How Long Can Coleslaw Sit Out? | We Have The Answer

Coleslaw is a chopped, dressed salad that we commonly serve at cookouts and with barbecue.

It is a combination of cabbage, carrots, and dressing. The crispy shredded vegetables are completely coated with a tangy dressing and served cold, making it a perfect complement to a hot, spicy barbecue dish.

The fact that it is already chopped and prepared makes it easy to serve on the go. Many people believe that the mayonnaise used to dress the coleslaw is what makes it unsafe to keep out of refrigeration for a long time.

Actually, the other ingredients in mayonnaise salads are more likely to introduce harmful bacteria and lead to food poisoning. 

Coleslaw is at its best when it is served cold and crisp straight from the refrigerator. However, like many other foods, you can keep it out at room temperature for 2 hours. If you are at a cookout or picnic and it is hot outside, you should try to keep the coleslaw out for only 1 hour.

When refrigerated, coleslaw is good for about 5 days in an airtight container. You can even freeze coleslaw for up to 6 months if you have a vinegar-based dressing rather than a mayonnaise-based one.

Continue reading for information on how to properly store and serve coleslaw, recipes for dressing ideas that freeze better than others, and ideas for adding ingredients to coleslaw.

Storing And Serving Coleslaw

Because coleslaw is a raw vegetable salad, it tastes the best when it is fresh, cold, and crisp.

In fact, if you make your coleslaw the day before you want to eat it, the flavors will have time to marinate together, adding a delicious depth of flavor that a freshly made slaw lacks.

Shredded cabbage will eventually become soggy and soft as it sits in coleslaw’s dressing. 

Coleslaw can sit out at room temperature for up to 2 hours. After that, you should return it to a refrigerator or a cooler with ice in it.

If you are serving it outdoors and the day is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, the safe serving time is 1 hour outside refrigeration.

You may place your bowl of coleslaw in a larger bowl of ice to keep it cold longer if you are serving a buffet-style meal.

Keep your coleslaw in the refrigerator for up to 5 days in a sealed container.

Whether you made your own coleslaw, took home some of the leftovers that your favorite auntie made, or you have some left from the family-sized side from KFC, coleslaw keeps for about 5 days in the fridge.

Now here’s the tricky part. Coleslaw with a mayonnaise dressing will not freeze well because mayonnaise does not freeze well.

Mayonnaise tends to separate in the freezer and does not mix back together. So while it will not hurt you to eat it, defrosted mayonnaise coleslaw may not taste as good as you would like it to.

On the other hand, you may make coleslaw with a different kind of dressing, like a vinegar-based dressing or a red slaw with a ketchup base.

The other ingredients in coleslaw do freeze fairly well, so with the right choice of dressing, you should be able to freeze slaw for 6 months. 

Freeze The Cabbage

If you are making some coleslaw for your cookout, but you will have cabbage leftover, you can freeze the cabbage to use in another recipe later.

You can cut the cabbage into wedges, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and place them in freezer bags.


Properly frozen cabbage will be good for 6-9 months. You can then thaw out a wedge of cabbage and cut it up for a new batch of coleslaw or to use in eggrolls later.

Freezable Coleslaw Dressings

Mayonnaise-based dressings don’t freeze well because they become separated and won’t whip back together.

If you are planning to freeze your coleslaw, try one of the following kinds of dressing.

Then freeze your coleslaw in portion sizes in a freezer-safe container or zip-top freezer bags.

Coleslaw keeps for about 6 months in the freezer. It will be safe to eat after that, although the taste and texture will likely degrade.

Vinegar Based Dressing

Vinegar Dressing Version 1

In a saucepan, combine 1 cup of vinegar, ¼ cup of water, 2 cups of sugar, and 1 teaspoon of celery seed.

Bring the contents to a boil and continue boiling for one minute. Remove from heat and let it cool down. Once it is cool, pour it over your shredded cabbage and carrots. 

Vinegar Dressing Version 2

Whisk all of the following ingredients together in a medium bowl, then pour over your prepared vegetables for the slaw.

Combine 1 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1 cup of sugar, 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of celery seeds.

Vinegar Dressing Version 3

If you like a touch of heat in your coleslaw, this dressing is for you. Whisk together 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1-2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup, 1 clove of garlic finely minced, ¼ teaspoon of cayenne, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ground black pepper to taste.


Start with only one tablespoon of maple syrup and add more if you like it sweeter. Pour the dressing over your slaw and mix well, so it is completely coated.

Ketchup Based Dressing

Whisk together 2/3 cup apple cider vinegar, ½ cup of ketchup, ¼ cup of sugar, 2 teaspoons of ground black pepper, and 2 teaspoons of hot sauce.

Pour this mixture over your shredded vegetables for the slaw and enjoy a spicy-sweet variation on traditional slaw.

Greek Yogurt Based Dressing

Greek yogurt freezes well and still provides a similar tanginess to mayonnaise. If you expect to freeze your coleslaw, you can make the dressing with yogurt instead of mayo.

Whisk together ½ cup of plain Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard, and ¼ teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Pour over your slaw veggies and mix well so that everything is completely coated.

Ingredients To Try In Coleslaw

A basic traditional coleslaw is shredded cabbage and carrots. You may see red or green cabbage or a combination of both in the slaw.

However, you shouldn’t let tradition hold you back. Give savoy or napa cabbage a try in your next slaw to add a new flavor and texture.

Keep the cabbage, and try adding some new ingredients to broaden your slaw horizons. 

shredded cabbage and carrots

Try including shredded kale, broccoli, or cauliflower for more textures. Shredded red and green bell peppers can make a nice pop of color and a great zippy flavor in your coleslaw.

You might also opt for adding some fennel and apples for a sweeter slaw.

What To Serve With Coleslaw?

The obvious answer to using your slaw is to eat it as a side dish with a plate full of barbecue or fried chicken.

However, coleslaw can be so much more than a neglected side dish. Use it as a topping on a pulled pork sandwich and get all the sweet, spicy, tangy, crunchy, soft flavors and textures in one bite.

It’s almost the perfect bite of food. You can also use a very finely cut slaw to top hot dogs.

You’ll want something finely chopped so that it is easy to eat on a hot dog without it falling off.

Try a fruity and spicy coleslaw on a fried fish taco. Another option is to swap out sauerkraut with coleslaw on a Reuben sandwich. T

here’s really no end to the possibilities that you can use coleslaw for. 

Identifying Spoiled Coleslaw

If your coleslaw has become slimy or sticky, it is probably no longer safe to eat.

Another sign that it is no longer safe to eat is when the cabbage becomes brown or otherwise discolored.

You may also notice a funky or sour smell when you open the container if it has deteriorated.

Of course, if there is visible mold on the coleslaw, you should not eat it but discard it immediately. 

Final Thoughts

Coleslaw is a favorite side dish for barbecue and burgers, and you shouldn’t neglect it as a topping for everything from sandwiches to tacos.

It is safe to keep at room temperature for about 2 hours, and then it should be refrigerated. 

Whether you have homemade or storebought coleslaw, you can keep it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Be sure to cover your container of coleslaw for the best results. In fact, you may find that it is better the second day because it has had a chance to marinate, and the flavors will all have a chance to mingle. 

You can even freeze the coleslaw if it has a dressing other than mayonnaise.

Try making a vinegar, ketchup, or greek yogurt-based dressing for your coleslaw so you can freeze it in convenient portions. It will be good in the freezer for about 6 months. 

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