep it in the fridge overnight or for up to two days and ensure it is cooked properly within this time.

How long can you leave cooked chicken sit out?

Usually, cooked food has different safe sitting out times. However, this time for raw and cooked chicken is the same, i.e., 2 hours maximum at average room temperature.

If you are going for a long road trip or planning a picnic, you might wonder how long cooked chicken will be safe to eat.

With an average 32°C temperature, 1 hour is the maximum sit-out time for cooked chicken. Refrigerate cooked leftovers within 1 hour to prevent the growth of bacteria.

How long can you leave cooked chicken sit out

Plus, it is essential to store cooked chicken in airtight containers and keep it in the fridge or freezer to maintain its quality and safety.

Sometimes you are unsure how long cooked chicken has been left out, or you suspect it has been left out for more than an hour. In such cases, it is better to discard and not consume it to be safe.

How long can frozen chicken sit out at room temperature?

Have you ever taken the frozen raw chicken out of the freezer and left it to thaw overnight on your kitchen counter?

I did it once only to realize that it’s been out for almost 12 hours, and I wasn’t going to cook it for another 2 hours.

It got me thinking, what is the maximum time you can leave frozen chicken out before it gets bad?

How long can frozen chicken sit out at room temperature

Because the frozen chicken is rock solid, you might think you can leave it out longer. It is somewhat true, but you don’t actually have too much choice. First, you need to thaw the chicken and then determine how long it can stay out!

Unfortunately, the same two-hour rule applies to thawed chicken. The longest time you can leave it out is two hours on average after its internal temperature reaches 4°C (check using a food thermometer). I use this instant-read digital meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of thawing poultry.

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So, it is better to thaw your chicken as quickly as possible. Follow the proper procedures and take all the precautions to avoid bacterial contamination. Once it is thawed, cook it immediately to kill bacteria that become active once again as the frozen chicken reaches room temperature.

How do I safely thaw frozen chicken?

Thawing chicken calls for the same precautions as for handling raw chicken. You must follow all the guidelines, as you can easily cross-contaminate if you are not careful.

You can safely thaw chicken using the following three methods at your convenience. These simple tips will ensure that your cooked foods are safe to eat.

1. In the fridge

You can leave the frozen chicken inside the fridge to thaw overnight with the least intervention.

It is the best way to thaw chicken if you remember to take it out the night before you plan on cooking it (something that I forget most of the time!).

Thawing chicken in the fridge is the safest method. A constant ideal temperature doesn’t awaken dangerous bacteria in the frozen chicken. However, depending on the size of the poultry, it can take more time than just one night.

This method allows you to leave the thawed chicken inside the fridge for up to 2 days. Also, it’s safe to refreeze it within this time if you change your cooking plans.

2. In a cold water bath

It is my go-to method of thawing frozen chicken. I leave the frozen chicken in a container full of cold water while changing the water every half an hour until the chicken is fully thawed.

Be careful not to use warm or room temperature water as it puts the chicken in the temperature danger zone.

Thawing chicken in a cold water bath

Also, cook the chicken instantly, and don’t refreeze it if you thaw it using a cold bath.

3. In the microwave

It is not my most desirable option, but it is a safe thawing method. You can use defrost option in your microwave or use the lowest heating power to thaw your chicken.

Remember not to use full heating power for thawing as it will cook the chicken from the outside while the inside will still be frozen.

Also, ensure this chicken is cooked without delay as it is already exposed to heat. Refreezing this thawed chicken is also not advisable.

What are the signs of rotten poultry?

Without refrigerators, perishable food such as chicken or raw meat has a limited shelf life.

If chicken is not handled, stored, or cooked correctly, it can spoil and become unsafe for consumption.

Here are some telltale signs that may indicate that the chicken has gone bad. Knowing these signs will help you avoid buying rotten chicken or spoiled meat.

