How Long Can Macaroni And Cheese Sit Out?

How Long Can Macaroni And Cheese Be Left Out After Cooking?

You can hardly find someone who isn’t a big fan of macaroni and cheese. Aside from its rich taste, one thing that makes mac and cheese loved by many is that it is easy to prepare. But we often have leftovers, and this creamy food has a timeline it can sit out.

So how long can macaroni and cheese sit out? Macaroni and cheese can not sit out for longer than two hours, as the United States Department of Agriculture recommends. It only takes two hours before bacteria growth becomes active in your food; when that happens, your food will go sour. 

Foods like mac and cheese need special storage, so if you’re unsure how to keep them, read on to learn how to keep your mac and cheese in the best and safest condition.

How Long Should You Let Mac And Cheese Sit Out At Room Temperature?

Mac and cheese should not be left at room temperature for over 2 hours. At room temperature, there’s a time range after which bacteria begin to grow on the food. The danger zone for food is between 40-140°F, the temperature range at which bacteria grow spontaneously. 

Bacteria growth increases in food for as long as it stays at this temperature. For example, if you leave mac and cheese to sit out at this temperature for more than two hours, bacteria growth will increase.

Eating bacteria-infested foods is unsafe so you do not fall ill from food poisoning. After making your mac and cheese, leave it on your kitchen counter for two hours before transferring it to the refrigerator. 

How long can Mac and Cheese be kept in the fridge?

If you wish to preserve your mac and cheese for over two hours after preparing it, place it in a fridge. However, you must ensure that the fridge is always cold and that its temperature does not fall anywhere in the danger zone so your mac and cheese remain safe.

Before you place your mac and cheese in the fridge, you should pack it correctly in an air-tight container first. This way, the mac and cheese can last up to four days in the refrigerator, provided the temperature does not fall into the danger zone.

Meanwhile, boxed mac and cheese will have a longer shelf life thanks to its dryness. Although it depends on the brand and the expiry date of the mac and cheese, boxed mac and cheese can be stored for years without getting spoiled or even inhabiting bacteria.

How To Tell If Your Mac And Cheese Has Gone Bad

If you prepared mac and cheese and decided not to eat it immediately but instead placed it on the counter or stored it in the refrigerator, there are signs you should look out for to ensure your food is not spoiled before eating again.

There are some signs you should look for to know if your mac and cheese is still safe to eat. They include:

1. Unpleasant Smell

Usually, mac and cheese have a creamy and cheesy aroma, but this might change when it harbors bacteria. If you notice an unpleasant odor, the mac and cheese is no longer safe to eat. It is time to discard it already.

The smell can be sour, rancid, or rotten, usually due to the presence of cheese, making it very easy to detect. 

2. Sour taste

Spoilt foods taste sour due to fermentation caused by the presence of bacteria. Similarly, mac and cheese will taste sour and have unusual lumps in the sauce. 

3. Presence of Molds

The molds in food are enough to prove that it can no longer be eaten. If you find this on your mac and cheese, trash it, even if you had stored it previously in your fridge. Molds appear as fuzzy white spots or green particles on spoilt food.

Mold is formed when moisture is present in food. Cheese, for example, forms bacteria colonies when it goes bad, making a delicious mac and cheese looks like a blob of mold. Mold is more common in homemade mac and cheese. 

4. Discoloration

The discoloration is another obvious way to determine if your mac and cheese is already bad. If it’s bad, you might notice an indication with a faded green or gray color. Eating bad mac and cheese can lead to a severe stomach ache or food poisoning, so I’d advise against it.

Tips To Keep Your Mac And Cheese Fresh

The best way to keep your macaroni and cheese safe is to place it in the refrigerator if you aren’t eating it immediately. However, some tips might help keep your mac and cheese fresh. They include:

  • After baking, you should not refrigerate the mac and cheese immediately. It would help if you held on for it to cool down for a few hours at room temperature. Also, it would help if you placed it in a travel bag, aluminum foil, or an airtight container before placing it in the fridge.
  • Before storing your mac and cheese, please place it in an airtight container so moisture does not escape, and its freshness and aroma remain intact.
How Long Can Macaroni And Cheese Be Left Out After Cooking?

Homemade mac and cheese

Macaroni and cheese is a beloved comfort food made with elbow macaroni, melted cheese, butter, and milk. This easy recipe can be customized with various toppings and seasonings, making it perfect for any occasion.
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American


  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika


  • Cook the macaroni according to the package directions. Once cooked, drain the pasta and set it aside.
  • In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the flour and whisk continuously for about 2-3 minutes until it turns golden brown.
  • Slowly add the milk to the pot, whisking continuously to prevent lumps from forming. Cook the mixture for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently until it thickens.
  • Add the shredded cheddar cheese to the pot and stir until it has melted and is fully incorporated into the sauce.
  • Add the salt, black pepper, and paprika to the pot and stir until everything is well combined.
  • Add the cooked macaroni to the pot and stir until the pasta is fully coated in the cheese sauce.
  • If you prefer a baked macaroni and cheese, transfer the mixture to a baking dish and bake it in the oven at 375°F for about 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly.
  • Serve the macaroni and cheese hot and enjoy!


Keyword elbow macaroni, melted cheese, seasonings, toppings


If you make homemade mac and cheese, you must not use processed cheese, no matter how tempting it gets. Many fast food restaurants use cheddar cheese, a processed cheese that can become harmful if stored for extended periods. With that, you should know how long your mac and cheese can last and how to keep it fresh for longer. 

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