How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last in the Fridge? It’s Much Less Than You Think!

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last in the Fridge? It's Much Less Than You Think! Photo: Pexels
How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last in the Fridge? It’s Much Less Than You Think! Photo: Pexels

If you’re eyeing that week-old chicken and wondering if it’s still safe to eat, you’ve come to the right place.

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Eating cooked chicken that has passed its freshness is a recipe for (intestinal) disaster. Whether grilled, fried, roasted, or prepared in any other way, here’s how long it will last in the fridge. Plus, get tips on how to store it properly and how to tell when it’s spoiled.

How long does cooked chicken last?

According to the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), cooked chicken lasts for three to four days in the fridge and two to three months in the freezer. Eating it beyond this point can result in foodborne illnesses – even at refrigerated temperatures, bacteria can still grow.
This might leave you wondering: can’t you just microwave it? Since microwaves heat food from the outside in, reheating week-old cooked chicken will kill bacteria on the surface but won’t eliminate toxins produced by bacteria growing beneath the surface.

Here’s the bottom line: if your chicken is on its fifth day, it’s not safe to eat anymore, even after reheating.

How to store cooked chicken in the fridge

Cooked chicken should be stored in an airtight container or sealed plastic bag and refrigerated within two hours of cooking. If kept at room temperature for more than two hours, it can enter what is known as the temperature danger zone, where bacteria grow most rapidly.

How to tell if chicken has gone bad

If you’re unsure how long your chicken has been in the fridge, there are a few indicators that it has passed its prime:
Color: Spoiled chicken, whether cooked or raw, starts to develop a greenish/grayish tint.

Smell: The classic smell test can be helpful when checking if chicken is spoiled. It will begin to have an ammonia-like smell or just an overall unpleasant odor. Seasonings and marinades can mask these smells, so you can’t always rely solely on smell.

Texture: A change in texture is another indicator of spoilage. Bad chicken will have a slimy film.

A word of caution: Never taste it to determine if it’s spoiled or not. That could result in a few hours in the bathroom.

How to freeze and thaw cooked chicken

If you think you won’t be able to eat the chicken within three to four days, the best option is to freeze it. To freeze, transfer it to a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag, label with the date, and freeze for up to three months. Never freeze chicken left at room temperature for more than two hours or stored in the fridge for more than four days. To thaw, transfer it in its storage container to the fridge and let it thaw overnight. You can also use the defrost setting on the microwave.
Photo credit: Marty Baldwin/Meredith

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