Does Mac and Cheese Go Bad?

For many, macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food. Some people cook it from scratch, but just as many choose the dry mix or a frozen package you can find in your local supermarket.

And if you go with the store-bought variety, sooner or later you will ask yourself: does mac and cheese go bad?

Even if you cook it from raw ingredients, I’m pretty sure every now and then there are leftovers. Or maybe you thought about cooking 2-meals-worth of macaroni and cheese, so you can just come home and reheat it for dinner later this week.

In this article, we talk all about mac and cheese. Both the homemade variety and the one you can buy at the store. We cover storage, shelf life, going bad, and even touch upon freezing. If you have any questions or doubts related to these topics, this article is for you.

Mac and cheese
Image used under Creative Commons from Stephanie

How To Store Mac And Cheese

Let’s start with the cooked homemade (or not) mac and cheese. Once you whip up a big portion of pasta with cheese sauce, it’s time to decide what you’re going to do with the leftovers.

If you plan on eating them within a few days, the fridge is where they should go. Let the food cool down a bit, so it’s not steaming anymore, and transfer it in an airtight container and refrigerate. For the meal to retain the quality for the longest, put it in the far corner of the fridge.

If you need more than a couple of days, freeze the prepared meal.

When it comes to a boxed dry mix of mac and cheese, the pantry is where you should store it. Make sure the area is cool and dry. Like other dry mixes, such as pancake mix, it’s about all it needs. If you want to store the mix for super-long, you can put it into the freezer.

For the sake of completeness, I want to mention that obviously, you should keep frozen mac and cheese in the freezer.

Mac and cheese at the kitchen table
Image used under Creative Commons from Maria Eklind

How To Freeze Mac and Cheese

If you don’t expect to eat the leftovers anytime soon, or would simply prefer some flexibility in that matter, freeze them. The method is exactly the same, except you should make sure you use a freezer-safe container.

In case you were wondering about freezing cooked macaroni noodles and the sauce separately, that’s not a good idea. That’s because pasta becomes mushy once thawed. But if you whipped up more sauce than you need, it should freeze perfectly fine on its own.

When it comes to thawing, as usual, the fridge is the best option. Alternatively, you can thaw and reheat the mac and cheese on the stove, but make sure you watch it closely, so it doesn’t burn.

Just cooked macaroni and cheese
(credit: Atharva Lele)

How Long Does Mac And Cheese Last

Once again, let’s start with the meal already cooked. If you refrigerate it, it should keep for about 3 to 5 days. How well it keeps depends on the ingredients and recipe. So if you prepare it from scratch, feel free to do some experimenting to learn how long it stays in an okay condition in the fridge. For longer storage, freeze it.

When it comes to dry mixes of macaroni and cheese, they all come with a best-by date. Usually, the suggested shelf life is between a year or two, but if you keep the mix around for a few more months, the ready meal should still turn out okay. If for any reason, you need to store the mix for a lot longer, you can freeze it.

Last but not least, frozen mac and cheese also comes with a date on the label. And since frozen food degrades in quality very slowly, you can expect the quality of the cooked dish to still be quite alright even after a few months past that date.

 PantryFridgeFreezer
Cooked mac and cheese 3 – 5 days2+ months
Mac and cheese dry mixBest-by + 3 months Best-by + 6+ months
Frozen mac and cheese  Best-by + 3 months

Please note the periods above are estimates only.

Burger with mac and cheese, and fries
(credit: Alex Haney)

How To Tell If Mac And Cheese Has Gone Bad

When it comes to dry mix of mac and cheese, as long as moisture didn’t get into the package, it should be fine. If everything looks and smells perfectly fine, it’s okay. If there are any signs of mold, big clumps, or anything else that shouldn’t be there, discard the package.

When it comes to cooked mac and cheese, you should be able to tell if it’s spoiled by smell and sight. First off, look for any signs of mold, especially if the dish sat in the fridge for 3+ days already. If it seems okay, the good old sniff test is next in line. If the dish doesn’t smell right, throw it out. While the mac and cheese isn’t necessarily spoiled, an off odor is a sure sign something is wrong with it.

When in doubt, throw it out.