How Long Does Chicken Last As A Leftover?

If we're being truthful, most of us would admit to discovering the occasional long-forgotten container of leftover chicken in the back of the fridge. Between busy schedules, changes to dinner plans, and the fridge-shuffling habits of other household members, it happens. The question is, what do you do with that chicken? Reheat it or chuck it?

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the answer is simple. If it's only been in the fridge 3-4 days, it's safe to eat. Any longer than that, and you're gambling against pathogenic bacteria that can cause foodborne illness — but what if you've forgotten exactly when you ate that half roast chicken for dinner? Things get a little trickier, and it's time to do some investigative work.

Your senses can actually give you a pretty good idea of whether it's time to toss the bird or not. If there is any change in smell or appearance, like a slimy surface, "off" odor, or mold, chuck it. Furthermore, don't actually taste it to find out if it's safe to consume (via Simply Recipes).

Leftovers should be stored in airtight containers

Keep in mind that leftover chicken can be affected by 2 different types of bacteria: 1 that is pathogenic and can cause serious illness, and another that produces spoilage. The first (and more serious) type can't be seen, smelled, or tasted. If in doubt, throw it out.

If you know you won't be able to consume the entire meal's worth of chicken within a few days, you can avoid spoilage — and waste — by freezing it. "You can freeze cooked chicken for a long time," Jane Cook, founder of food and sustainability blog Hungry City Hippy, told woman+home. "But it will taste best if eaten within three to six months. If it's frozen for longer it will still be safe to eat, but the texture may have changed slightly — I prefer to add it to a soup or curry in that scenario, so it stays moist." You can also freeze the bones and skin of the chicken to use in making homemade stock sometime down the road.

Chicken, whether raw or cooked, should be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.