How Long Can Defrosted Chicken Stay in the Fridge

  • You’ve got plenty of recipes for a delicious chicken, but get confused with several burning questions concerning storage? There are a lot of ambiguities regarding meat conservation. What temperature should we keep it at and for how long?—these are some of the hot topics.
  • Getting quality food is a challenge these days, and more often than not, it’s pretty pricey. Luckily, we can do a couple of things at home to ensure our food is stored safely and cooked perfectly before we eat it.
  • Are you curious about the rules regarding thawing whole chickens and smaller pieces of meat? Cooked chicken will have different maintenance instructions than raw chicken. Could you keep a fresh chicken in the storage in the fridge for 3 days? Or maybe it’s better to freeze it at this point? Can you refreeze thawed chicken? Find all the answers in the article below.

Meat in the freezer and refrigerator—basics

Can’t wait to have this long-awaited date? You’ve chosen the best wine; there is a chicken in the fridge and fresh salad on the kitchen counter. 

And you have only one problem: you don’t know if the chicken defrosted in the fridge the other day is still edible. 

How long can chicken in the fridge last after it thawed?

Let’s tackle this complex poultry issue. 

The rule of thumb is never to refreeze raw meat or fish once thawed.

But there is an exception. If you cooked your thawed chicken right away, you could put it back in the freezer later. 

Important: Frozen raw chicken and other meat foods can be defrosted only once!

How many days in the refrigerator after being thawed are ok for an average chicken to stay?

When it comes to how long thawed chicken will last in the fridge, there are some precise numbers to engrave in our brain matters. 

We can store defrosted chicken in the fridge for up to 24 hours before we cook it and eat or throw it away. The last thing you want is cooking a spoiled thaw chicken. 

If your poultry has been in the fridge for over:

  • 2 days raw, or 
  • 4 days cooked

be sure to get rid of it immediately. 

Keeping your chicken for 3 days will only worsen the smell in your fridge; plus, you won’t eat this flawed, thawed chicken anyway. 

Toss any chicken that’s past its expiration date. There is no joking about this—an expired chicken (or any other meat) is an actual threat to your health. 

How to defrost chicken safely?

Thawing chicken at a cool temperature in the refrigerator is the safest and most healthy method.

  1. First, remove the chicken from the freezer (at least 24 hours in advance).
  2. Next, place your meat in a ziplock plastic seal bag or container.
  3. Put the poultry in the refrigerator on a low shelf.
  4. Leave it there until your frozen chicken is fully defrosted.
  5. Ensure to cook thawed chicken within one to two days.

Important: Consider that you’ll need to start the defrosting process at least one day before using the chicken for cooking with this method.

Also, the time your chicken requires to thaw depends on how big the piece you thaw is. Frozen:

  • chicken breasts, 
  • bone-in chicken, and 
  • whole chicken

may take one or two days to thaw in the refrigerator.

So why not simply leave the chicken in a bowl on a kitchen counter?

Here’s what the second golden rule says:

Never defrost chicken at room temperature:

  • on the kitchen counter, or 
  • in places such as a porch or basement;

Room temperature (more or less 68°F/20°C) is within the “danger zone” for poultry.

What is a “danger zone”?

It’s a range of temperatures between 40–140°F (4.4–60°C). 

Leaving chicken at these temperatures for too long creates the risk of people contracting food borne illnesses (like food poisoning), provoked by:

  • bacteria, (Escherichia coli (E. coli), Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter jejuni),
  • viruses, and 
  • toxins;

Defrosting chicken at room temperature on the kitchen counter means exposing the meat to dangerous temperatures for longer than it’s safe. 

We mentioned two ways to thaw chicken:

  1. in the fridge—the best,
  2. at the room temperature—the worse way;

Are there any other techniques to thaw chicken?

Let’s see below!

Cold water bath

You’ve got your chicken in the freezer and not enough time to thaw in the fridge.

