Spaghetti is a popular dish made from wheat and water stretched into strands. It’s so easy to make and fun to eat that you might find yourself cooking up a much larger batch than you can finish at once.
When Italian night is over and you’re surrounded by all the leftovers, you may wonder, “How long does spaghetti last?”
While uncooked pasta can last for years, cooked spaghetti starts to go bad in just a few hours on your tabletop. Keeping it in the fridge will extend its life, but only by about four or five days.
Let’s talk about the best ways to keep your spaghetti fresh as long as possible and how to tell if it’s gone bad.
How Long Does Spaghetti Last in the Fridge?
Spaghetti is a perfect storm of perishables, moisture, and delicious little hidden pockets where bacteria can thrive.
Cooked pasta has a short shelf life that gets even shorter if it’s mixed with sauce. Cool temperatures can slow the inevitable slide into gooey decay, but not by much.
Here’s how long you can expect your leftover spaghetti to last:
- 2-3 hours sitting out
- With sauce, 2-3 days in the fridge
- Without sauce, 4-5 days in the fridge
- 2 months in the freezer
Plain spaghetti usually lasts about four or five days in the fridge. If it’s mixed with sauce, you may even have to knock a few more days off that, depending on what’s in the sauce.
Meat spoils much quicker than spaghetti. Even in the fridge, you should only trust spaghetti and meatballs for two or three days.
Fish goes bad quicker than red meat. If your sauce is made with fish, we recommend eating it the next day.
Spaghetti in a tomato-based sauce with no meat can stay pristine in the fridge for three or four days.
If your sauce is made out of cream, you should be able to keep it in the fridge for four or five days. That includes alfredo sauce, pesto cream, and most cheese-based sauces.
We’ve kept our estimates in the super-safe shallow end of the leftover pool mainly because of mold. Spaghetti’s chaotic color and consistency as well as its motley mix of ingredients do a good job of hiding many kinds of mold and bacterial outbreaks.
When it comes to spaghetti, just because you can’t see any doesn’t mean a proletariat revolution of working-class mold isn’t simmering somewhere beneath the surface.
If you need to store your spaghetti for longer than these recommended periods, you should freeze it in a heavy-duty freezer bag or airtight container.
Frozen spaghetti keeps its quality best if you use it within a maximum of two months. After that, it may still be safe to eat, but it won’t taste as good.
How Long Can Spaghetti Sit Out?
Spaghetti starts to go bad after only two hours of sitting on the counter at room temperature.
The temperature danger zone is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If your kitchen or dining room is within that pleasant temperature range, your spaghetti will begin to go rancid quickly.
Try to avoid letting more than a couple of hours pass from when you drain the water out of your spaghetti to when you store it in the fridge.
How To Tell if Leftover Spaghetti Has Gone Bad
Spoiled spaghetti usually comes with one or more of the following warning signs:
- Sour odor
- Flecks or clouds of mold
- Color change
The first sign that your pasta is becoming inedible is usually a thin layer of slime covering the spaghetti like worms in glue.
Gooey spaghetti is right at the point where it’s beginning to smell ripe, but you may have to get your nose up close to smell it. In a day or two more, the sour odor will attack your face from the container.
If your spaghetti is covered in black or brown flecks where no flecks were before, you probably have a case of starter mold. The other kind of mold that loves to grow on spaghetti looks like a fuzzy cloud of white or grey.
Both kinds can be hard to spot in spaghetti. Look carefully, because they can both make you sick.
Bad spaghetti may get darker or lighter than it was. If the noodles turn whitish or grayish, the starches have begun to go off. You can dispose of spoiled spaghetti straight in the garbage bin.
Can Spaghetti Make You Sick?
Spaghetti can go bad in a number of ways. Eating bad spaghetti can give you a few different illnesses, depending on what tiny tummy terrorists are brewing inside. In most cases, you’ll get an upset stomach along with diarrhea and nausea.
One of spaghetti’s favorite pathogens is B. cereus. Besides the usual symptoms of loose stomach and bowels, bad cases of starch-borne B. cereus can also cause eye infections and even death. This toxin is resistant to heat and can’t usually be removed by cooking.
If your spaghetti is seeping in sauce that contains eggs, meat or dairy, it can also get infected by more dangerous pathogens like listeria, salmonella or campylobacter. These can cause muscle aches, convulsions, fever and other tortures.
How To Store Leftover Spaghetti
The best way to store spaghetti is in the fridge at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. Fridge spaghetti has two main natural enemies: moisture and air.
Here are a few tips for keeping those problems and others at bay so your spaghetti can last a bit longer.
- Cool before storing
- Use shallow, airtight containers
- Coat with olive oil
- Separate the sauce
The best containers to use for storing leftover spaghetti are both airtight and shallow. Keeping the air out will starve many kinds of bacteria.
Shallow, wide containers allow you to spread your spaghetti out and help it get below 40 degrees as quickly as possible. It’s better to separate your leftovers into a couple of smaller, flatter containers rather than trying to cram it all into a single deep dish.
Olive oil is a great repellant for both water and air. Squeeze a few drops of olive oil into your leftover spaghetti container, and shake it a bit to give the noodles a protective sheath. A thin coating of oil will also keep them from sticking to each other.
If you store your spaghetti and meatballs together, the ingredient with the shortest shelf life will drag the whole batch into hell along with it. Your spaghetti will usually outlive your sauce if you keep them separate.
As a side note, if you’re going to freeze your spaghetti, leave the sauce in. Frozen dry spaghetti gets mushy when you thaw it out. Freezing it with the sauce preserves the texture and lasts just as long.
Leftover spaghetti is great at fomenting and camouflaging dangerous pathogens that can make you miserable if you eat them. Stay safe by cooling your pasta down and storing it in the fridge within two hours of cooking it.
We recommend keeping the noodles separate from the sauce. Try to finish meat sauces within two or three days, vegetarian sauces within three or four days, and plain noodles within four or five days.