Does Pizza Go Bad?

You ordered a couple of large pizzas for a party and didn’t finish all of them. The leftovers were left on the countertop overnight, and now you’re wondering if they are still safe to eat. Does leftover pizza go bad?

Or maybe your last guests just left, and you’re cleaning up. You’d like to save that leftover half of pizza for breakfast and are wondering how to go about that.

If either scenario sounds familiar, you’re in the right place. Below, we talk about storage, shelf life, and signs of spoiled pizza. Read on.

Pizzas sitting on a wooden table with different toppings.

How To Store Pizza

Once you’re done with the pizza, the leftovers should go into the fridge (USDA:FH). And the faster they get there, the better.

To stay on the safe side, you should refrigerate them within two hours (or one hour if the temperature is over 90 °F) of the pizza arriving. That’s because perishable foods shouldn’t sit for longer than that at ambient temperature to stay safe (USDA:FH).

Warning

When food is neither hot nor cold, it’s in the temperature danger zone. That’s when bacteria (like Salmonella or Escherichia coli) multiply quickly and can grow to levels that can cause food poisoning (USDA:DZ).

If your pizza tends to sit on the countertop from the moment it arrives to when the last guests leave, consider changing your strategy. Perhaps once everyone is full, you could ask your guests if anyone wants any extra helpings, and if not, you can clean up the table and refrigerate the leftovers. You can always reheat them later on.

Pizza on a wooden pizza pan

When it comes to the two-hour rule, it’s definitely not one of the hard and fast ones. The pizza doesn’t immediately go bad or unsafe to eat when it’s out for longer than two hours, but the chances of that happening are much higher. In other words, it’s your call on whether you eat it or discard it.

For refrigerating the pizza, the cardboard box it comes in is okay if you want to eat the leftovers for breakfast. For longer storage, consider wrapping each slice with aluminum foil, and then putting it in that box. That’s because the boxes allow airflow, and pizzas tend to dry out if kept there for an extended period.

Tip

If pizza for breakfast isn’t your thing, and you’re not quite sure when you’re going to eat the leftovers, freeze them.

Pepperoni and cheese pizza

How To Freeze Leftover Pizza

Freezing pizza leftovers couldn’t be any simpler. All you need is aluminum foil, and perhaps some freezer bags. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Wrap each slice in aluminum foil. If you plan on storing the slices for longer than a couple of weeks, put those wrapped slices into freezer bags.
  2. (optional) Put the slices into an airtight container. If you’re afraid that your pizza slices will get squished before they freeze, put them in a container that will keep them intact.
  3. Put everything into the freezer.

Voila, that’s it. The frozen leftovers can sit in the freezer for a couple of months without losing much in terms of quality.

When it comes to thawing, leave the frozen slices in the fridge overnight.

Tip

You can put the frozen slices directly into the oven, and thaw and reheat them there, but the quality tends to be better if you defrost food slowly (i.e., in the fridge).

Pizza and beer on a table

How Long Does Pizza Last

This one is fairly simple. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA:FH), leftover pizza is safe for two hours at room temperature, and four days if refrigerated.

As already mentioned, these periods aren’t hard and fast, and often you can get away with storing the food for a bit longer (like an hour or two at room temperature, or day or two in the fridge). That’s especially true for fairly “dry” pizzas, that is those without topping that includes lots of water. But if your pizza sat on the countertop overnight, throw it out.

Nevertheless, for safety, I suggest sticking with the USDA guidelines. If you want to push those rules a bit, be my guest, but don’t push them too far.

CounterFridge
Leftover pizza2 hours4 days

How To Tell If Pizza Is Bad?

Besides following the storage time guidelines I outlined above, you should always give the leftover pizza a good check before eating. Look for:

  • Mold or any other organic growth. If there’s any, get rid of it. If there’s something wrong with the pizza appearance-wise, don’t take any risks.
  • Off smell. If there’s something wrong with the smell of the leftovers, discard them. One thing to note here is pizza can pick up smells if it’s not tightly sealed. That’s why your Hawaiian pizza smells like the Chorizo or Pepperoni that are on the same shelf.
  • Bad taste. If, after reheating the leftover slices, you’re not quite enjoying them, it’s okay to throw them out. In fact, I’d advise you to do that, as there might be something wrong with them.

Last but not least, if your leftovers have dried out and seem stale, that’s normal if they weren’t properly sealed. It’s up to you if you try to reheat and eat them anyway, or you accept your losses and discard them.

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