If you have plenty of leftover macaroni and cheese that you are looking to store for later, you may find yourself asking the above questions over and over. The good news? This article has the answers to these questions and any other queries you may have regarding mac and cheese spoilage, storage, and general shelf life. Check it out.
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Does Mac and Cheese Go Bad?
Yes, whether it is the dry mix or frozen variety, mac and cheese does go bad. A dry mix will usually come with a best-by or best-before date indicating the estimated shelf life of the packet.
However, as with most dried foods, the mix will not spoil a day or two after this period. You can keep your mac and cheese for a couple more months and it will still be okay. The quality may not be as good as that of a new packet but the ready meal will not be unsafe to eat.
The same goes for mac and cheese bought from the frozen food section of the grocery store. It will have a shelf life date printed on the package too, but cooked dishes will still taste alright beyond that date.
How Long Does Mac and Cheese Last?
Most dry macaroni and cheese mixes will have an estimated shelf life of two years. If stored properly, an unopened pack can keep for an extra three to six months past the printed date. You can keep the mix in the pantry but as soon as you have opened it, transfer the leftover into the refrigerator.
If you have bought the mix in bulk, it’s best to store it in the refrigerator or freezer. Here, it can stay fresh for up to six months and up to twelve months respectively beyond the best-by date.
For frozen mac and cheese, use the date on the label to know how long you can keep it. While the shelf life can vary from brand to brand, most packets will last an additional two to four months past the estimated best-by date. To help the product retain its quality the longest, keep it in the freezer at all times, tightly sealed.
How about cooked mac and cheese, you may ask? Well, if you have a leftover dish of macaroni and cheese, put it in the refrigerator and make sure to eat it within two to six days. If you would love for the meal to last a little longer, place it in the freezer where it can stay good for up to three months.
Do not store cooked mac and cheese at room temperature. According to the Mississippi State University, cooked food should not be left on the counter for more than two hours. Of course, the meal will not go bad immediately after the two hour-period, but given that bacteria multiply rapidly at room temperature, the longer it sits out, the more likely it will spoil.
Here is a table summarizing the estimated shelf life of mac and cheese.
Mac and Cheese Type
|Dry mac and cheese mix||Best-by date + 3 months||Up to 6 months||Up to 1 year|
|Frozen mac and cheese||Not recommended||Not recommended||Best-by date + 2 to 4 months|
|Cooked mac and cheese||Not recommended||2 to 6 days||Up to 3 months|
3 Tips to Tell if Mac and Cheese Has Gone Bad
Mac and cheese that has spoiled is very easy to identify. Below are some of the things to look out for.
1. Awful Smell
Good macaroni and cheese will have a distinct creamy and cheesy aroma. If yours gives off a stinky odor, that’s a sign something is wrong. Perhaps you left it unsealed and now it has gone rancid. Or it absorbed scents from adjacent foods and now smells like fish.
Whichever the case, that mac and cheese won’t be enjoyable to eat. But it is up to you to decide what you want to do with it depending on the extent of the damage.
2. Altered Taste
Cooked macaroni and cheese should taste just like it smells – cheesy and creamy. Unless you have added other ingredients into it that make it taste different, any other suspicious taste like an overly sharp sourness could be a sign that the dish has rancidified. While consuming it may not make you sick, if the bitterness is unbearable, it’s best to just throw out the meal.
Both cooked and uncooked mac and cheese are vulnerable to mold growth. While the uncooked box may be a little less susceptible, if left unsealed and water sneaks in, it could also provide a breeding ground for mold. If you see gray or green spots on the surface of your mac and cheese, get rid of it.
4 Tips to Store Mac and Cheese
As long as your mac and cheese is stored correctly, it can keep good up until its expiration date and long after that. Here are tips to help you enjoy that packet of mac and cheese the longest.
1. Choose a Cool, Dry Area
This mostly applies to dry mac and cheese mix. Pick a spot away from the stove, direct sunlight, and other heat sources. The area should also be moisture-free so the product stays dry. Most pantries will fit these requirements, but any storage area that favors dry mixes could also do the job.
2. Consider Vacuum Sealing
If you have several boxes of mac and cheese that you plan on storing long-term, you may want to go a step further in prepping them for storage. For instance, transfer the product into airtight containers, and not just that; vacuum seal them. This extra step enables your mac and cheese to retain its quality longer while locking out moisture and bugs.
Here is a short video that takes you through the process of vacuum sealing so your mac and cheese stays fresh and flavorful for a long, long time:
3. Store Frozen Mac and Cheese in the Freezer
If you got your macaroni and cheese from the frozen food section, make sure to place the product in the freezer as soon as you get home. You can store it as it is with its original box, but if you have strong-scented foods inside the freezer, it’s best to place the product into an airtight box before putting it away.
4. Refrigerate Cooked Mac and Cheese
Cooked macaroni and cheese may not last very long, but you can help them live a little longer by storing them in the fridge. If you plan to eat them in less than a week, just transfer the prepared meal into an airtight bowl and chuck it in the refrigerator. If you would like the dish to last longer than that, put it in the freezer.
The Risk of Consuming Expired Mac and Cheese
If you eat expired macaroni and cheese, there is a high chance that nothing will happen. Why? First of all, the smell and taste of moldy or rancid mac and cheese are terrible and it’s likely that you will toss out the product or prepared dish as soon as you realize it is spoiled.
But what if you accidentally ingest spoiled mac and cheese, you may ask? Again, nothing will happen. You see, while moldy or rancid food can cause food poisoning, it will only affect you if consumed in large amounts.
A few bites will likely not harm you, but if you ingest an entire bowl, you may become vulnerable to food poisoning ailments like gastroenteritis usually characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, and stomach pains.
If you are doubting the integrity of a packet of mac and cheese that has been in storage for a while, it is better to just get rid of it.
Can You Freeze Mac and Cheese?
Yes, if you have some leftover mac and cheese that you don’t expect to cook any time soon, freeze it. All you need is an airtight container so the product stays dry. Simply transfer the product into the container and close the lid tightly to keep moisture and smells at bay.
If you have bought the product in bulk, consider portioning it into smaller containers rather than putting everything into one large container. That way, you won’t keep on opening the larger container when you want to use the product, which will enable it to better retain its quality and flavor.
Under the right storage conditions, macaroni and cheese can stay good for a long time. The date printed on the label doesn’t necessarily mean that the product will become unsafe to eat. It is only an estimate of how long it will stay good for. For the most part, you can eat your mac and cheese for up to a few months beyond this period but if you notice a change in taste or smell, discard it.