The shelf life of tofu depends on whether you bought the shelf-stable variety or the one that requires refrigeration. The former lasts for months, while the latter for only a month or so.
But no matter which option you go with, you only get a couple of days of storage once you open the package.
That is, unless you decide to freeze your tofu, which is also a pretty popular option that I cover.
Interested in learning the basics of shelf life, storage, and spoilage of tofu?
How Long Does Tofu Last?
Shelf-stable tofu comes with a shelf life of a few months up to a year, while refrigerated tofu typically lasts for only a month or so.
Once you open the package, tofu stays good for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge. That’s true for both refrigerated and shelf-stable tofu.
Of course, the suggestions vary from brand to brand, so it’s always good to consult the label for more info.
Having said that, take those suggestions with a grain of salt. That’s because sometimes these are quite ridiculous, like, for example: “use within 24 hours of opening.”
That’s the primer on the shelf life of tofu. Let’s dig into the details.
|Shelf-stable tofu (unopened)||Best-by + 1 – 2 weeks|
|Shelf-stable tofu (opened)||3 – 4 days|
|Refrigerated tofu (unopened)||Use-by + 3 – 7 days|
|Refrigerated tofu (opened)||3 – 4 days|
|Cooked tofu||4 days|
Producers usually recommend finishing their tofu within 2 to 3 days of opening the package.
That’s a decent suggestion, but I’m fairly sure you can extend that to the 4 days period recommended for pretty much all leftovers.
Of course, you need to remember to at least seal the tofu in an airtight container for the soy product to last those four days.
There are other storage options too, and I cover them in detail later in the article.
Cooked tofu keeps for about 4 days in the fridge.
If those four days aren’t enough, often you can freeze the cooked dish. This way, you don’t have to worry about the food going bad in the refrigerator.
Of course, not all tofu-based dishes freeze well, but it’s definitely worth checking if yours is.
You can try to store the tofu-based dish in the fridge for five or even six days, but that’s playing with fire. Instead, stick with the “4 days in the fridge or freeze it” advice.
You’re probably not the only one who’s wondering how long after the expiration date tofu is still good. And, unfortunately, there isn’t a good answer.
The date on the label isn’t an expiration date, but usually a use-by (for refrigerated tofu) or a best-by (for the shelf-stable variety) date. And it doesn’t have anything to do with food safety.
It’s just an estimate of how long the producer thinks the product will retain quality. And since it’s a relatively safe guess, chances are your tofu will be okay for some time past it.
How long, you ask?
For the shelf-stable variety that comes with a shelf life of even a year, I would assume an extra week or two should be perfectly safe. Of course, the longer the total shelf life, the longer tofu should stay good past its date.
That means a week for tofu that lasts three months and two weeks or even more for one that keeps for a year.
When it comes to refrigerated tofu, an extra 3 to 4 days, maybe even a week, should be okay.
Last but not least, when you’re dealing with old (or already “expired”) tofu, make sure it’s perfectly safe to use before you start cooking, baking, stir-frying, braising, or however you’re using it.
Let’s talk about that.
Does Tofu Go Bad?
Tofu, like almost all food products, eventually goes bad.
Sure, the shelf-stable variety lasts for months, but it doesn’t stay safe and good to eat forever. For refrigerated tofu, its storage time is much shorter, quite similar to many dairy products.
And once you open the package, tofu goes bad in only a couple of days, even if you store it in perfect conditions. Unless you freeze it, of course.
But what’s more important here is how do you know if tofu is bad? It might spoil prematurely, and you need to know what the signs of spoilage are.
How To Tell If Tofu Is Bad?
When checking if your tofu is safe to eat, check the following:
- Package. If the package is bloated or looks like it’s about to burst, discard it.
- Mold. If you find anything growing on the surface, your tofu is no good. And while we’re at it, cutting out the spoiled area and eating the rest isn’t a good idea.
- Color. Tofu usually is whitish or perhaps a bit creamy (depends on the producer, and it varies a bit). If yours turned yellow (except if you froze it) or darker, it’s done for. Please note that smoked and flavored tofu comes in various colors. For those, pay attention to color change, not the color itself.
- Smell. Tofu has a pretty mild and neutral aroma, so if yours smells harsh, sour, or bad in any other way, throw it out.
