Chicken is one of the most popular types of meat that people consume globally. It is a great source of protein and often a part of many meals in different cultures. But, how long can you leave cooked chicken in the fridge? This question is essential to make sure that you and your family are safe from any potential foodborne illnesses. In this article, we will provide you with a handy guide to help you understand everything you need to know about storing cooked chicken safely in the refrigerator.
The Importance of Storing Cooked Chicken Safely
The first and foremost reason for storing cooked chicken safely in the refrigerator has to do with food safety. When you store food outside of the right temperature range, you create an environment where harmful bacteria can grow. This bacteria can cause foodborne illnesses such as Salmonella or Campylobacter, which can lead to serious health consequences.
Moreover, when you do not store cooked chicken properly, it affects the quality of the food. Over time, the chicken loses moisture and becomes dry and unpleasant to eat. By following the right storage procedure, you can prolong the life of the food and enjoy it when it is still fresh.
How Long Can You Leave Cooked Chicken in the Fridge?
The general rule is that cooked chicken can last up to four days in the refrigerator, assuming it has been stored correctly in an airtight container at a temperature of 40°F or below. The four-day period is a safe guideline that helps you minimize the risks of harmful bacteria growth. However, after this period, the food may still be edible, but there is a high chance that it has lost its quality and flavor.
Factors that Affect the Shelf-Life of Cooked Chicken in the Fridge
Initial Cooked Temperature
The temperature at which the chicken is cooked plays a crucial role in determining how long it can stay in the refrigerator. If you cook the chicken to an internal temperature of 165°F, it lasts much longer than if it was cooked to a lower temperature. The higher the cooked temperature, the lower the chance of bacterial growth and the longer it lasts in the fridge.
The temperature of the refrigerator has a significant impact on how long the cooked chicken lasts. For example, if the temperature is too high, the growth of bacteria may not be entirely slowed down, leading to a faster spoilage of the meat. Always ensure that the temperature stays at 40°F or lower to extend the shelf-life of cooked chicken.
How the chicken was prepared also affects its shelf-life. If the chicken was marinated or seasoned with spices that contain preservatives, it may last longer than a plain, unseasoned chicken. Additionally, cut or ground chicken has a shorter shelf-life than whole pieces of chicken. It is recommended to store cut or ground chicken for only three days compared to four days for whole chicken pieces.
The type of container you store the cooked chicken in also matters. Airtight containers keep the chicken fresh longer because they prevent the ingress of air, moisture, and bacteria. Avoid storing chicken in plastic wrap or aluminum foil as they do not provide the necessary protection against spoilage.
How to Properly Store Cooked Chicken in the Fridge
Storing chicken correctly in the refrigerator is easy and straightforward. Below are some steps to follow to ensure that your cooked chicken stays fresh for as long as possible.
Step 1: Cool the Chicken Immediately After Cooking
Cooling the chicken immediately after cooking and before storing it in the fridge stops the cooking process and prevents bacterial growth. To cool the chicken, place it in a shallow container and place it in the refrigerator for about an hour or until it has cooled completely.
Step 2: Store in an Airtight Container
Storing the chicken in an airtight container helps to prevent bacterial growth and maintain its quality. Glass or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids are the best options for storing cooked chicken in the refrigerator. You can also use a plastic food bag or wrap the chicken, but make sure to wrap it tightly.
Step 3: Label and Date the Container
Labeling and dating the container is important to know how long the cooked chicken has been in the fridge. You can use labels or markers to record the date the chicken was cooked and the date it needs to be used by. This way, you can avoid any confusion regarding the freshness of the chicken.
Step 4: Store the Chicken at the Right Temperature
Refrigerate cooked chicken immediately after it has been stored in an airtight container. Always ensure that the temperature of the refrigerator is below 40°F. Do not store cooked chicken in the fridge door as it is the warmest part of the fridge; instead, place it at the back of the fridge where it is cooler.
How to Tell if the Cooked Chicken is Still Safe to Eat
It is essential to know when the cooked chicken has gone bad and is no longer safe to eat. Below are some signs that the cooked chicken has spoiled:
- The chicken has an off odor
- The meat is slimy or sticky to touch
- The chicken has a grey or greenish tint
- The meat has a sour or acidic taste
If you notice any of the above signs, discard the cooked chicken immediately. Do not taste the chicken as it can make you sick.
Storing cooked chicken safely in the refrigerator is essential to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and preserve its quality. By following the guidelines provided in this article, you can extend the shelf-life of cooked chicken and reduce the risks of foodborne illnesses.
Common Questions and Answers
How long can you keep cooked chicken in the fridge?
According to the USDA, cooked chicken can be stored in the fridge for up to four days. After this period, the food may still be edible, but there is a higher risk of bacterial growth and loss of quality.
How do I know if cooked chicken is spoiled?
The signs that cooked chicken is spoiled include a bad odor, slimy or sticky texture, discoloration, and a sour or acidic taste. If you notice any of these signs, discard the chicken to avoid the risk of foodborne illnesses.
Can I freeze cooked chicken to extend its shelf-life?
Yes, you can freeze cooked chicken to extend its shelf-life. The chicken can be stored in airtight containers or freezer bags and can last up to six months. However, it is recommended to consume the chicken within three months for optimal quality.
Can I reheat cooked chicken?
Yes, you can reheat cooked chicken to make it safe for consumption. The chicken should be reheated to an internal temperature of at least 165°F.
The International Association for Food Protection (IAFP). (2016). Rules and Regulations for the Safe Transport of Meat and Poultry. Retrieved from https://www.foodprotection.org/files/meetings/2016AM/Presentations/EM22_Islam.pdf
USDA. (2021). Safe Minimum Internal Temperature Chart. Retrieved from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-minimum-internal-temperature-chart