How long does cooked chicken last in the fridge?

If you are one of those people who would eat chicken for thanksgiving if it was socially acceptable, then this dish hardly misses in your fridge. You probably toss the leftover chicken into meals throughout the week.

However, if it stays too long in the fridge, this delicious dish could cause intestinal disaster for you and your family. So, how long can cooked chicken safely last in the fridge? Let’s figure that out in the article below.

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last?

The recommended period for keeping cooked chicken in the refrigerator is three to four days and 2-3 months in the freezer. After this point, bacteria begin to grow within the chicken, even at refrigerated temperatures.

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last In The Fridge?
How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last In The Fridge?

You might be tempted to reheat your week-old leftover chicken and use it to make a quick dinner. But reheating cooked chicken at this point only eliminates the toxins on the surface.

Some of the pathogens that grow on the chicken have no taste or smell and may not change the way the chicken looks. If consumed, that delicious meal could cause a severe food-borne illness.

So, if you need to use cooked chicken beyond the fourth day, it is best to store it in the freezer.

Do Cooking Methods Determine How Long Cooked Chicken Last In The Fridge?

Absolutely! The way you cook chicken determines how long it stays in the fridge. Suppose you want your chicken to last up to four days; it’s best to ground it. Ground chicken can last up to 3 months in the freezer without a change in taste.

Fried chicken takes the shortest time to go bad, so it’s best to fry chicken when you intend to eat it immediately or the day after. Otherwise, grilling it would be the safer option.

Tip: properly wrap your ground chicken before storing it in the refrigerator. Wrapping preserves the flavor of the chicken and keeps it fresh for up to four days.

How Long Do Cooked Chicken Pieces Last In The Fridge?

Chicken Breast

A raw chicken breast can only last in the fridge for two days, while a cooked one can stay for up to four days. Although storing a cooked chicken breast is better, it is best to keep chicken breast in the freezer.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Whole Chicken

A whole chicken could last longer in the fridge than a chicken breast or ground chicken because its large mass takes an extended period to cool. However, when it gets spoiled as a whole, you experience a more significant food loss.

It is, therefore, best to cut it into smaller pieces and cook them using different cooking methods.

Chicken Liver

Most stores label chicken liver for up to three weeks of usage. However, the cooked chicken liver can only stay fresh in the fridge for a maximum of 2 days. Although it will still be edible after this period, it won’t taste good because it loses its flavor much faster than regular chicken meat.

Note: There are a few exceptions to the three to four days safety period. For example, chicken salad stays up to f days while chicken hot dogs can stay fresh for up to 2 weeks when they are unopened.

A packed chicken lunch meat stays for 3-5 days, but it can stay up to 2 weeks unopened, while a deli chicken lunch meat stays fresh for 3-5 days.

Chicken Liver
Image by jramsey3 from Pixabay

How to Store Cooked Chicken in the Refrigerator 

After cooking your chicken, you should let it cool down before keeping it in the fridge to save energy. However, you should not keep cooked chicken at room temperature for more than two hours. At this point, the chicken reaches the temperature danger zone (between 40 and 140 degrees F), in which bacteria rapidly grows.

Before storing cooked chicken in the refrigerator, ensure you vacuum seal it in a zip-top plastic bag or an airtight storage container. Cooked chicken that is vacuum-sealed can last up to 3 months in the freezer and up to two weeks in a refrigerator.

Tip: If you don’t have an airtight container or plastic bag, you can alternatively wrap the chicken with aluminum foil or plastic wrap.

How to Tell If Chicken Has Gone Bad

If you find some chicken leftovers that have stayed in the fridge for more than three days, you might be concerned about their safety. Here are a few ways of safely finding out whether your leftover chicken is still safe for consumption.

Check out the color– both raw and cooked chicken begin to turn grey-green when bacteria begin to grow.

Koli bacteria
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Smell it: Chicken that has gone bad, whether cooked or raw, will emit an acidic smell that resembles ammonia. However, this smell can be masked if the stored chicken is marinated with spices, herbs, or sauces.

Feel the texture– When chicken begins to go bad, it gets slimy. A slimy texture is one of the signs that your cooked chicken has gone bad. You might be tempted to rinse the chicken, but this will not completely eliminate the bacteria. You could also spread the bacteria to other food, surfaces, or utensils through cross-contamination.

If your stored chicken has stayed more than the recommended period in the refrigerator, it’s best to discard it.

How to Use Up Cooked Chicken

You do not need to throw away food if it is still safe to eat. If you are afraid that your food will get to the borderline zone before you use it, it is best to freeze it.

Alternatively, you can make a salad, eat it immediately, make quick chicken pasta for dinner, or shred it to make some lunch.

Tips for Keeping Your Cooked Chicken from Going Bad

  1. Keep It In The Fridge
  2. Seal Your Food Storage Containers
  3. Cut the Chicken Into Small Pieces
  4. Keep raw and cooked chicken separate to prevent the transfer of bacteria from the raw chicken.

Is Freezing the Cooked Chicken Better Than Refrigerating It?

Freezers keep food fresh for longer than refrigerators. For example, the maximum storage duration of leftover chicken is 3-4 days and 1-2 days for fried chicken in the refrigerator.

However, a freezer can keep fried chicken for 1-3 months, while grilled and roasted chicken can remain edible for 4-6 months. You can also keep your chicken broth or gravy for up to 6 months in the freezer.

You could be a great chicken lover, but you may not eat that chicken for 3-4 days. To avoid wasting food, you can put it in the freezer and use it for as long as you wish. The downside of this is that it takes much longer to heat and eat when you freeze cooked chicken.

So, if this is a hassle you do not mind, you could opt to keep your chicken in the freezer rather than the fridge.

How to Freeze Cooked Chicken 

Let the Meat Cool Down

Keeping warm cooked chicken in the fridge could make it quickly go bad. If your chicken leftover is still warm, you should keep it in the freezer without wrapping it for an hour.

This allows it to cool down completely. Once you remove it from the freezer, cut it into small pieces and cover them with plastic wrap. You could also put it in the fridge for two days before freezing it.

Wrap the Cooked Chicken Properly

Wrapping the chicken tightly with plastic wrap prevents the chicken from drying and also preserves its flavor.

Put the Wrapped Chicken in a Bag

Once you have wrapped the meat pieces, put them in an airtight container or sealed freezer bags. Vacuum sealing the chicken protects it from bacterial contamination. It will also prevent it from absorbing other foods in the freezer.

Mark the date you put the food in the freezer with a sticker, and use the sticker to label the container or bag. You could also place the cooked chicken at the back of the freezer to protect it from temperature fluctuations under the vent.

Risks of Leaving Cooked Chicken In The Fridge For Too Long

Chicken contains bacteria such as salmonella and campylobacter, among other pathogens. Thoroughly cooking fresh chicken eliminates these bacteria.

Reheating leftovers kills the bacteria on the surface of the meat. Often, heat does not reach the middle of the meat. Consuming chicken with hidden bacteria could lead to food poisoning and other food-borne diseases.

Food poisoning is a serious food-borne illness that causes nausea, vomiting, chills, dehydration, and diarrhea. Some of the diseases it brings include; Salmonella Enteritidis, Campylobacter Jejuni, and Staphylococcus Aureus.

Bottom Line

Cooked chicken should not stay longer than 4 days in the fridge because it would not be safe to eat. It could cause food poisoning when consumed. If you have leftover chicken, use it to make a new recipe or freeze it before it goes bad.

Chicken should only be stored in the fridge as a last resort because it goes bad faster in the refrigerator than in the freezer.