- Taste. Tofu is used in hundreds of recipes because it has a pretty neutral flavor. If yours tastes bitter, sour, or funny, it’s time to let it go.
Of course, you’re the ultimate judge of whether your tofu is okay to eat or not. That means if anything else (that I didn’t mention above) seems off, it’s best to stay safe and give it a pass.
Better safe than sorry.
If you’re new to tofu, you should know that there are various types of tofu available, starting from silken up to super firm.
The first is quite soft, while the last is really firm. Fortunately, the names are pretty self-explanatory here.
The difference between those is the amount of water and coagulants used in the product. One isn’t better than the other – it’s all a matter of personal preferences.
So if you’re used to firm tofu, and your new buy is quite soft, start by checking the label. Maybe you just bought a different type, and your tofu is perfectly fine to eat.
If there’s too much water in your tofu, you can always remove some of it by pressing it.
How To Store Tofu
Store shelf-stable tofu in a cool and dark place as long as it’s unopened. After opening, refrigerate it in an airtight container.
For refrigerated tofu, keep it in the fridge, and store the leftovers in a container with a lid.
As you probably know by now, there are two varieties of tofu available, and you store each one the way I described above.
If you want to simplify things even further, store your tofu the same way it was stored in the supermarket and refrigerate it after opening the package.
Some supermarkets place all soy products in one place to make them easy to find. If that’s the case, shelf-stable tofu often ends up in the refrigerated section. So if you’re looking for shelf-stable tofu, check the fridges too.
Does Tofu Need to Be Refrigerated?
You need to refrigerate unopened refrigerated tofu, and all tofu leftovers, no matter the variety.
If you found your tofu on a shelf and not in the refrigerated area, chances are it’s the shelf-stable variety that you don’t need to refrigerate. It’s best to check the label to confirm that, though.
In other words, the only tofu that can sit out at room temperature is the shelf-stable variety, and only as long as it’s unopened.
If you can’t be bothered with remembering or checking which of the two you have on hand, place the soy product in the fridge. It’s going to work just fine for both.
Storing Leftovers After Opening
There are two options for storing tofu after opening: submerged in water or sealed in an airtight container. Both work okay.
When it comes to storing leftover tofu in water, the instructions are simple:
- submerge the tofu in clean and cold water in a lidded container
- place the container in the fridge
- change the water once a day
Of course, tofu might pull in some of that water, and you might have to press it before you can use it. That’s the nature of the beast.
The second option is dead simple: place the leftovers in an airtight container and refrigerate it. That’s the better option for you if you’re forgetful or can’t be bothered with changing the water every day.
One thing to note here is that some producers advise not to store leftovers in water. So if that’s what the label says, stick with the container method.
Unfortunately, storing tofu in water is nowhere as effective as storing feta in brine. It still lasts 3 to 4 days.
Can You Freeze Tofu?
You can freeze tofu, and freezing it is one of the recommended ways to make your tofu absorb flavors more easily.
But before you place yours in the freezer, you should know that defrosted tofu becomes spongy in texture, and its color changes to caramel-like. Some people call thawed tofu “meaty.”
While the latter usually isn’t an issue, the former might be a bit problematic, depending on your recipe.
In other words, weigh the pros and cons before freezing your tofu.
If you’re certain freezing the soy product is the way to go, let’s talk about how.
How To Freeze Tofu
Here’s how to freeze your tofu:
- Open the package if it’s still unopened, and drain the water.
- Cut your tofu into slices or strips. Defrosting those is much faster than defrosting the whole block. Plus, once sliced, you can easily divide your tofu into several dish-sized portions.
- Group slices into dish-sized portions and place each one in its freezer bag. If possible, try to spread out the slices (or “cutlets”) so that they don’t touch each other in the bag – they will defrost even faster that way. Squeeze out as much air as you can before sealing the bag.
- Freeze everything.
That’s it. When you’re ready to defrost and use your frozen tofu, just place the bag in the fridge the night before you need it. Thawing it slowly in the refrigerator is the way to go.
When you check the bag in the morning, expect some water in there. So if you’re not sure the bag is leakproof, it’s best to place it in a bowl while thawing.
Don’t freeze the tofu in its original, unopened package. While that depends on how tofu is packed, some packages could burst in the freezer and leave you with a big mess to clean up.