Nothing says delicious “comfort food” like a hot, gooey batch of mac and cheese, and the best part is that the whole family and/or all the guests agree.
But what if you haven’t finished the whole pan and you come into the kitchen in the morning and find it on the kitchen counter? It still looks delicious, sure, but is it safe to eat?
According to USDA food safety and storage guidelines, it is not safe to eat macaroni and cheese that has been sitting for more than two hours. It is a perishable food that will begin to grow bacteria within two hours unless stored cold.
There are many things to consider when cooking, storing and consuming food. Sometimes it can be difficult to decide if a food is fresh enough to eat or not. We’ll show you what to look for to identify if your food has gone bad!
How long can macaroni and cheese rest?
Of course, there are two types of macaroni and cheese that we could talk about here. If you’re wondering about raw boxed mac and cheese, the answer is: they can be left out for a long time. Packaged macaroni and cheese can be safely eaten for years if stored properly and unopened.
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If the “mac” were on its own, it might be a different story, but its trusty and delicious sidekick, the “cheese,” gives this favorite dish a maximum of two hours on the counter before you have to put it in a cold room. .
Enjoy it fresh out of the oven or on the stove, then be sure to put it in the fridge or freezer before those two hours are up.
If cooked macaroni and cheese has been left out longer than the USDA “danger zone” of two hours, your best bet is to throw it out and start over. It doesn’t feel right, but consider it a great opportunity to whip up a hot, fresh batch of this crowd pleaser.
What can happen if you eat bad macaroni and cheese?
If you just couldn’t resist those leftovers, even if they sat a little (or a lot!) longer than the recommended two hours, we get it.
It was so good the first time we hated to miss it! However, if you eat spoiled mac and cheese, prepare for an upset stomach.
If you eat spoiled food of any kind, including macaroni and cheese, you are likely to experience some symptoms of food poisoning.
These can range from mild symptoms like an upset stomach, loss of appetite, and nausea to more extreme symptoms like fever, vomiting, and diarrhea.
If you experience any of these more extreme symptoms, such as a high fever, diarrhea for more than two days, or signs of dehydration, including dry mouth, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately. Food poisoning can be uncomfortable; dehydration can be dangerous.
How do you know if the mac and cheese has gone bad?
If our parlons of the boîte do not ouverte de Mac and Cheese qui s’est en quelque quelque perdue au fond du garde-manger, bonne nouvelle: il ya de fortes chances qu’elle soit encore edible et que vous ayez votre diner por the night.
Packaged raw dry pasta with cheese powder has a long shelf life as long as it remains sealed and dry during storage.
If you’re not sure, or if the expiration date has passed, you can test it by pouring the dry ingredients into a clear glass container to look for signs of caking, bugs (pantry moths are the worst!), or mold growth. .
If there are any signs of these things, discard the contents and return to the pantry for Plan B for dinner tonight.
If the mac and cheese in question is pre-cooked and left over from dinner a few nights ago, it’ll be pretty clear if it’s still safe to eat with a quick “sniff test.” Bacterial growth on cheese quickly gives off an unpleasant odor, so smell it and decide if it’s still safe to eat.
Signs of mold growth will be even more apparent. Here, you’ll see discoloration in the cheese and noodles if you go that far; chances are you’ll smell it long before you see mold grow.
As with all food safety questions, the best rule of thumb is always: Better safe than sorry. If you don’t know if that smell is good or not, throw it out and start over. Your belly will thank you for erring on the side of caution.
How to store macaroni and cheese?
One of the benefits of raw, packaged macaroni and cheese is that it has a long shelf life. Store it in its original packaging in a cool, dry place.
If you know it will be stored for a while, take the extra precaution of placing unopened packages of mac and cheese in an airtight container (Tupperware, snap lids, etc.).
This extra precaution of using an airtight storage container for packaged raw foods will help keep raw foods fresher and prevent insect infestations in the pantry.
Whether you cooked your store-bought mac and cheese or made your own batch from scratch, you’ll want to save what you didn’t eat for another meal.
To ensure safe storage of leftover cooked macaroni and cheese, place in an airtight container or cover tightly and refrigerate within two hours of preparation.
Baked mac and cheese that you want to save for later can also be frozen. For best results, portion leftovers into individual portions and freeze in ziplock bags for quick thawing. Entire batches can be stored in the same way; just allow additional thawing time when ready to eat.
Mac and Cheese can also be stored in an airtight glass or plastic container and then put in the freezer.
How long can macaroni and cheese be stored?
If you’re wondering about raw, packaged mac and cheese, you’ve got a surprisingly long window of time. Depending on the brand, boxed macaroni and cheese that has been stored in a cool, dry place may be edible for up to two years after its expiration date.
Once you’ve prepped and cooked the contents of the box, or made your batch of homemade mac and cheese, you can enjoy them for 3-4 days after your initial meal. Make sure you’ve put it in the fridge and don’t forget to do a quick smell test…the cheese will tell you quickly if it’s not good!
If you have chosen to freeze your mac and cheese and your freezer is kept at a constant freezing level (below 32˚F or 0˚C), it will remain safe to eat indefinitely. However, the quality of taste and texture of food deteriorates after 1-2 months.
There’s a good reason Mac and Cheese is a staple and favorite among all ages and stages of life. It’s delicious and you can make it in large batches to enjoy over and over again!
Do yourself and your hungry future a favor: store your mac and cheese in a timely and safe manner so you can enjoy it a second (or third) time!
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