  • Smell – A strong, unpleasant odor is one of the most common signs of rotten chicken meat. It may be spoiled if you smell sour, rancid, or ammonia-like odor.
  • Change in appearance – Chicken should be pink or light brown. It may be spoiled if it appears gray, greenish, or has any color change.
  • Slimy texture – Fresh chicken should feel firm and not slimy or sticky. If the chicken feels slippery or slimy, it may be spoiled.
  • The expiration date on the packaging – Always check the expiration date on the chicken packaging. Eating the chicken may be unsafe if it is past its expiration date.

Here is an informative video that will answer most of your questions regarding signs of safe-to-eat chicken:

Frequently Asked Questions

Can raw chicken sit out for 3 hours?

We have already discussed that you should not leave the raw or cooked chicken out for more than two hours maximum. Using raw chicken left out on the counter outside the fridge for 3 hours or more is not wise.

If the weather is hot or the ambient room temperature is more than 32°F, the sit-out time limit is 1 hour. This is because higher temperatures provide perfect conditions for fast bacterial growth.

So, don’t use raw chicken left out for 4 hours or raw chicken left out for 6 hours to avoid the risk of any foodborne illness.

What happens if you eat spoiled chicken?

If you eat chicken left out for too long, you may experience food poisoning. Poisoning can happen due to bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Listeria that can grow on chicken that has gone bad.

The symptoms of food poisoning from spoiled chicken may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Fever and chills
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration

How long can you keep raw chicken in the refrigerator?

Although cooking chicken fresh after buying is the best option, USDA allows the fresh chicken to be stored in the fridge for 1-2 days. However, proper food handling is essential to prevent bacteria growth.

Some points to consider when preparing raw chicken for storage are:

  • Ensure that the fridge temperature is below 4°C.
  • Don’t take the chicken out of its original packing or wash it when storing it in the fridge. Doing so can spread bacteria around the kitchen.
  • Leave the chicken in the coldest part of the fridge, usually at the back of the bottom shelf. It will keep the chicken fresh for longer.
How long can you keep raw chicken in the refrigerator

How long can you leave raw chicken in the freezer?

According to the USDA guidelines, you can leave raw chicken pieces in the freezer without concern for up to nine months and whole raw chicken for 12 months. However, for the best quality and taste, it is recommended to use frozen chicken within 6 to 9 months.

To ensure that raw chicken stays safe and maintains its quality while in the freezer, it is essential to store it properly. Here are some tips:

  • Wrap the chicken in plastic wrap, freezer bag, or aluminum foil to prevent frost burn and avoid exposure to air.
  • Label the package with the freezing date to track how long it has been stored in the freezer.
  • Store the chicken at 0°F (-18°C) or lower to maintain its quality and safety.
Can you refreeze thawed chicken

Can you refreeze thawed chicken?

Many people ask if it is safe to refreeze chicken once it is thawed. USDA advises against refreezing thawed chicken, which can affect its texture and flavor.

Refreezing chicken that has been thawed and left at room temperature is not a good practice. It can allow bacteria to multiply even more, increasing the chances of food poisoning.

If you have thawed chicken that you do not plan to use, it is best to cook it and then freeze the cooked chicken instead. This way, you can ensure that the chicken remains safe and does not go to waste.

If you need to refreeze thawed chicken, it is crucial to do so immediately after thawing. But ensure the chicken has been kept at a safe temperature throughout the process. 

How long can you leave raw chicken in the freezer

Of all three thawing methods, the chicken thawed in the fridge is most suitable for refreezing. You can refreeze this chicken within 2 days if it has been in the fridge the whole time.

To ensure the safety and quality of your chicken, it is always best to plan ahead and only thaw the amount of chicken you need for a specific meal.


In conclusion, understanding how long can chicken be left out is crucial for ensuring its safety and quality.

The USDA recommends that raw and cooked chicken not be put at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Also, it should be refrigerated or frozen promptly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Follow these simple guidelines to safely store raw chicken in the freezer for an extended period. Also, I recommend using this handy digital kitchen thermometer to check the internal temperature when thawing or cooking chicken.

Please comment and share your query if you have any questions or need any explanation. I will be most happy to help!

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Ellisha Rader Mannering
About The Author
Ellisha has been writing about food for over 15 years. When she isn’t writing she enjoys traveling, spending time with her family, and coaching baton twirling.

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