I love serving macaroni salad at parties. It’s a light appetizer but packs enough flavor to also be filling.
While it’s easy to make, I often reconsider whether I want to serve it because of its notorious reputation for spoiling.
The dairy and animal products commonly used in macaroni salad are often the culprit for food poisoning at parties.
Bacteria grows on these foods exponentially faster than on other party platters. This causes macaroni salad to spoil after being left out for only a few hours.
Luckily, knowing how long macaroni salad lasts at various temperatures can enable you to serve it without hesitation.
Macaroni salad, a popular and versatile dish, typically retains its quality and taste when refrigerated for 3 to 5 days. For optimal preservation, it’s crucial to store the salad in an airtight container immediately after preparation or serving. This prevents moisture loss and protects against contaminants. To further extend its freshness, place the container in the coldest part of your refrigerator, usually at the back, away from the door.
In this article, we’ll discuss how long macaroni salad lasts in a multitude of setting as well as the best recipes and storage tips.
How Long Can Macaroni Salad Sit Out?
Although a popular table setting at picnics, remember that macaroni salad should only be left out for 2 hours. In extreme heat – temperatures exceeding 90°F – macaroni salad should only be left out for 1 hour.
According to the USDA, this rule applies to macaroni salad with or without tuna and eggs. Even if the eggs have been cooked, they still should not sit out for more than 1-2 hours.
Bacteria start to grow on food when temperatures exceed 55°F, so make sure to mind the 2-hour mark.
If you want to keep macaroni salad ready to serve at an all-day function, be sure to bring coolers with ice. For a quick reference, check out this chart:
|Fourth of July Picnic
|About 1 Hour
|On the Counter
|After Opening in the Fridge
|Freshly Made and Refrigerated
|In the Freezer
|About 2 Weeks
How Long Does Macaroni Salad Last After Opening?
After the event, macaroni salad will last in an airtight container in the fridge for about 4-5 days.
Macaroni salad that has been sitting out or previously opened spoils faster than if it was freshly made.
So even if stored in the fridge, you should expect your leftover macaroni salad to go bad in only a few days.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad with Eggs or Tuna Last After Opening?
Leftover macaroni salad made with eggs or tuna should only be refrigerated for two days before being discarded.
These products are extremely perishable, so leaving them out for even a few hours expedites their shelf life considerably.
How to Tell if Macaroni Salad is Bad?
As macaroni salad starts to spoil, it will develop an odor. Spoiled macaroni salad can smell fishy and even like rotten eggs.
Additionally, if macaroni salad appears soggy or slimy, it is spoiled and should be discarded.
The last stage of rotting macaroni salad is mold growth, which results from exposure to the air. Even in air-tight containers, food can develop mold over time.
The chemicals produced by mold expedite the complete decay of food, causing it to perish and become inedible.
So even the slightest sign of mold should result in food being immediately discarded.
What Happens If You Eat Bad Macaroni Salad?
In most cases, eating spoiled macaroni salad will result in mild food poisoning.
Symptoms include nausea and gastrointestinal upset and will typically subside on their own. However, some cases are severe enough to require hospitalization.
Though incredibly rare, death due to ingestion of spoiled pasta with the bacteria B. cereus has been recorded. According to the USDA, cooked pasta is especially susceptible to this bacteria.
Because of the rare but possibly lethal consequences, it’s always recommended to not risk eating spoiled macaroni salad.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad Last in the Refrigerator?
Fresh macaroni salad that has not been sitting out can be stored in the fridge for up to 6 days. For best results, make sure your fridge remains at a temperature between 35-40°F.
Make sure to always keep the container in the fridge and do not leave it out at room temperature.
Because bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures above 55°F, leaving food on the counter for even 30 minutes will expedite spoilage.
Different macaroni salads yield different shelf lives. For a quick cheat sheet, check out this table for all the information you’ll need:
|Type of Salad
How Do You Store Macaroni Salad in the Refrigerator?
For best results, store macaroni salad in an airtight container on one of the top shelves of your fridge.
It’s important to keep the macaroni salad in an airtight container because exposure to air prompts mold growth.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad with Tuna Last?
Tuna macaroni salad lasts from 3 days in the fridge at 35-40°F. Canned tuna is preserved with salts, which increases its longevity compared to fresh tuna.
However, being combined with other ingredients used in macaroni salad like mayonnaise and eggs accelerates its spoilage.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad with Egg Last?
If made only with hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, and pasta, macaroni will last for 5-6 days in the fridge.
While eggs are still a highly perishable food, they spoil slower than tuna and can be stored for longer.
Store-Bought Vs. Homemade
There are a few things to keep in mind when assessing whether store-bought macaroni salad is still fresh.
Unlike homemade salad, you don’t know how long the store-bought container was sitting out unrefrigerated.
Although most stores follow stringent food-prep protocols, this is still something to be mindful of after your salad is at home.
Generally, there will be a date on the package of store-bought macaroni salad marking when it was made. This helps you evaluate the freshness of the salad after you bring it home.
Even if the package is missing a made-by date, there will always be a best-by date marking its expiration.
|Unopened in the Fridge
|Opened in the Fridge
How Long Does Unopened Store-Bought Last in the Fridge After the Expiration Date?
Sometimes, we buy fresh, pre-made food with the best intentions but end up forgetting it in the back of the fridge.
