The question of whether or not you can put the defrosted chicken back in the fridge is one that comes up often.
The answer to this question depends entirely on how long it has been out at room temperature.
For example, if you just pulled a package of frozen chicken from your freezer, thawed it under running water for about 15 minutes, and then cooked it, then yes! You can most definitely return the now-cooked chicken to the refrigerator so that you have leftovers for lunch tomorrow without any worries whatsoever.
However, if we’re talking about raw chicken that’s been sitting out at room temperature all day then no!
Because of the risk of cross-contamination, I wouldn’t refrigerate it after it had been out at room temperature for more than a few hours.
If you’re wondering if you can refrigerate raw chicken at all after it’s left your kitchen, then here’s what the FDA has to say on the subject:
“Refrigerate chicken within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90°F) after purchasing or preparation.”
So, if you buy a whole chicken in the morning and refrigerate it immediately, then yes! The meat will be safe to eat later that night.
But what if your package of raw chicken has been sitting out in your fridge all day?
If you’re refrigerating it after two hours, or if refrigeration is above 90°F, then no! You should throw that chicken away.
How long before you must throw away defrosted chicken?
While the FDA recommends refrigerating raw chicken within 2 hours of purchasing or preparing it, the refrigeration time is only a guideline.
It’s not intended to be a hard and fast rule that must be followed in order to avoid food poisoning.
By following this FDA recommendation for refrigerating chicken (and other frozen meats) you’re reducing your risk of getting sick from food-borne pathogens like Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella, but there are other risks involved.
If you refrigerate your chicken after it has been out at room temperature for just a couple of hours, there is so little risk of food poisoning that the FDA doesn’t even bother mentioning refrigeration in its recommendations.
However, if you refrigerate it after more than a few hours, there is no way to know for certain if refrigeration will be sufficient.
Here’s how the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) explains it:
“While refrigeration of raw poultry products at 2° to 7°C (35° to 45°F) minimizes Salmonella growth, refrigeration alone may not eliminate the risk of foodborne illness.
The reason is that harmful bacteria, such as Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella, can still grow at refrigeration temperatures.
USDA’s FSIS recommends cooking your chicken well-done (at a minimum internal temperature of 165°F), but if you’re refrigerating it after more than a few hours, then you don’t know how much the bacteria in your chicken have already grown.
This makes refrigeration an even riskier proposition if the refrigeration time has already passed, especially since the meat’s exposure to those bacteria is not limited to just two hours, but also includes whatever length of time you refrigerate it for.
So, refrigerating raw chicken is only a recommended practice when refrigeration time has not yet elapsed.
I say “recommended,” because the FDA still gives you some leeway:
“Refrigeration of poultry within 2 hours (1 hour when the temperature is above 90°F) after purchasing or preparation does not completely eliminate the risk of foodborne illness. However, refrigeration is highly effective in reducing the risk of illness if properly refrigerated promptly.”
If you refrigerate your chicken after more than a few hours (and even if you refrigerate it within 2 hours but refrigeration temperature is above 90°F), and then refrigerate it some more, the refrigeration time will have a limited effect on reducing bacteria growth.
The bacteria in your chicken are still going to continue growing, and they may even start multiplying at refrigeration temperature.
If you refrigerate it after more than just a few hours, then the number of bacteria in your chicken will still likely be low enough that you’ll still be left with a safe meal, but refrigeration time is no longer providing many benefits.
How to refrigerate a defrosted chicken correctly?
If you want to refrigerate a defrosted chicken, do I immediately.
After removing it from the package, you can put it in a Ziploc bag (if you used one to store your frozen chicken), wrap it in aluminum foil, or place it inside a plastic container with a sealable lid.
If refrigerating it directly on the bottom shelf, place it on a plate just in case any of the juices leaks.
However, if refrigerating it inside another container per the above recommendation, then you can just refrigerate the container right away – juices won’t spill out into your fridge and make a mess.
Here are a few reminders to might need to take into consideration:
1. Make sure the refrigeration temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Do not store it in the freezer (the refrigeration temperature there is below 40°F too, but defrosted meat is still safe to freeze again. So storing it in a freezer would mean that you’d have to take it out of the freezer and thaw it if you want to refrigerate it).
3. Make sure refrigeration time (including refrigeration temperature) doesn’t exceed 2 hours – and if refrigerating at a high temperature, then refrigeration time must not exceed 1 hour.
4. Make sure nothing hits the chicken, which might allow bacteria on the outside of the package to transfer onto the inside.
5. Do not refrigerate chicken that has a broken package, and do not refrigerate your chicken if you see visible signs of spoilage (such as black spots).
6. Placing frozen chicken in the fridge should be a last resort only.
How long can you refrigerate defrosted chicken?
You can refrigerate defrosted chicken for up to two days.
But always remember that refrigerating your defrosted chicken is a risky proposition since refrigeration time is no longer providing many benefits.
The refrigeration temperature is also not ideal – refrigerators are designed to keep food cool, not cold.
Even when refrigerated below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, refrigeration time only reduces the growth of bacteria that cause illness, rather than eliminating it altogether. This means that refrigeration time has a limited effect on how safe refrigerated defrosted chicken is.
Therefore, the refrigerated defrosted chicken should be eaten as soon as possible after refrigeration.
If you don’t think it will be consumed within a few hours, then place the refrigerated chicken in the freezer instead.
Refrigerating defrosted chicken is only recommended if refrigeration time will not exceed 2 hours (1 hour at high temperature), and refrigeration is the only refrigeration option.
What’s the safest way to refrigerate defrosted chicken?
Refrigerated defrosted chicken should be eaten as soon as possible after refrigerating it, or place in the freezer instead of refrigeration time will exceed a few hours.
If refrigerating it, then refrigerate in an airtight container at refrigeration temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (placing it inside containers or bags can ensure that it’s kept away from other food – and make sure the container is sealable.
Otherwise, you may want to place aluminum foil over the top of your refrigerated chicken to keep any refrigeration-damaging juices from leaking out).
For the same reason, refrigerate your refrigerated defrosted chicken on a plate if refrigerating it directly in the refrigerator.
Last but not least, ensure that refrigeration time does not exceed 2 hours (1 hour at high temperature) – and make sure refrigeration temperature is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
What about frozen defrosted chicken?
The USDA considers refrigerated defrosted chicken safe to eat even after refrigerating it for a few hours.
Per the USDA, refrigerate your refrigerated defrosted chicken no longer than 2 hours (1 hour at high temperature).
As you refrigerate frozen refrigerated defrosted chicken, make sure refrigeration time does not exceed 2 hours (1 hour at high temperature).
And refrigerate your defrosted chicken on a plate if refrigerating it directly in the refrigerator.
Even refrigerated defrosted chicken is considered safe to eat (even after refrigeration for a few hours).
But refrigerating defrosted chicken is only recommended if refrigeration time will not exceed 2 hours (1 hour at high temperature).
When you have defrosted chicken, it is important to make sure that the meat stays cold before you put it back in the refrigerator.
Then store it in a container or wrapping it tightly with plastic wrap and then placing it back into the fridge for up to two days.
If you don’t want to put your food right back into the fridge, I recommend cooking it immediately or throw away any leftovers instead of placing them on ice or keeping them out at room temperature.
This will help keep bacteria from forming which could lead to food poisoning!
If you want to learn more about refrigerating foods, feel free to visit my guide here.