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 recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture. It only takes two hours before bacteria growth becomes active in your food and when that happens, your food will go sour.
Foods like mac and cheese need special storage so if you’re not sure 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 out at room temperature for more than 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.
It is very unsafe to eat bacteria-infested foods, so you do not fall ill from food poisoning. After making your mac and cheese, leave it on your kitchen counter for no longer than 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 more than two hours after preparing it, you should 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 for up to four days in the refrigerator, provided that 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 has a creamy and cheesy aroma, but this might change when it starts harboring 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 have a sour taste and unusual lumps in the sauce.
3. Presence of Molds
The presence of molds in food is 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 look like a blob of mold. Mold is more common in homemade mac and cheese.
Discoloration is another obvious way to find out if your mac and cheese is bad already. 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, there are some tips that 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.
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 quite 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 a longer time.