How Long Can Pasta Sit Out? [Find Out Now]

It is amazing the number of pasta-bilities that come with this signature Italian ingredient. Whether you are serving fettuccine alfredo, lasagna, ravioli or macaroni salad, the dish is bound to be a hit! However, since most of these meals come in large servings, many may wonder how long can pasta sit out? We have the saucy details to make sure that you and your family stay safe!

All pasta dishes, no matter if they are served in unison with pasta sauce, fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, or are simply served plain, should sit out for no longer than two hours at room temperature. Otherwise, dangerous bacteria can begin to grow. Therefore, when your pasta dishes will need to sit out for longer time frames, utilize serve ware that is designed to keep the food hot or cold for extended periods. This can elongate your window for safety.

Moreover, only put out small portions at a time and refill as needed. If you begin to reach the two hour mark, then transfer the food into either the fridge or the freezer. Pasta can remain safe to eat in the fridge for up to five days. The freezer can lengthen this time to two months.

Pasta Storage Guidelines — Safe Time Frame For Food To Sit Out

Noodles are a staple dry good that can be safely stored on the shelf for up to two years when the package remains unopened. This can give many individuals the impression that cooked pasta can stay safe in these conditions as well. 

However, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria…to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness. Bacteria grow most rapidly in the range of temperatures between 40 °F and 140 °F, doubling in number in as little as 20 minutes.” 

This is why food experts have implemented the “2-hour rule”. This dictates that it is safe to leave food out during this time frame, but once you reach that two-hour mark, food must be transferred to cold storage immediately in order to stay safe. Additionally, this only applies when you are indoors and conditions are at room temperature (68 to 77 degrees F). 

If outside and temperatures are above 90 degrees, this window will drop to one hour. These guidelines are pertinent no matter if the pasta is plain, covered in sauce and cheese, or stuffed. This rule should also be applied to uncooked pasta dough.

These guidelines apply to all types of pasta — no matter if you choose spaghetti, penne, ravioli, rigatoni, or rotini noddles, to name a few.

Serving Instructions – Elongate The Life Of Your Pasta

Separate Ingredients To Avoid Expedited Spoilage

First, it is imperative that you remember that cheeses, meats, and most vegetable-based sauces are all perishable ingredients that should also follow the same two hour rule. In fact, many of them will spoil much faster than plainly served wheat-based pastas. This is especially true for soft cheeses like ricotta as well as sautéed fruits and vegetables. Therefore, if you are feeding a large group for an extended period of time, consider keeping the pasta, sauce and toppings separate.

Moreover, always have designated serveware for individual dishes. Cross-contamination of foods can lead to faster spoilage times. Following these simple steps can allow your pasta to sit out for longer periods of time.

Use Special Serveware To Allow The Pasta To Sit Out For Longer

In addition, portion out what you think you will need and then safely store any excess until you can determine if it is needed or not. Furthermore, for those throwing big parties that are afraid that they will surpass the recommended time frame, invest in warming trays or insulated containers to help the food remain at an optimal temperature. In contrast, if you are serving cold pasta dishes like pasta salad, make sure to put them on ice

Serve Food When Guests Arrive

Lastly, it is paramount that you do not put food out until right before you intend to serve guests. This will better guarantee that you do not exceed the safe serving window. 

How To Properly Store Pasta – Refrigerator And Freezer

The easiest way to achieve optimal food preservation is to utilize an airtight container. This can be a freezer-safe ziplock bag, a plastic or glass Tupperware or a vacuum-sealed bag. You can safely store all types of pasta dishes in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. Conversely, when in the freezer, fresh pasta will stay safe for up to two months.

When placing food in the fridge, the first two storage options are best. If you intend to eat the food within the appropriate window of time, the size of the container will not matter. When freezing pasta dishes, it is ideal to package either individual or family size quantities to ensure that you do not have food waste. 

PRO TIP: If you are storing fresh pasta without the sauce, add a small amount of olive oil to the container and shake it up, once sealed. This will help to prevent the pasta from sticking together. 