An alternative way is to soak your chicken in a cold water bath. This method is convenient if you have little time at your disposal. 

If you make a chicken stay in cold water, you need less time. With this method, the whole thawing procedure of a frozen chicken takes not more than a couple of hours. 

To defrost chicken from a freezer quickly, use a cold water bath:

1. Ensure the chicken is in air tightly packaging, or place it in a leakproof ziplock seal bag.

2. Place frozen chicken in a bowl or basin deep enough to submerge the chicken thoroughly.

3. Pour a bit more cold water on the meat.

4. Change the water every 30 minutes to ensure the chicken stays in as cold as initially.

5. Once the chicken has thawed, cook it straight away.

There is one error people often make: they use warm or hot water to thaw the chicken. It causes nasty bacteria to multiply, remember? 

Tip: If water from the faucet is warm, you can add ice cubes to the bowl or basin you use for defrosting.

According to The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), this method will take:

  • 2–3 hours for a whole chicken, 
  • 1 hour or less for a 1-pound package of chicken breasts;

Tip: With multiple pieces in one bag frozen together, breaking them apart will speed up the thawing time.

Defrost setting on the microwave

Is putting a chicken in the microwave a good idea?

Again, not having enough time can be a great motivation here; or if you want to cook it right away and don’t have time to spare (although you’ll read later that thawing and preparing chicken in the microwave in one go is not the best idea).

When thawing chicken using one of the quicker methods, cook it right away once it’s thawed.

Important: Always remember to follow all the food safety guidelines.

Here’s how to thaw chicken in the microwave:

1. Check if you have any defrost settings on your microwave; it will make the whole process simpler. 

2. Get familiar with the owner’s manual for specific instructions on how to use the defrost setting for chicken.

3. Thaw only the amount of chicken you need at a time.

4. Place the chicken in a microwave-safe container.

5. Cook the chicken immediately after thawing it.

6. Clean the microwave thoroughly afterward.

7. Using a microwave to defrost meats can cause warm spots or areas that have already started to cook during the defrosting process. So again, defrost only the meat parts that you need to use and cook the meat right away.

Can you cook frozen chicken?

Now we know what we can’t do with our meat. We’ve also learned that keeping chicken in the refrigerator to thaw—which is the best currently known method to do it—may take up to 24 hours. 

But is there any shortcut? Can we just cook frozen chicken straight away and finally eat it?

According to USDA, the answer is yes; you can do it safely.

Before you throw your freeze chicken into the water, remember that if you haven’t thawed the chicken, you should:

1. extend the cooking time by 50%, and 

2. ensure the chicken reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).

Important: Don’t cook frozen chicken in a slow cooker or the microwave, for example, as these methods cause the chicken to remain at an unsafe temperature for too long. If you’re going to cook your chicken this way, it’s better that you thaw it before with other methods.

To safely cook chicken directly from the freezer:

1. Wash your hands with soap and water before handling raw chicken.

2. Don’t wash the chicken! Again, this is potentially harmful to both frozen and unfrozen chicken.

3. Use a separate chopping board and utensils and avoid cross-contamination with cooked ingredients.

4. Heat the chicken quickly and lengthen the usual cooking time by 50%.

5. When done, check the internal temperature of the chicken using a meat thermometer. 165°F (74°C) is perfect—you can now remove the chicken from the heat.

6. Wash the thermometer with hot water and dish soap.

7. Use antibacterial wipes or soap and water to wipe down any kitchen surface that met the chicken or with the fluids from the defrosting chicken.

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Frequently Asked Questions

There is a sure sign that your chicken has seen better days. For example, you can be sure that your meat is spoiled if its structure is slimy and has a foul smell. Also, if you notice it has changed color to yellow, green, or gray, it's time to say goodbye to your potential dinner.
After thawing, meats such as poultry and fish can stay in the refrigerator for an additional one to two days. However, beef, pork, lamb, or veal (roasts, steaks, or chops) should be eaten or thrown within three to five days.
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