Tell me about the danger zone
August 29, 2014 3:11 PM   Subscribe

So I got a Rotisserie chicken from Costco at lunch today. It was hot then, but traffic was bad so it got home around 1. I didn't feel like eating right away so I stuck it as is in the fridge. Just got hungry around 3 and ate some, but I was surprised the inside was still warm. I temped it and it was 80 or so still in the middle. So it was probably in the "danger zone" for at least 3 hours and wasn't even getting close to 40 degrees.

So, do all the people who buy Rotisserie chickens either eat them right away or rush them home, quickly divide them up and put them in shallow pans to cool in the fridge? It obviously wasn't cooling very quickly as an intact chicken. I think I'm fine eating it at 3 hours, but I worry about if I had just left it in there until dinner time, perhaps that would have been in the danger zone for 5 hours?
posted by tigeri to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1) I'd eat it
2) is your fridge working well enough? Check the temp there
3) I'm sure USDA guidelines would say don't eat it
4) I'd break it down with some mayo and grapes and celery and pecans and poppy seeds and throw that chicken salad onto a roll
5) also chicken soup with what's left after that
posted by slateyness at 3:18 PM on August 29, 2014

Best answer: You've got four hours of danger zone to play with, so for this specific instance, you're fine.

To address your other questions, if I know I'm not going to be consuming the chicken within four hours, I break it down before I put it in the fridge. I don't put the pieces in a shallow pan.

I also don't tend to buy rotisserie chickens for dinner until I'm on my way home from work.
posted by cooker girl at 3:25 PM on August 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I put mine in the oven and close the door and I hope that I remember that it is there and don't preheat the oven for some other thing. (This is usually after I have ripped off a piece to eat like the animal I am)
posted by srboisvert at 3:26 PM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I thought the danger zone was for uncooked meat or meat that is in the process of cooking?
posted by radioamy at 3:36 PM on August 29, 2014

Best answer: The danger zone is for raw, cooking, and cooked foods. Also, it looks like the timeframe has changed since I worked in restaurants. Eh, I'll stick with four hours. Nothing's killed me yet.
posted by cooker girl at 3:41 PM on August 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

It hsould be fine. I've eaten Costco rotisserie chickens hours, days and sometimes almost weeks after they were cooked and put in the fridge, and never once have I been ill. Except that one time when I was so hungry I devoured the entire hot chicken as soon as I got home, ripping it apart with my hands. Too. Much. Food.
posted by essexjan at 3:43 PM on August 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

This is not a thing that has ever occurred to me to check and I have never had food poisoning. I wouldn't give this a second thought.
posted by something something at 3:59 PM on August 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Unless there's something wrong with your fridge (which yes, I would check), it seems like no whole chicken would be safe to eat under this rule if you don't eat the entire thing in one sitting...I mean, I will commonly cook a whole chicken, eat some parts, and then after dinner chuck the remainder in the fridge to deal with later. I haven't checked, but I don't see why that would cool down any more quickly than what you did, and I've never gotten sick. Same with large cuts of beef. If you're not leaving it out at room temperature, I think it just takes as long as it takes to fully cool off?
posted by rainbowbrite at 4:00 PM on August 29, 2014

If I understand your timeline, it was only about an extra hour from store to fridge compared to the average.
posted by SemiSalt at 4:04 PM on August 29, 2014

No problem. Consider the dangers:

1: Bacteria acquired by contamination doesn't find itself inside muscle tissue-- it sits on the surface. The exception is when it gets shoved into tissue by forks and knives, thermometers or other probes. The most important exception is when meat is ground, and surface bacteria is blended into the meat.

2: Cooking kills bacteria. Bacteria inside meat (see above) can survive, because while that rotisserie might be 600 degrees (or 300C, whatever), the meat never gets near that temp, because that would be gross overcooking.

3: Cooked food re-acquires bacteria due to handling, slicing, contaminated packaging, etc, primarily on the surface.

4: Bacteria allowed to live can either infect you directly or create toxic products. Re-cooking food in the zone eliminates the first danger, but not the second. Refrigeration slows this process immensely, and you said the surface was chilled.

1 and 3 don't apply here, most likely. The best chances for bacteria in your chicken would be getting injected just after cooking and thriving in the heat there. This is not a great opportunity for that, because typical contamination comes at the time of slaughter-- there's very little reason to stick anything into a rotisserie chicken, since cooking chicken does not require precision nor investigation.

The odds that you have active bacteria or the toxic remains thereof are slim to none here. You've taken the necessary precautions.

P.S. You have an immune system that, if healthy and fully formed, eats bacteria for breakfast, lunch and dinner, just as your chicken will be until it's gone.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:09 PM on August 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

You're fine. But check your fridge.
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:12 PM on August 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, more worried about your fridge than your chicken.

But. Bones get real hot, and if it was closed up pretty good you could definitely maintain a surprising amount of heat inside the cavity. So it's probably an environmental fluke rather than dying fridge, but you might just be extra-observant over the next few days.

Also it may make your chicken extra-tough, but I find rotisserie chickens are often a little textural anyway.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:44 PM on August 29, 2014

Best answer: First of all, I would definitely eat this.

So, do all the people who buy Rotisserie chickens either eat them right away or rush them home, quickly divide them up and put them in shallow pans to cool in the fridge?

The answer to this is probably "no, most people don't do that," but you probably should from a best practices stand point. If you don't break it up, as you saw, it takes a lot longer for the center to cool. This is also true if you have, say, a giant batch of chili. You should divide it up into much smaller containers before chilling it so that it cools faster and more evenly

With that being said, I never used to do this, and I never got food poisoning, but these days I try to follow the guidelines, just to be on the safe side.
posted by litera scripta manet at 8:17 AM on August 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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