Careful handling of raw poultry helps prevent transmittal of food-borne illness. To keep fresh poultry safe to eat, it must be properly stored in the refrigerator or freezer until you need it. Leftover cooked chicken and accompaniments like stuffing are equally susceptible to spoilage unless packaged and chilled as quickly as possible; never let stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Once purchased, store raw poultry in the coldest part of the refrigerator (not above 40°) and use within 2 days. Cooked chicken, cut up or whole, should be used within 2 to 3 days. For longer storage, freeze a whole chicken for up to 1 year, chicken pieces for up to 9 months, and cooked chicken without sauce or liquid for up to 1 month. Never refrigerate or freeze a stuffed bird; always store stuffing separately. Frozen food keeps its quality at 0° or below, although some refrigerator-freezer compartments don’t maintain this temperature. Check occasionally with a special freezer thermometer available in the housewares section of department stores, or from kitchenware or hardware stores.
The safest and best way to thaw frozen poultry is in the refrigerator. Allow 5 hours of thawing time per pound. Poultry packaged in freezer wrap can be thawed under cold water in the sink or a large bowl; change the water every half hour (a 3-pound chicken will be ready to cook in about 12 hours). Defrosting at room temperature is not recommended because it creates a favorable environment for the growth of harmful organisms.
To avoid freezer burn -- rough, dry areas where the meat has deteriorated from exposure to air -- freeze poultry airtight and use within the suggested time limit.
Specially constructed heavy-duty polyethylene freezer bags are stocked on most supermarket shelves, as are coated freezer paper and sealing tape. Reusable freezer-safe plastic containers are another practical alternative. Always date each package to keep track of when to use it, and note the contents.
Before cooking or freezing, a whole bird or chicken pieces should be rinsed and dried. Rinse under cold running water. Let excess water run off, then pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
To freeze a whole chicken or chicken pieces, rinse and dry thoroughly, then place in a heavy-duty freezer-safe plastic bag, or wrap airtight in freezer paper. Label the contents, then date.
Freezing Cubed Chicken
Arrange leftover cooked cubed chicken on a tray in a single layer and freeze until firm. Transfer to freezer containers or freezer-safe bags; label and date.
After the meal, remove all stuffing from the bird and any remaining meat and store in separate containers. Never refrigerate or freeze stuffing in the bird.