Chicken is a tried and trusted fave for many of us. It’s one of those kitchen staples you can just throw together with a few bits and pieces, and it’ll taste delicious.
The thing with chicken, however, is that it’s also probably the one food most closely associated with food poisoning. Just the mention of salmonella has folks picturing funky-looking chicken pieces. So, it’s pretty important that when you’re working with leftover chicken that you store those bad boys correctly. And for the right amount of time, too.
How should I store leftover chicken?
As mentioned the first time we investigated this topic, there are a lot of variables at play when it comes to determining how long you can safely refrigerate cooked chicken.
For instance, the NSW Food Authority says you shouldn’t leave cooked meat at room temperature for longer than two hours. That said, you don’t want to stick steaming hot food into the fridge — it’s safe to let it cool for an hour before shoving it in. Just don’t overload it with warm leftovers.
Once it’s in the fridge, make sure the temperature is below 5°C, preferably between 0-3°C and it should be consumed within three days, maximum, according to CSIRO.
Of course, exercise some common sense. If the meat has a bad smell or looks off, just chuck it out. (PSA: smelling your food alone, however, is not a safe way to check if food is off.)
Something we didn’t cover in detail in the previous post was the treatment of raw or frozen poultry. Contrary to popular belief, it’s best to unwrap or loosely store raw chicken to reduce the growth of bacteria:
When meat is stored unwrapped, the exposed surface dries out. This drying retards microbial growth but over-drying causes undesirable colour changes and loss of flavour. A compromise can be reached by storing your meat in an adequately ventilated container or loosening the wrapping around the meat so air can circulate.
Stainless steel or a plastic rack are your best bets in terms of surfaces to store your chicken.
Even so, if you’re not planning on using raw chicken within 24-48 hours, freeze it. And when you thaw it, make sure it’s in the fridge and not on the benchtop.
It requires some extra planning — boneless chicken should be good to go overnight, while a whole bird could take a day — but the peace of mind is worth it. And definitely don’t refreeze thawed chicken.
Finally, you should never keep raw chicken in the fridge for longer than two days.
This article has been updated since its original publication.