The answer depends on how you’ve thawed it.
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How to Season Chicken Breasts
Credit: Photo: Jamie Vespa MS, RD

So you don't know what to make for dinner tonight, and you haven't made it to the grocery store just yet this week. No problem—there's always a pack of chicken breasts stashed in the freezer precisely for times like these.

You take the chicken out to thaw in the morning, but the day gets the best of you. By the time dinner rolls around, you're too exhausted to cook—takeout to the rescue!

But what about those chicken breasts you thawed earlier this morning? Can you slide them back into the freezer for your next great chicken dinner? It'd be a shame to waste it, but this is a matter of food safety, so we need to consult the pros.

Can You Refreeze Chicken?

According to the experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), you can safely refreeze chicken as long as it has been thawed properly. Emphasis on as long as the chicken has been thawed properly.

So how does one properly thaw chicken?

How to Safely Thaw Chicken

Luckily, you have quite a few options when it comes to safely thawing chicken—but setting that pack of thighs on the countertop and going on about your day is not one of them.

"Never thaw chicken on the counter or in other locations," the USDA warns. Room temperature is considered the "danger zone" in food safety code.

"Bacteria can multiply rapidly if left at room temperature or in the "Danger Zone" between 40 degrees F and 140 degrees F," the CDC advises. Accordingly, potentially hazardous food must be stored at temperatures below 41 degrees F or above 140 degrees F.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends three methods to safely thaw chicken: in the refrigerator, in cold water, and in the microwave.

The best route to take is removing the chicken from the freezer the night before you plan to cook it and placing it in the refrigerator to thaw slowly. While certain cuts of chicken, such as boneless breasts or wings, may thaw in just 12 to 24 hours in the refrigerator, bone-in parts and whole chickens may take one to two days or longer to fully thaw.

How Soon Should You Cook Chicken Once It's Thawed?

Once you've thawed your chicken, you'll need to use it within one to two days. That means that you can still make use of that thawed chicken for dinner tomorrow.

But let's say you don't get around to cooking your chicken within 24 to 48 hours of thawing. The good news is that, if you act fast, you can still refreeze your chicken.

"During this time, if chicken thawed in the refrigerator is not used, it can safely be refrozen without cooking it first," the FSIS notes.

How Should You Store Frozen Chicken?

We've concluded that if you've followed safe thawing procedures, you can place your chicken right back in the freezer. But if you plan to store it for a longer period of time, you can take a few extra storage precautions to avoid freezer burn.

"If you plan to freeze chicken longer than two months, overwrap the porous store plastic packages with airtight heavy-duty foil, plastic wrap, or freezer paper, or place the package inside a freezer bag," the FSIS advises.

Now onto more pressing questions: Should you wash your chicken?