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I tried thawing chicken breasts in my refrigerator, but after leaving them in there for 1.5 days, I took their temperature with a meat thermometer and found them to be 47 degrees Fahrenheit.

From what I have read, I should have set my refrigerator to between 31-40 degrees to avoid the "danger zone" (40-140) where bacteria multiply (source, source).

Because the raw chicken has been left at the wrong temp for hours, is it unsafe to cook and eat?

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  • This will probably get closed because we have a pretty substantial question/answer about food left above refrigerator temperature...but short answer, your chicken has been a a good temperature for pathogen growth for quite some time. Discard it. ...and, make sure you set your refrigerator at the correct temperature.
    – moscafj
    Dec 19, 2022 at 21:27
  • Thanks @moscafj but a weird thing I noticed is related to your comment "above refrigerator temperature". I checked the refrigerator temp with a thermometer designed for that and it was between 38-40 degrees depending on probe placement. The chicken has been in the fridge for 2 days yet the meat thermometer keeps showing 47 degrees. I don't see know the chicken could retain a different temp than the surrounding fridge temp. Doesn't this indicate one of the thermometers is not reporting correctly? If so, it seems more likely to me it is the meat thermometer. Dec 19, 2022 at 22:52
  • A properly working fridge should be 40 degrees or less and the thermometer built to record fridge temp is reporting that. Doesn't it make sense that the chicken should be at the same temp as the surrounding fridge air? Dec 19, 2022 at 22:54
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    if you are suggesting that the refrigerator is between 38 and 40F, but meat stored in the refrigerator is 47F...something is wrong in your temperature measuring. Make sure you have a calibrated thermometer and are measuring accurately. Given the inaccuracy, don't rely on anything but a thermometer you have calibrated, or know to be accurate.
    – moscafj
    Dec 20, 2022 at 0:38

1 Answer 1

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This question is not answerable with the given data. After 1.5 days, the chicken should be the same temperature as the fridge (or colder, if not fully thawed).

So we have two possible scenarios, that hinge on the used thermometers

  1. The fridge is set correctly, the thermostat & temperature probe working fine and the whole setup is not cycling (much) outside the safe zone. That would mean that the thermometer you used on the meat was incorrect and the meat stayed in the safe zone.
  2. The fridge is cycling outside the the set temperature range. Note that temperature distribution inside refrigerators can differ quite a bit from the nominal value the fridge was set to. This is why some websites recommend that different food groups should go on different shelves, depending on how sensitive they are. In that case your meat thermometer would be correct and the meat unsafe.

Unless you can verify your data with a calibrated thermometer, we have no way to determine whether we are looking at case 1 or 2 here. So from a food safety perspective, we must draw the conclusion that your chicken is not safe. Note that this doesn’t mean that the meat is spoiled, just that the requirements for food safety weren’t met with reasonable certainty.

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  • Be careful with the term "spoiled", as it has a specific meaning in this context. I agree with everything here, except that there is a difference between spoilage (which might smell or taste bad, but not necessarily be dangerous) and contamination with pathogens (which will make you sick, and could kill you...and might smell and taste fine). In this case, it is possible the chicken is not spoiled, however, it is quite possible that it contains pathogens, making it unsafe. See: canr.msu.edu/news/…
    – moscafj
    Dec 20, 2022 at 11:16
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    Thanks @Stephie and moscafj I ended up trying to calibrate my thermometer that was showing the temp being too high. It still showed the same temp. Therefore, I threw out the chicken to be safe but think my refrigerator is probably working correctly given the fridge thermometer reading. Perhaps it was a cooling airflow issue or something. I may try to investigate the temp further in the fridge in the future. Dec 22, 2022 at 18:45

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