Pasta Freezer Storage Guidelines 

In order to effectively freeze pasta, you must first portion out your desired quantities. This will also help you determine which container is best. Moreover, make sure that the pasta has had ample time to cool before transferring it into the freezer. This applies to all storage methods. This can be accomplished by letting the pasta sit out on the counter at room temperature for less than the USDA’s aforementioned time frame.

PRO TIP: If you are preparing food with the intent to freeze immediately, it is best to cook the food al dente. This essentially means that you will flash boil the noodles for only two to three minutes. Once this is complete, rinse the pasta in cold water. By doing this, the noodles are less likely to become soggy or fall apart. You can also transfer the finished product directly into cold storage.

Plastic or Glass Tupperware Container

When packaging food in Tupperware, it is important that you leave ample space for the food to expand. This is especially true when freezing pasta dishes that contain a lot of sauce. Otherwise, you risk the food swelling and potentially breaking the container’s seal. Thus, leave at least ¾ of an inch of space in between the top of the food and the lid. 

Next, apply a tight layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil over the top and sides of the container. Then, snap on the lid. This will help to prevent oxidation and potential spoilage brought on by light and moisture. Label the container with the date of the freeze. 

Finally, place the container on an open freezer shelf to provide for ample airflow around the container. This will facilitate a more rapid freeze, which will allow for the food to better retain its original consistency and texture. 

Pasta in Plastic Tupperware Container

Plastic Freezer Bag

Similarly, portion out your pasta into freezer-safe zip lock bags, leaving a small amount of space for expansion. Then, remove as much air as possible and seal. Again, label the bag with the date. 

For those who don’t plan to store this food in their deep freezer, consider adding a tight layer of aluminum foil over the plastic bag. This will help to prevent spoilage from light exposure and minor temperature changes as the freezer door opens and closes each day.

Vacuum Seal Plastic

Using a vacuum seal machine has always been revered as the most effective for food preservation because it prevents any moisture, oxygen and bacteria from getting in. However, depending on the pasta dish, it can damage the original shape of the noodles. 

If you do choose this method, divide out your pasta into individual portions and vacuum seal the bags. Label and freeze. 

How To Defrost Pasta — Do Not Let It Sit Out

The optimal way to defrost pasta is to place the container in the refrigerator 24 hours before you intend to serve the dish. This will best maintain the flavors, consistency and texture of the ingredients. However, if you find yourself in a rush, fill a large bowl with cold water and place the sealed bag or container inside. Change out the water every 30 minutes until your dish has fully thawed.

The one thing to note is that it is never safe to let the pasta sit out on the counter to thaw, no matter how long you leave it. The outside of the frozen chunk of food to quickly thaw, but the interior takes much longer to reach room temperature. This can cause the food to spoil more quickly. Additionally, while you would assume that cooking would kill any dangerous bacteria, that is not the case.

How To Reheat Pasta

The best methods for reheating any type of pasta are cooking in the oven or on the stovetop. These techniques will help to better retain the original state of the dish. For the stove, place the pasta in a skillet, after applying a thin layer of oil. Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally until you reach the desired temperature. This should only take a few minutes.

When reheating a dish in the oven, make sure that the food is placed in an oven-safe container, like a glass Pyrex dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 to 20 minutes, checking the dish halfway through the cooking time. For best results, add a few tablespoons of water, milk or cream and cover the dish with aluminum foil.

Finally, for those in a rush, the microwave is a quick alternative. However, this method can change the consistency of the dish. Transfer the pasta into a microwave-safe bowl, and add either water, milk or cream. Then, cover the container with a damp paper towel and cook for two to three minutes, stirring after each minute.

Final Thoughts

Pasta can safely sit out for two hours, but when you utilize serving containers that help to regulate the food’s temperature, you can extend this time frame. Additionally, the moment you cook pasta, you will drastically cut down the shelf life of this product. Therefore, only make what you intend to eat. Finally, always check previously cooked food products for spoilage before consumption. Changes in color, texture, smell, and flavor are all signs that the food has gone bad.

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