The family didn’t eat as much of your spaghetti as usual, and now you have leftover pasta in your refrigerator. You are a frugal housekeeper, so you hate to throw anything away. But…how long does pasta last in the fridge? How long should you leave that spaghetti in the fridge?
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Cooked Pasta Fridge Life – The Eat-it-Up Philosophy
You’ve probably heard the rhyme “Eat it up, wear it out, make it do or do without,” credited to Calvin Coolidge during the First World War. It isn’t hard to live up to the “Eat it up” part if you have a family of hungry teens, but if you have picky preschoolers or a household of working adults, that leftover spaghetti could languish in the back of the fridge for a week or more.
If it is growing hair, then that is a certain sign that it is time to dump that stuff in the garbage, whether you are throwing it away with your regular trash or composting it. But if you have something that seems to be all right, but that might be on the brink of turning, how can you tell? How long is it safe to keep a pasta dish in the fridge? You don’t want to waste food, but you don’t want a trip to the emergency room with a family member who has food poisoning either!
How Long Does Cooked Pasta Last
How long does cooked pasta last? Like so many things, that depends on a lot of factors. As a general rule, the cooked pasta shelf life is three to five days, if kept in a refrigerator at 40 degrees F. or less. Frozen, it will keep 1 – 2 months. But that is a general rule of thumb and does not cover all cases. Here is a list of things to consider when thinking about whether pasta is safe to eat.
Why Might Pasta or Rice Grow Bacteria?
Bacteria doesn’t grow on uncooked pasta or rice because there isn’t any moisture to encourage bacterial growth. But once the pasta or rice is cooked, the plump noodles or grains of cereal create the perfect hiding place for hungry bacteria.
Bacteria that you might find growing in mishandled or aged pasta include (but are not limited to) micrococcus, salmonella, Escherichia e-coli, staphylococcus, and enterococcus, as well as various fungi. Or to put it another way, the same things that make pasta yummy for you makes it yummy for microorganisms.
- How long did the pasta sit on the table before refrigerating?
Usually, you will have two hours when uncooked pasta can safely be kept on the table. That’s from the time you drain the pasta until you store it in the refrigerator. The longer the pasta has sat out on the table, the less time you have when you can safely refrigerate it for later.
- What kind of topping was used on the pasta?
It isn’t just the pasta or grain that you need to think about, it is also the topping used on it. Some kinds of toppings, such as anything containing mayonnaise, spoil far more quickly than others.
- Has it been reheated?
Food safety recommendations are that you only reheat pasta once. The reason for this is that reheating pasta is unlikely to kill all the pathogens that are hiding out in it, and because your refrigerator might be harboring a few hiding microbugs.
- How warm was the kitchen or dining room?
If your kitchen is warmer than seventy degrees, then you have even less time to protect your pasta dish from spoiling. To protect food from spoiling, it needs to be kept at below 40 degrees F. or above 140 degrees F. Food that has been left on “warm” will spoil because the temperature isn’t sufficient to kill bacteria.
- Was it kept on a steam table?
A good steam table can prolong the life of a dish that is out for a buffet service because it keeps the food at 140 degrees F or slightly above. However, food that has been out in a crockpot, chaffing dish or steam table should not be reheated in any of those containers because they will not raise the temperature quickly enough for food safety.
- Best way to store cooked pasta?
To properly store pasta that has been off the stove and outside the refrigerator for less than two hours, place the pasta in a shallow storage box or resealable plastic bag. By spreading it out into a shallow layer it will cool off in the refrigerator more quickly, giving bacteria less of a chance to grow. If the pasta has been off the stove and out of the refrigerator for more than two hours it is best to discard it.
- Can you freeze pasta?
Yes, you can freeze pasta, but it is best if frozen with its sauce. Plain pasta tends to become mushy upon thawing and reheating. With that said, pasta will keep from one to two months in the freezer.
Cooked pasta in fridge is likely to keep long enough for a hungry crowd of teens to eat it up, but perhaps not long enough for an elderly shut-in or a family with preschool children. To put it another way, it will probably be safe for one or two days, before you start edging into the danger zone.
What About Those Pesky Sauces?
The sauce on your pasta dish really does have a lot of bearing on how long it can be safely left in the refrigerator. Each sauce has its own characteristics, and some will keep longer than others. Here are some estimates on the most common sorts of pasta sauces, just to give you a general idea about how long they might be edible.
- Tomato red sauce – cooked tomato sauce will typically keep four to five days in the refrigerator. Since its shelf life is longer than that of the pasta, use the life of the pasta as your measuring stick for spaghetti or similar dishes.
- Alfredo white sauce – Alfredo sauce, once opened, also has a shelf life of around four to five days. Again, if it is mixed with noodles, go with the shelf life of the noodles.
- Butter – buttered noodles will keep about the same amount of time as regular noodles, about three to five days.
- Vinegar and oil – some sorts of bacteria can be killed with vinegar, especially e-coli and salmonella. But you would have to make your vinegar dressing awfully strong to be effective, sort of like pickling your pasta, so figure on the standard three to five days and don’t take chances.
- Meat sauce – spaghetti that has meat in its sauce will keep the standard four to five days in the refrigerator. If you have enough sauce that you don’t think you can eat it up in that time, freezing is a good option. Remember, pasta freezes better with its sauce.
- Fish sauce – Fish has a shorter shelf life than meat, and really should be eaten within one or two days. The key here is to make small amounts and try to get it all eaten up at the meal for which it is prepared.
It is a good idea to periodically check the temperature in your refrigerator. It can change with the season and with the age of the fridge. You can catch many refrigerator problems early just by using an independent thermometer to check your refrigerator’s thermostat.
How Long Does Pasta Last in the Fridge?
There are so many factors that affect leftover pasta. These, as mentioned, include time on the table, how it is stored, the type of sauce used and the reliability of your refrigerator. That makes it really difficult to say just how it will be safe to eat pasta stored in your fridge.
How long does pasta last in the fridge?
As a general answer, less than five days. If you made Spaghetti on Monday, then anything left needs to go to the compost before Friday. A good way to deal with leftovers is to have a “leftovers” night midweek and then a fridge cleaning on Friday night. That leaves your fridge clear for weekend food prep when everyone is home.
If the pasta looks odd, smells funny or seems to have an odd texture, toss, don’t taste. Food poisoning is very uncomfortable at the very best. You will want to avoid it if at all possible. So, no matter how good that pasta salad was on Monday or how frugal you are trying to be, if it looks weird by Wednesday, you can part with it with a clear conscience. There is nothing economical about an emergency room visit just because you ate the wrong thing.