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Can You Eat Expired Mac And Cheese?

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Many households have a packet of mac and cheese on the pantry shelves, and it is a quick and easy dinner when you just need to throw something together after a busy day.

Packet-mix mac and cheese is a great substitute for homemade mac and cheese, although many would argue that there is no comparison to the real thing!

But how long does a packet of mac and cheese last? And can you eat expired mac and cheese? If kept in a cool, dark place, away from moisture, packet mac and cheese can potentially stay good to use well beyond the expiry date. This is because the dried pasta and powdered cheese sauce mix are designed to be non-perishable and will last for a long time in the right conditions.

Got a packet of old mac and cheese lurking at the back of the food cupboard? We’ll figure out if you can eat it safely after it has expired, and how to tell if it is past its best.

What Is Mac And Cheese?

OK, just to get it clear right from the start, we’re not talking about delicious homemade macaroni cheese here! Today we’re talking about those handy packet mixes of mac and cheese, normally found in a cardboard box in the grocery store.

And while we love homemade macaroni cheese, the packet version is something of a guilty pleasure!

Officially called a nonperishable, packaged, dry macaroni and cheese, this careful blend is perfectly formulated to give the ideal blend of flavors for a comforting bowl of mac and cheese.

Inside a box of mac and cheese, you will find some dried pasta shapes and a packet of cheese sauce mix. This contains dried milk powder, cheddar cheese, salt, butter, natural flavors, colors, and artificial preservatives.

The great thing about a packet of mac and cheese is that it can be prepared in just three easy steps. First, the pasta is boiled in water, then drained.

The powdered cheese flavoring is then stirred through the cooked pasta, along with an optional splash of butter and milk.

What Is The Shelf Life Of Mac And Cheese Mix?

Mac and cheese mix has an impressively long shelf life—the clue here is in the term “non-perishable”!

The packaging that mac and cheese are sealed in will keep it fresh and perfectly fine to eat for a long period of time.

The powdered cheese flavoring is in a moisture-proof sachet, keeping it in peak condition. And when it comes to dried pasta, this stuff is designed to last for years.

However, a packet of mac and cheese will not last forever! There is a time limit on when a packet of mac and cheese can safely be consumed.

Your packet of mac and cheese will be marked with a “Best Before” date. This is a guarantee from the manufacturers that, if eaten before this date, the food will be in perfect condition.

After this date, the food may still be edible, but the quality may have deteriorated.

So, is it OK to eat food after the best-before date? This comes down to your own personal judgment and the food item itself.

You will need to carefully assess to see if the food has gone bad, or if it has deteriorated to the point where it is inedible.

The good news is that best-before dates are used for foods that will not be too harmful if they have started to go bad.

The other date commonly referred to is the “Use By” date, which is for foods that can cause poisoning such as meats and fish. Food that has gone past the use-by date must never be consumed.

The ingredients in a packet of mac and cheese are highly processed and contain a lot of preservatives. The ingredients are also dried and very stable. This means that it will take them a long time to go bad.

If your mac and cheese is in its original packaging, it will last in your pantry until at least the “Best Before” date.

The good news is, that manufacturers normally err on the side of caution with the best-before date, as they want you to eat the food while it is at its best.

This means that many foods will still be edible even after the best-before date has passed.

Can You Eat Expired Kraft Mac And Cheese?

You will find a best-by date on your packet of mac and cheese, but in reality, it can last for much longer than this.

However, just how long will depend on a few factors.

Firstly, the packet must be unopened. Once a packet of mac and cheese has been opened, it will start to deteriorate and should be eaten within 1-2 weeks.

Secondly, how long mac and cheese will last beyond its expiry date depends on how it has been stored. The optimum storage conditions for packet mac and cheese is in a cool, dry place, away from light.

So, a packet of mac and cheese stored in a cold, dark cupboard will last for much longer than one sitting on a sunny worktop!

When it comes to a packet of mac and cheese, you have two different ingredients inside. The first of these is dried pasta, which has a very long shelf life. In a sealed packet, dried pasta will last for up to 2 years!

After this time, the pasta will start to deteriorate in quality, but in theory, it is still edible. You may find that it takes slightly longer to cook, and the texture is not quite as you would expect.

The second ingredient inside a packet of mac and cheese is the sachet of powdered cheese sauce mix.

This contains powdered cheese and milk, alongside flavorings and preservatives. It is stored inside a foil pouch designed to protect the ingredients from moisture and light.

While this cheesy blend is stabilized through the use of preservatives, it does not have an indefinite shelf life. Over time, the cheese powder may become rancid, turning the flavor of the sauce bitter and unpleasant.

How To Tell If Mac And Cheese Has Gone Bad

If you’ve found an old pack of mac and cheese in the cupboard, you may be wondering if it is safe to eat. Luckily, even if it is beyond the expiry date, it may still be absolutely fine to cook and enjoy!

The other good news is that eating an expired packet of mac and cheese is highly unlikely to cause significant illness. You might be unlucky and find that it tastes really bad, but at least you won’t become unwell!

If you want to be sure that your expired packet mac and cheese is safe to eat, there are a few simple checks you can do.

Remember that the dried pasta and packet of powdered cheese sauce should be treated as separate ingredients. Just because one is OK to eat, doesn’t mean the other one is!

The component of dried mac and cheese most likely to turn bad is the powdered cheese sauce mix, so examine this first.

Have a look at the packaging—has the pouch been damaged in any way? If so, it should be discarded as the contents will not be in the best condition.

If the pouch looks OK, open it and tip the contents onto a plate. The powder should be fine and dry, with no clumping. If it has stuck together into lumps, it has been affected by moisture and should not be eaten.

Check the color of the powder—it should be bright orange. If you see any black, brown, green, or grey flecks, the cheese sauce mix may have been affected by mold and should be thrown away.

Finally, the sniff test! It is hard to describe what something rancid smells like, but if you’ve ever smelt something bad you will never forget it. Rancid cheese powder will have an acrid smell, which is very unpleasant indeed.

Once you are happy that your cheese flavoring is OK, it is time to turn your attention to the dried pasta.

The joy of dried pasta is that it doesn’t really go bad. If stored correctly, it cannot harbor bacteria and will not deteriorate to the point where it could cause food poisoning.

However, nothing lasts forever, and over time dried pasta can deteriorate to the point where it is no longer good to eat.

An unopened box of pasta is shelf-stable for around 2 years, while an opened packet should be eaten within 1 year.

Check the pasta carefully for any signs of discoloration or mold. This is more likely to occur if the dried pasta has been in contact with water.

Mold will also have a distinctive smell, and if you suspect your dried pasta has been contaminated with mold it should be discarded.

The other problem that can occur with dried pasta that has been stored for a long time is that it becomes very brittle. Each piece will shatter and break easily, due to the very low water content.

This doesn’t mean it is bad to eat, but it can be disappointing when your pasta shapes disintegrate into a thousand pieces!

Have you ever wanted to make your own boxed mac and cheese? Well then check out this video from the folks over at Babish Culinary Universe!

Up Next: The 9 Best Substitutes For Cheese Whiz

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