Can I put warm chicken in the fridge? (How long cooked chicken last in the fridge)

In this article, we answered the following question: Can I put warm chicken in the fridge? We discuss whether we should put cold or hot food in the fridge, and the risks of letting food cool inside or outside the refrigerator. 

Can I put warm chicken in the fridge?

Yes, you can safely refrigerate warm chicken. Allowing food to remain at room temperature for extended periods can foster the growth of harmful bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter, which can lead to foodborne illnesses.

These bacteria thrive most rapidly within the temperature range of 40 °F to 140 °F, often referred to as the ‘Danger Zone,’ where their numbers can double in as little as 20 minutes. One of the primary causes of foodborne illnesses is the improper cooling of cooked foods, as bacteria can recontaminate them after safe cooking.

Consequently, it is crucial to transfer leftovers into shallow containers for rapid cooling and promptly refrigerate them at 40 °F or lower within two hours. Refrigerating warm chicken promptly helps minimize the time it spends in the ‘Danger Zone,’ reducing the risk of bacterial growth. (1)

What affects the shelf life of cooked chicken?

The deterioration of cooked chicken results from a combination of physical, chemical, and biological factors. These factors encompass a range of microorganisms, including bacteria, yeast, and mold, as well as the influence of enzymes naturally occurring in the meat, such as lipases and proteases.

Chemical reactions occurring within the chicken, such as browning and oxidation, in addition to physical changes brought about by processes like freezing, drying, and the application of pressure, collectively contribute to the overall spoilage process.

Among the various agents involved in cooked chicken spoilage, microorganisms emerge as the primary catalyst for the decline in the quality of animal-derived foods.

These spoilage microorganisms are responsible for breaking down fats, carbohydrates, and proteins present in the meat. This breakdown leads to the development of off-flavors, the formation of slime, and alterations in color, rendering the chicken unsuitable for consumption. Consequently, even a well-prepared cooked chicken can become unpalatable due to these factors. (2)

How long does cooked chicken last in the fridge?

The USDA advises consuming cooked chicken within a span of three to four days when stored in the refrigerator at or below 40°F. Although refrigeration slows down bacterial growth, it doesn’t completely halt it. Spoilage bacteria can proliferate even in cold temperatures, like those in the refrigerator, leading to undesirable tastes and odors in the food.

While most individuals would opt not to consume spoiled food, and it may not necessarily make them ill, certain pathogenic bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes (Lm) thrive in cold environments. If present, these bacteria can continue to grow within the refrigerator, potentially causing illness. Microbial spoilage stems from a range of sources, including bacteria, molds, and yeast. (3)

How to tell if cooked chicken has gone bad?

Changes in texture, the presence of sliminess or liquids, alterations in color, the emergence of mold, and the development of unusual odors and flavors are key indicators of spoilage in cooked chicken. These signs of spoilage typically result from a variety of underlying mechanisms.

The primary driver behind spoilage is the inevitable introduction of microorganisms, primarily bacteria, during the transition from animal to meat product processing. Subsequently, these microorganisms grow and engage in metabolic activities during storage.

Every stage of the processing procedure can influence the extent of microbial contamination, while the conditions under which the chicken is stored can influence the composition of bacterial communities. This, in turn, affects the progression of microbial spoilage over time. (4)

How to avoid foodborne illness?

To ensure the safety of chicken for consumption, it is essential to cook raw chicken to a minimum internal temperature of 165°F (73.9°C) or higher, sustained for at least 15 seconds. Consistently using a food thermometer during the cooking process is strongly recommended to confirm the achievement of this critical temperature.

By employing a food thermometer, you can accurately verify that the chicken has uniformly reached the safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. This precautionary step significantly diminishes the risk of foodborne illnesses and guarantees the safety of the chicken you are preparing to enjoy.

Moreover, if the chicken is hot and won’t be consumed within 2 hours, it’s advisable to divide it into several portions and refrigerate them in shallow, covered containers. Consume these portions within 3 to 4 days, whether cold or reheated to 165°F. Additionally, it is safe to freeze prepared chicken for later use. For optimal quality, flavor, and texture, it is recommended to use it within 4 months. (5)

What are the symptoms of eating spoiled cooked chicken?

Consuming chicken that has gone bad can lead to foodborne illnesses and food poisoning. In the case of a Salmonella infection, most individuals typically experience symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. These symptoms usually manifest within a timeframe ranging from six hours to six days after infection and can persist for four to seven days.

Both Campylobacter and Salmonella are common bacteria that can be found in spoiled chicken, accounting for a significant portion of bacterial contamination. These two pathogens, which pose health risks to humans, can often be present in high concentrations within the gastrointestinal tract of birds and can easily contaminate the meat.

Detecting their presence is crucial, even when they are present at very low levels, as soon as poultry meat becomes contaminated. (6)

Other FAQs about Chicken that you may be interested in.

Can you cook the chicken to 145?

Can you cook chicken in a crockpot for 10 hours?

Can you freeze 4 day old cooked chicken?

Conclusions

In this article, we answer the following question: “Can I put warm chicken in the fridge?” We discussed whether we should put cold or hot food in the fridge, and the risks of letting food cool inside or outside the refrigerator. 

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References

1.-

U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety Website. Washington, DC. “Danger Zone” (40 °F – 140 °F). 2016.

2.-

Pellissery, A. J., Vinayamohan, P. G., Amalaradjou, M. A. R., & Venkitanarayanan, K.  Spoilage bacteria and meat quality. Meat Quality Analysis, 307–334. 2020.

3.-

U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://ask.usda.gov/ Website. Washington, DC. How long can you keep cooked chicken? 2023.

4.-

Luong NM, Coroller L, Zagorec M, Membré JM, Guillou S. Spoilage of Chilled Fresh Meat Products during Storage: A Quantitative Analysis of Literature Data. Microorganisms. Aug 6;8(8):1198. 2020.

5.-

U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety Website. Washington, DC. Chicken from Farm to Table. 2019.

6.-

ROUGER, Amélie; TRESSE, Odile; ZAGOREC, Monique. Bacterial contaminants of poultry meat: sources, species, and dynamics. Microorganisms, v. 5, n. 3, p. 50, 2017.