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How Long Can Macaroni And Cheese Sit Out?

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Macaroni and cheese is a classic dinner or side that just about everyone loves. It is simple enough to make and it is packed full of cheesy flavor.

When making macaroni and cheese, you’ll probably have a bit leftover — you might leave this on the counter for some time while you enjoy what is on your plate, but this might not be the safest thing to do.

How long can macaroni and cheese sit out? Macaroni and cheese should not be left to sit out for longer than two hours. After two hours, there is a chance of increased bacteria growth, which could cause the food to spoil and make it unsafe for you to eat.

To keep your macaroni and cheese in the best, safest condition, read on to find out more about leaving it out, keeping it in the fridge, and more!

How Long Can Macaroni And Cheese Sit Out At Room Temperature?

Macaroni and cheese needs to be treated with the same rules as just about all other foods when it comes to how long it can be left out for at room temperature.

The rule to follow is that macaroni and cheese should not be left out at room temperature for longer than two hours, and there is a good reason for this.

The danger zone for food is between 40-140°F. This temperature range is where bacteria grow rapidly, and the longer food is left out at this temperature, the higher risk there is of increased bacteria growth.

If macaroni and cheese is left out at room temperature for longer than two hours, bacterial growth will increase, and there is a chance that you could fall ill from food poisoning if you then eat the macaroni and cheese.

Once you have cooked the macaroni and cheese, leave it out to cool on the counter, but make sure to pack it away and place it in the refrigerator within two hours.

How Long Can Macaroni And Cheese Be Kept In The Fridge?

Temperatures in the fridge should not fall anywhere in the danger zone for food bacteria growth, so you are able to keep macaroni and cheese in the fridge for much longer than you would be able to leave out at room temperature.

If packed correctly in an air-tight container, macaroni and cheese can be kept in the fridge for up to four days.

However, it is really important to pack the macaroni and cheese away within two hours of it being cooked, so it is not left to sit at room temperature for too long.

How Long Can Macaroni And Cheese Sit Out At Warmer Temperatures?

If it is a particularly hot day, or if you are grilling outside and you have your macaroni and cheese out on a picnic table, you might be worried about letting it sit for too long at warmer temperatures.

The rule is to not leave food out at room temperature for longer than two hours, but if the temperature is particularly warm, then you should really pack the macaroni and cheese away as quickly as you can.

We would advise against leaving macaroni out at warmer temperatures for longer than an hour.

Try to dish up what you need, and then pack the macaroni and cheese away into a suitable container and place it into the fridge for safe storage.

Bacteria thrive at warm temperatures — if you leave your macaroni and cheese out at warmer temperatures for longer periods, the bacteria growth will increase, and there is a higher risk of foodborne illness. 

How Long Can Macaroni And Cheese Be Frozen For?

If you want to store the leftover macaroni and cheese you have for more than just a few days, the fridge will not be the best option. To save the macaroni and cheese for longer than this, you can freeze it.

Macaroni and cheese does freeze well, as long as it was placed in a suitable freezer container that will protect it from freezer burn. This could either be a plastic, resealable freezer bag, or an air-tight freezer container.

Once placed in the freezer, macaroni and cheese should be used within two months. It should still be safe to use after two months in the freezer, but the quality might begin to decline, and the taste and texture would not be as good.

To help with this, you should label the freezer bag or container with the date of freezing, so you can be sure to use it within the recommended amount of time.

How To Tell If Macaroni And Cheese Has Gone Bad

If you have left macaroni and cheese out for too long, or if it has been in the fridge for a few days, then it is worth looking for some signs that it is still fine to eat.

There are some signs to look for to see whether macaroni and cheese has spoiled, just to help you make sure you are enjoying food that is still safe to eat!

Here are the signs to look for that macaroni and cheese has gone bad.

Odor

Macaroni and cheese should have a delicious, cheesy smell.

If you notice anything off or rancid, or even a sour smell, you should discard it. This is a sign that the dairy in the macaroni and cheese has started to go off, and the dish is no longer safe to eat.

Discoloration

There should be no discoloration on fresh macaroni and cheese. Once the macaroni and cheese starts to spoil, it might turn a very pale, light gray color, or even start to turn green. 

This includes looking for mold on the macaroni and cheese; it could appear as white and green spots of growth, and it could even be fuzzy.

You cannot just cut the moldy bits away — it is a very clear sign that the macaroni and cheese has gone off.

Taste 

Tasting macaroni and cheese that you suspect has gone off is not the best idea, but if there are no other signs of spoiling, tasting might be the best way to tell whether it is off or not.

The taste of macaroni and cheese should obviously be cheesy and creamy — if it does not still taste this way, or if it has some lumps and an abnormal taste, then you should stop eating it and rather throw it away.

How Long Can Thawed Macaroni And Cheese Be Kept In the Fridge?

Freezing macaroni and cheese allows it to stay fresh for longer, but you do need to be careful of how long you keep the macaroni and cheese in the fridge once you have thawed it.

Once macaroni and cheese has been frozen and thawed, it can be kept in the fridge for up to three days.

This however is only for when the macaroni and cheese has been safely thawed in the refrigerator, rather than be left to thaw at room temperature.

If you reheat the macaroni and cheese once it has been thawed, then it should be eaten straight away.

You should not place thawed and reheated macaroni and cheese into the fridge again, as there would be too high a chance of increased bacteria growth.

To be safe, only reheat what you need, rather than heating it all up and putting leftovers back into the fridge.

Final Thoughts

There is no point in spending time and effort making macaroni and cheese, only to leave it to sit out at room temperature for too long and have it spoil.

The general rule is that you should not leave macaroni and cheese out for longer than two hours at room temperature, and if the temperature is particularly warm, then you should not leave it out for more than an hour.

To keep macaroni and cheese fresh for longer, keep it in a suitable container in the refrigerator for up to four days, or keep it in the freezer for up to two months.

When in doubt, look for any signs to see if macaroni and cheese has spoiled before eating it.

Related Questions

Now that we’ve learned all about how long macaroni and cheese can be left out at room temperature, in the fridge, and in the freezer, as well as signs of spoilage, here are some additional questions we thought you might have.

Can you eat macaroni and cheese if it has been left out overnight?

You should not eat macaroni and cheese if it has been left out overnight.

The reason for this is that it would have been left in the temperature danger zone for far too long —there is a very increased risk of bacteria growth, and a good chance you could get sick from eating it.

Can I put warm macaroni and cheese in the fridge?

You should not put warm macaroni and cheese in the refrigerator. Placing warm macaroni and cheese in the fridge can increase the internal temperature of the fridge, and put other food items at risk.

You should wait for the macaroni and cheese to reach room temperature before placing it in the fridge, but you should not leave it out at room temperature for longer than two hours either, so you will have to use your judgment.

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