QotW: Should you cool down cooked chicken?
I have received such conflicting advice from TV food cooks. Some say that cooked chicken should be allowed to cool down to room temperature before refrigeration, whilst others say to put the hot cooked chicken into the refrigerator immediately. Which is right? I would very much appreciate a scientist explaining to me the least food-poisoning method!
Mariana Marasiou has been tucking into this tasty and hot conundrum, from listener Julie. She got in touch with avian infection and immunity scientist Paul Wigley...
Mariana - I reached out to Paul Wigley from the University of Liverpool, who studies food poisoning organisms from chickens, to help me answer Julie’s question.
Paul, what’s the official recommendation for storing food and leftovers?
Paul - As a rule of thumb, cooked food should be refrigerated within 2 hours and eaten within 2 days. Providing that the chicken is thoroughly cooked, it is no riskier to store in terms of food safety than any other meat.
Mariana - Hmm… looks like you’re having a bit of a sore throat. Maybe the next gene therapy should be for laryngitis… While Paul is off to suck a Strepsil, I’ll try to fill in for him.
This food safety tip applies to all cooked food, including takeaway food. This is because the bacteria that can cause food poisoning can form spores, which are resistant to cooking and can germinate to form new bacterial cells when the food is not chilled. While refrigeration doesn’t completely stop the bacteria from growing, it slows it down, which prolongs the freshness of the food, making it safe to eat for a couple more days.
But what about putting the cooked food in the fridge without cooling it down?
Putting very hot food in the fridge raises the temperature inside the fridge and makes it a bit less effective. But you should still aim to refrigerate food within 2 hours of cooking it, even if it’s still a bit warm.
To help food cool down faster, you can split it in smaller containers, and as soon as they’ve cooled to room temperature, they can then go in the fridge.