Mac and cheese is a dish that can satisfy many people and put smiles on everyone’s face. You can make it instantly or create your version in your kitchen.
Macaroni and cheese rocks and your family had a great time eating it for dinner. But you all got to talking and time flew by. How long can mac and cheese sit out at room temperature?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that cooked mac and cheese should not sit out longer than 2 hours. When cooked mac and cheese sits out for longer than 2 hours, it moves into the Danger Zone. This is the area between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140˚F.
When food moves into the Danger Zone, it can become a breeding ground for harmful bacteria. The above rule only applies to cooked mac and cheese.
Boxes of instant mac and cheese are dry, which means they have a longer shelf-life at room temperature.
Dry mac and cheese can last for years unless otherwise indicated on the box. However, instant mac and cheese will lose its flavor over time.
The Best Way To Store Mac And Cheese
Boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese can stay in a dark, cool, and dry area for two years. Other brands may be able to last as long too.
Once you’ve prepared the mac and cheese, the rules change. You have two hours before it hits the Danger Zone, so be ready.
When your family is done with their meal, put the mac and cheese in an airtight container and then store it in the refrigerator.
Refrigerators are typically kept below 40˚F, which keeps our leftovers out of the Danger Zone. Bacterial growth can occur in cooler temperatures too. But they can’t multiply as fast.
How Long Will Mac And Cheese Last In The Fridge?
Once you store your mac and cheese in the fridge, you have three to five days to eat it. That gives you almost a week to finish up that meal.
You can have it the next day, or three days later. The important thing is to eat it within that five-day mark. If it’s been in the fridge longer than five days, you should throw it away.
As we’ve said, bacterial growth occurs in cooler temperatures but it just takes longer to manifest. Food in the fridge can still cause food poisoning if it’s too old. When in doubt, throw it out.
I Left Mac And Cheese Out At Room Temperature. Is It Bad?
That depends. How long did you leave it out? Was it longer than 2 hours? Or was it less than 2 hours?
If you left your mac and cheese out for less than 2 hours, put it in the fridge for safekeeping. Make sure to use airtight containers so the contents are secure.
If you left your mac and cheese out longer than 2 hours, throw it away. Once it hit the 2-hour mark, it moved into the Danger Zone warned by the FDA.
Bacteria could have multiplied, and you and your family could wind up sick. Don’t risk your health for the sake of some leftover mac and cheese. Throw it away.
I Left Mac And Cheese Out Overnight. Is It Bad?
Yes. If you leave a pan of mac and cheese out overnight, it is not edible, and you should throw it away. Once your food hit the 2-hour mark, it moved into the Danger Zone.
This is the area of temperature where bacteria multiply rapidly. The FDA warns us that food left in the Danger Zone can cause food poisoning. Foodborne illnesses can be severe and cause massive dehydration.
We hate to waste food. But, if you forgot to put your mac and cheese in the fridge, throw it away. The health risk isn’t worth it.
If you left boxes of instant mac and cheese out overnight, there is no harm whatsoever. The 2-hour rule applies to foods that have moisture. Instant mac and cheese is a dry good. That can be on the shelf for years if stored properly.
Can I Freeze Leftover Mac And Cheese?
You can freeze homemade mac and cheese and even portion it off for single servings. Be sure to use a ziplock bag or airtight container.
Freezing works incredibly well with baked mac and cheese. But we don’t recommend freezing instant mac and cheese.
How Long Will Mac And Cheese Last In The Freezer?
If you store your mac and cheese correctly, it will last in the freezer for some time. Some say it lasts three months, while others say a year and a half.
We have found the longer food is in the freezer, it loses flavor and consistency. It may be safe to eat, but not that delicious.
Can I Defrost Mac And Cheese On The Counter?
You can, but we highly discourage this method. When foods defrost at room temperature, they thaw on the outside. But the center remains.
This means the exterior will reach that Danger Zone before the inside thaws. Defrosting mac and cheese on the counter is risky, and there are better methods.
Best Way To Defrost Mac And Cheese
Take your mac and cheese out the night before and let it defrost in the fridge. This is the best way to maintain a tasty, bacteria-free meal. We realize that you don’t always know what you want the night before.
The best way to take care of that is to put it in the oven frozen. You can cook mac and cheese frozen. It will just take longer.
Tip: Don’t put a glass dish from the freezer into a hot oven. This can cause the glass to crack or shatter, which will ruin your meal.
If you froze a glass pan of mac and cheese, let it sit out until the glass has warmed. An hour should do it. But don’t go longer than 2 hours.
How Do You Know When Mac And Cheese Have Gone Bad?
Sometimes you can tell when mac and cheese have gone bad. Sometimes you can’t; easy-to-spot signs are mold or an unpleasant smell. Dairy tends to have strong indicators when it comes to spoilage.
But, some bacteria are undetectable by sight, smell, or taste. That’s why adhering to the rules is essential.
Get your food in the fridge by the 2-hour mark to avoid moving into the Danger Zone. If it’s been out for longer than 2 hours, throw it away.
If the old mac and cheese in the fridge have passed the five-day mark, throw it away. Even if you don’t see signs of toxins that cause food poisoning, they might be there.
Is Homemade Mac And Cheese Better Than Instant?
This is a matter of personal taste. Some people love the instant kind Kraft offers because it reminds them of their childhood. Plus, it tastes great.
Other people like to cook, so creating a pan of mac and cheese becomes a quest for perfection.
When you make your mac and cheese, there is so much more you can do with it. Here are some great ideas when it comes to homemade mac and cheese.
1. Use Different Cheeses
Boxed mac and cheese is yellow. Sometimes it’s a powder that gets creamy when you add milk.
We love that, but homemade mac and cheese offer many more options. You can add the following cheeses to your creation.
- Cream cheese
- Queso fresco
2. Add Some Veggies
Getting kids to eat veggies can be challenging. Not when you smother them with cheese.
Tons of parents grind up veggies and blend them into their mac and cheese. Sometimes the kids know, but they don’t seem to care.
Here are some fun vegetables you can hide in your mac and cheese.
3. Use Meat
Vegetarians don’t eat meat. Carnivores love meat, and incorporating it into mac and cheese is a fun way to kick it up a notch.
Here are some fun meats that can add a ton of flavor to your homemade mac and cheese.
- Seasoned ground beef
- Barbeque pork
- Ground pork
- Shredded chicken
- A mixture of two or more
4. Add A Breadcrumb Topping
Baked mac and cheese is delicious, but it’s divine when you add some seasoned bread crumbs.
All you do is sprinkle them on top before putting your mac and cheese in the oven. It crisps nicely and adds a bit of crunch.
Tip: You can create garlic breadcrumbs with fresh bread, garlic cloves, and a blender.
Can Mac And Cheese Be A Main Dish?
Some barbeque joints serve sides of mac and cheese. When it comes to a meal, few can beat this comfort food.
Mac and cheese filled with veggies, meat, and a fun mix of cheeses, is a great main. All you need is a side salad, and the meal is complete.
Mac and cheese is a staple in most households. Everyone loves it, and there are so many variations it never gets boring.
Just beware of the safety rules when it comes to storage. Food safety will prevent any unwanted illnesses.
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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.