How Long Can You Eat Chicken Leftovers?

Eating leftovers saves time and money, but food spoils if you leave it in the refrigerator too long. In general, refrigerated chicken leftovers are safe to eat for three to four days. However, proper storage and handling of leftover food is necessary to prevent dangerous bacterial growth.

Roast chicken on plate (Image: Liv Friis-Larsen/iStock/Getty Images)

Refrigerated Leftovers

Cooked chicken, chicken broth, fried chicken, chicken soup, chicken casseroles and cooked chicken leftovers from a restaurant or convenience store can be safely refrigerated for three to four days, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Leftover chicken salad and deli-sliced chicken luncheon meat keeps in the refrigerator for three to five days.

Frozen Leftovers

Leftover cooked chicken, fried chicken and restaurant or convenience store chicken keeps in a freezer for about four months. Use frozen chicken broth or gravy within two to three months, and eat frozen chicken casserole or soup within four to six months. Chicken will be safe to eat indefinitely, as long as your freezer stays below 0 degrees F. However, it may lose quality with time. In addition, don't freeze chicken salad if it contains mayonnaise, and make sure chicken dishes are wrapped thoroughly to prevent freezer burn.

Storing Leftovers Safely

Very hot and cold temperatures inhibit bacterial growth, but bacteria grows rapidly as chicken and other dishes cool. Several types of dangerous bacteria grow on chicken, including Salmonella enteritidis, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter jejuni and Listeria monocytogenes. Prevent bacterial growth by putting hot chicken dishes in the refrigerator or freezer immediately -- don't let them cool on the counter -- and separating large dishes into smaller containers for faster cooling.

Considerations

You can't tell whether chicken leftovers have dangerous bacterial growth by looking at, smelling or tasting them. Salmonella and other bacteria that cause food poisoning are called pathogenic bacteria, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Bacteria that affect the taste, smell or appearance of food are called spoilage bacteria. For example, if your chicken leftovers develop a bad odor, they probably have spoilage bacteria. Spoilage bacteria probably won't make you sick, but undetectable pathogenic bacteria can make you very sick.

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