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It's not as long as you would think. 

By Melanie Fincher
March 18, 2021
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If you've been eyeing that week-old chicken, wondering if it's still safe to eat, you've come to the right place. Eating cooked chicken that's past its prime is a recipe for (intestinal) disaster. Whether it's grilled, fried, baked, or any other form of cooked chicken, here's how long cooked chicken will last in the fridge. Plus, get tips on how to properly store it and how to tell when it's gone bad. 

person placing cooked chicken in glass container
Credit: Marty Baldwin/Meredith

How Long Does Cooked Chicken Last?

According to the USDA, cooked chicken will last three to four days in the refrigerator, and two to three months in the freezer. Eating cooked chicken after this point can result in foodborne illness — even at refrigerated temperatures, bacteria can still grow. 

This might leave you with the question: Can't you just zap it in the microwave? Because microwaves heat food from the outside in, and not the other way around, reheating week-old cooked chicken in the microwave will kill bacteria on the surface, but it won't eliminate toxins produced by the growing bacteria beneath the surface. 

Here's the bottom line: If your chicken is on day five, it's not safe to eat anymore, even after reheating. 

How to Store Cooked Chicken in the Refrigerator 

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 longer than two hours, chicken can reach what's known as the temperature danger zone, or the range between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F in which bacteria grows most rapidly. 

How to Tell If Chicken Has Gone Bad

If you're not sure how long your chicken has been in the fridge, there's a few tell-tale signs it's past its prime:

  • Color: Chicken that has gone bad, whether cooked or raw, will begin to have a green/grayish hue. 
  • Smell: The classic smell test can come in handy when you're checking your chicken for spoilage. Chicken will begin to have an ammonia-like, or just an overall "off" smell. Seasonings and marinades can mask these smells, so you can't always rely on smell alone. 
  • Texture: A change in texture is another indicator of spoilage. Bad chicken will have a slimy film — a pretty strong deterrent to biting into that week-old chicken. 

A word of caution: Never taste your chicken to determine whether or not it's gone bad. Doing so could result in a few hours spent hugging the toilet. 

How to Freeze and Thaw Cooked Chicken 

If you don't think you'll get to your chicken within three to four days, the best option is to freeze it. To freeze cooked chicken, 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 that has been left out at room temperature for more than two hours, or stored in the fridge for more than four days.

To thaw, transfer the chicken in its storage container to the refrigerator and allow it to thaw overnight. You can also use the defrost setting on your microwave. 

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This story originally appeared on allrecipes.com