Cooked Chicken Left Out Overnight – Safe To Eat Or Not?

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It’s happened to all of us at some point, after everyone fills their stomachs from all the delicious barbecue grub, some food will inevitably become leftovers.

This could be a few burgers, an open tin of hot dogs or even some chicken that we are too full to eat on the day, so we might keep it in the microwave or refrigerator for the next day.

Chicken Left Out Overnight: Should You Throw It Out?

Surely eating it is far better than letting it go bad, right? Well, this is actually a different case for each and every meat. Beef for example can last up to two weeks if stored correctly, while pork is only good for one week.

Chicken however can be a little more complicated since the times vary depending on what kind of chicken it is, and how you store it.

To find out whether that leftover piece of chicken will be safe and nutritious to eat, or how best to store it if you are planning a big barbecue and want none of the food to go to waste, keep reading as we have compiled all the information you need to know to stay safe and healthy.

Is Raw And Cooked Chicken Safe To Leave Overnight?

Is Raw And Cooked Chicken Safe To Leave Overnight?

It is useful to know, when stored properly, which types of chicken can be left overnight, since some should be avoided altogether. Cooked chicken, along with raw chicken, should never be left out at room temperature overnight.  

Raw chicken bought from the store will come already thawed and sealed, so there should be no need to leave it out to thaw.

If the raw chicken has recently been opened, however, and you don’t want to see it go to waste, try putting it in an airtight container and place it at the back of the fridge where it’s the coldest. 

Through this method, raw chicken can be stored for up to a year if done correctly, and is the far better option than to leave it out for bacteria to infect it. 

Cooked chicken is much the same, while it can be out of its packaging a bit longer than raw chicken, if you have no intention of using it in a recipe or eating it very soon once opened, then it must be stored properly to prevent it reaching the danger zone where it will become unfit for human consumption and can cause some nasty side effects. 

How Long Can You Leave Cooked Chicken Sitting Overnight?

If you find that your chicken has been left out on a table or simply under a small cloth overnight or even still on the plate, it should not be consumed the next day in order to avoid potential food poisoning.

The maximum amount of time you can leave a chicken in this state before it needs to be placed in the refrigerator or thrown away is about 2 hours if it is left entirely at room temperature.

If the chicken has been covered by a tea towel or foil overnight, it can protect it from dust or pet hair landing on its surface, however it will not stop bacteria multiplying which can cause an upset stomach in some instances, so never take this as a sign of it being completely safe. 

How To Store Cooked Chicken Overnight

The main rule to always follow with storing cooked meats and especially chicken is to place it in the refrigerator rather than leaving it out at room temperature to allow bacteria to multiply.

This is because the temperature inside the refrigerator is set to a constant 55 degrees C (131 F), whereas outside the refrigerator the temperature fluctuates between 15-25 degrees C (59 – 77 F) making it much easier for bacteria to grow. 

In addition, placing cooked meat in the refrigerator also helps to maintain its color and flavor, allowing you to enjoy it later without having to add any extra seasoning.

So whether you are cooking chicken for dinner tonight or tomorrow night, make sure you store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it.

This way you will be able to eat it cold in sandwiches or salads, or can be reheated to put in a curry or casserole, with the chicken often staying good for about three to four days.

Freezing is also a great option, especially if you are planning to cook a lot of chicken in advance for a party or barbecue. Simply make sure the chicken is thoroughly cooked first, and then place in an airtight container. Once frozen, the chicken can be kept in the freezer for up to six months.

Once you take the chicken out ready for the big day, you will be able to thaw it in the refrigerator overnight ready for you to pull out in the morning.

This way it will be protected from bacteria while also slowly thawing over the course of the day, meaning you will have plenty of time to prepare it before serving.

When To Throw Chicken Out

When To Throw Chicken Out

As mentioned before, it is recommended not to feast on any kinds of chicken that have not been properly stored overnight. If they are not in the refrigerator or frozen, after a few hours the bacteria surrounding them can begin to multiply rapidly, which can lead to food poisoning.

However, there are some other clear indications that chicken should be discarded immediately, some of these include:

• Chicken that smells like rotten eggs

• Chicken with discolored skin

• Chicken looks slimy

• Chicken is leaking liquid

• Chicken appears to have dried out

• Chicken has a foul odor

• Chicken has started to turn green

To avoid getting sick, make sure you discard any chicken that meets these criteria otherwise they could cause some serious health problems.

While it can also be tempting to reheat the chicken and potentially get rid of all that nasty bacteria, this also will not be entirely safe and should be avoided.

The reason is that when food is left out too long, some of the bacteria, like staphylococcus aureus, can form a heat-resistant toxin where they will resist being destroyed by cooking. 

Many of these types of bacteria, also known as staph, can even be located around the human body since they are so hard to remove and get rid of, however they also love multiplying in food so still throw left out chicken away rather than being tempted to reheat it. 


It can always be tempting to just have the occasional nibble on some chicken from the day before or even make some sandwiches as a tasty treat, however chicken can cause some real unhealthy complications if eaten unprotected after a few hours, so it is advised to throw it away.

To avoid this unfortunate issue in the future, always try storing chicken appropriately in the refrigerator or freezer before going to bed.

It takes no time at all and will ensure your chicken is fresh and ready to go whether you want to eat it for breakfast, as part of your afternoon lunch or even as a nice and tasty evening snack.

Julian Wells

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