So, what happens if you discover an unopened package of macaroni salad 5 days after your latest grocery trip?
If you find yourself in this position, always assess freshness by smell, texture, and color. If the macaroni salad has no smell and a creamy, fluffy texture, it’s good to eat.
How Long Does Opened Store-Bought Last in the Fridge After the Expiration Date?
After opening, store-bought macaroni salad follows the same spoilage process as a leftover, homemade salad, even at 35-40°F. This is because the store’s protective seal has been broken.
Even if proper storage techniques are followed, they are likely less effective than that of your grocer.
As a rule, opened, store-bought macaroni salad should be discarded after its best-by date.
Exposure to air and moisture causes bacteria and mold growth to commence, so it’s always best to discard once the date elapses.
Can Store-Bought Macaroni Salad be Frozen?
Because store-bought macaroni salad is already made, it is best to not freeze it. This is because certain key ingredients like mayo, egg whites, and tuna do not freeze well.
While freezing store-bought salad will prevent it from perishing, the flavor and texture will deteriorate upon thawing.
How Long Does Macaroni Salad Last in the Freezer?
While there are some concerns about freezing macaroni salad – which we’ll get into later – it is a viable storage option.
In a freezer with a temperature of approximately 0°F, macaroni salad will last for about 2 weeks.
Even though it won’t spoil by then, the texture will start to turn soggy, making it especially unappetizing.
Can you Freeze Macaroni Salad with Mayo?
Generally, it’s best to steer clear of storing macaroni salad with mayo in the freezer. Once the mayo is incorporated into the salad, you will not be able to re-whisk mayo to its original creamy texture.
To learn more about why freezing mayo causes texture and flavor to deteriorate, check out “Can You Freeze Macaroni Salad With Mayonnaise?” It’s an absolute must-read when preparing for your party or picnic.
Can you Freeze Macaroni Salad with Eggs?
While freezing macaroni salad with egg yolks is perfectly acceptable, be careful not to freeze egg whites. When frozen, egg whites develop a rubbery texture, making for an unappetizing dish.
However, you can successfully freeze macaroni salad made only with egg yolks. If your heart is set on adding egg whites, add the eggs only when ready to serve.
You can also chop up the egg whites into tiny pieces, so the texture is not noticeable, and freeze them.
While many find this method works well, I recommend just adding the eggs once ready to eat for a fresh-tasting result.
Can you Freeze Macaroni Salad with Tuna?
Even though tuna might keep, it’s recommended to not freeze macaroni salad with tuna.
The freezing process causes the tangy taste of tuna to deteriorate, so once thawed your salad will taste off.
If you’re set on freezing the salad and want to add tuna, wait until the frozen portions are thawed.
Add the tuna once ready to serve by folding it into the mixture with a serving spoon.
How Do You Store Macaroni Salad in the Freezer?
If you’re deciding whether to make macaroni salad ahead of time, consider whether it’s worthwhile. Many major ingredients like eggs, tuna, and mayo are better if added the day of.
But if you find freezing is the way to go for you, follow these easy steps for the best results:
- Let the macaroni salad cool completely after it’s made. If you freeze too soon, the residual heat can cause excess moisture to form, which prompts bacteria to grow.
- Use either Ziplock freezer bags or a Tupperware container. Before transferring it into a receptacle, divide the salad into smaller portions. The smaller portions enable the salad to freeze faster, minimizing exposure to air.
- After storing, make sure to get rid of excess air. To ensure there are no air pockets, push the macaroni down with a spoon. Before sealing either squeeze or push out excess air between the lid and the salad.
To thaw, take the portions out of the freezer 48 hours ahead of time and place them in the refrigerator.
It’s important to never let frozen macaroni salad thaw on the counter. Doing so will cause bacteria to grow rapidly and the salad will spoil.
Best Macaroni Salad Recipe
- shrimp (optional)
- To start, bring a pot of water to a boil and add a few pinches of salt. Add 16 ounces of elbow macaroni to the pot and let cook for 8 minutes. Rinse and drain.
- Combine carrots, red onion, green pepper, red pepper, and celery in a large bowl with the cooked macaroni.
- Fold in 2 cups of mayonnaise, 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, ½ cup of white sugar and ½ cup of white vinegar. Once evenly mixed, add salt and pepper to taste.
- I like to let the mixture marinate in the fridge for about 8 hours. This allows the flavors to intermingle. Make sure the bowl is covered tightly with plastic wrap before storing.
Even though this recipe makes a high yield, it’s somehow gone within the first hour of my party! While I wouldn’t recommend adding tuna, you can get away with adding 3 eggs if you so desire.
Macaroni salad is always a crowd-pleaser at parties. People are often put-off by macaroni salad’s reputation for spoiling quickly, but this is easily avoidable.
By following the tips and cautions in this article, you can rest assured that the salad you serve will always be fresh.
My name is Keren Tayler. I am a stay-at-home mama to three lovely girls, Sarah + Rachel + Hannah. Prior to becoming a mom, I had a successful career in the accounting field, steps away from becoming a CPA. I decided to give up on my career in order to raise my own kids (as opposed to letting a nanny do it, no judgment here :)) I learned a lot and I love sharing it with other moms. Along the way, I also became a Certified Food Handler.