Does Coleslaw Go Bad?

If store-bought coleslaw is one of the favorite side dishes in your household, you’ve probably considered going with a bigger container to save money. The only question is: how long can coleslaw sit in the fridge before it goes bad?

If, one the other hand, you like to make your own coleslaw, you know that prepping it from scratch might be a bit time-consuming. Shredding the cabbage and other veggies, preparing the dressing, and letting everything sit so the flavors combine, all take some time. And often, when we’re whipping up dinner in a hurry, we want it right now. Making coleslaw in bulk might be the answer, but how long does it last?

No matter if you go with the store-bought variety, or whip it up from scratch, this short guide is for you. In it, we talk about storage, shelf life, and going bad of coleslaw. Interested? Read on.

Burger, coleslaw, and sweet potato fries
(credit: Brandon Morgan)

How To Store Coleslaw

No matter if you go with mayonnaise-based or vinaigrette-based dressing, you should keep your coleslaw in the fridge. As usual, make sure the container is sealed tightly, so the salad doesn’t pick up any smells or dry out.

If you have a large container or made a big batch, it’s best to scoop as much as you need for the meal and refrigerate the rest immediately. Of course, the salad won’t go bad if it’s left out for the duration of the dinner, or even up to two hours (USDA). But the longer it stays at room temperature, the longer any microorganisms that are inside can multiply rapidly, and cause the coleslaw to spoil before it’s due.

Tip

When scooping coleslaw, always use clean utensils. The easiest way to go about that is to get a separate spoon only for the salad.

If you’ve tried making coleslaw in bulk but ended up with a watery salad, you can try the following instead:

  • Prep and store veggies and dressing separately. Shredded cabbage and other veggies should last for about five days in the fridge, so you can prep them on a Sunday evening to use throughout the week. Combine the vegetables with the dressing before the meal.
  • Wilt the veggies before making the salad. Shred the cabbage, add salt, and leave it until it wilts. Then rinse and spin in a salad spinner to dry. This way, the cabbage won’t release as much water in the salad as it usually does, and your coleslaw shouldn’t end up watery.
Beef burger and coleslaw side
(credit: Jakub Kapusnak)

How Long Does Coleslaw Last

Coleslaw is no sauerkraut or kimchi. Its shelf life is super short, no matter if you buy it in the supermarket or whip it up yourself.

When it comes to store-bought coleslaw, go with the best-by date on the label. The salad might be okay for a day or two past that date, but that’s it. Salads are perishable, and trying to store them for who-knows-how-long is never a good idea.

The label should also inform you of how long after opening the container the coleslaw should be good for. Usually, it’s two to three days, but make sure to check the label. After that period, the salad will gradually become watery and not all that appealing.

For homemade coleslaw, it lasts between 3 to 5 days. It all depends on the recipe, how well you store it, and what texture is still acceptable for you. If you’re following a recipe you’ve found online, look for shelf life information. Again, if your coleslaw is getting watery in a matter of day or two, try the tips I outlined in the storage section.

Fridge
Store-bought coleslaw (unopened)Best-by date
Store-bought coleslaw (opened)2 – 3 days (check label)
Homemade coleslaw3 – 5 days

Please note that the periods above are estimates only.

Dinner with coleslaw side
(credit: Jacob Stone)

How To Tell If Coleslaw Is Bad

The longer you store the coleslaw, the worse its texture. The veggies will lose their crispness, and the whole salad will become watery. That said, watery coleslaw isn’t spoiled (provided there aren’t any other signs of spoilage). It doesn’t look pretty, and the taste is so-so at best, but it’s still okay to eat. It’s up to you if you eat or discard wilted coleslaw.

When it comes to sure signs of bad coleslaw, look for the following:

  • Mold. Unsurprisingly, if there’s mold, the salad is done for.
  • Discolorations and other visual changes. Any dark spots mean the decay is setting in, and it’s best to discard the salad.
  • Sour or off smell. If the odor has changed noticeably, throw out the salad. Please note that if your coleslaw naturally smells sour (e.g., the dressing includes lemon juice), then that’s definitely not a sign of spoilage.
  • Prolonged storage. If the salad sits in storage for much longer than the suggested periods, you should get rid of it, even if it seems quite alright.
  • Awful taste. If everything else seems fine, let your taste buds decide if eating the salad is a good idea or not.

Sources