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Does Pasta Go Bad? Here’s How Long You Should Keep Noodles on the Shelf
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You bought a box of spaghetti. Then you came home with rigatoni, fusilli and two containers of bucatini (because one can never be overprepared for dinner, right?). Fast-forward two months, and now you’re staring at those untouched noodles, wondering: Does pasta go bad? Well, yes and no—here’s how long you can keep those precious noodles on your shelf.

How long does pasta last?

Dry pasta is a shelf-stable pantry staple. It won’t go bad in the way that a perishable item—like fresh produce or meat—would see its demise. (That’s to say, it won’t get moldy or rotten while it’s sitting in your cupboard.) You could say that dry pasta lasts, well, forever. Realistically, it will taste freshest within two years of purchasing.

Psst: Almost all dry pasta comes with a “best by” or “best if used by” date printed on the carton. FYI, that’s not an expiration date. It’s just the manufacturer’s best guess at how long the product will remain at peak freshness, so don’t toss an unopened box of penne just because it’s past the best-by date.

Fresh pasta is a different story. It contains eggs and moisture, both of which make it a perishable food. You should eat it within two days of purchasing, but you can make it last longer by stashing it in the freezer, per the USDA.

Pasta expiration dates, explained:

Most pasta won’t come with a hard-and-fast expiration date, but you can follow these general guidelines:

  • Dry pasta: Dry pasta won’t ever really expire, but it will lose quality over time. Unopened dry pasta is good in the pantry for two years from the time of purchase, while opened dry pasta is good for about one year. There’s no need to refrigerate or freeze dry pasta, since it won’t extend its shelf-life.
  • Fresh pasta: Fresh pasta should be consumed within two days of buying if kept in the fridge, and two months if kept in the freezer. It can’t be stored in the pantry because it contains raw eggs and will also dry out.
  • Cooked pasta: Leftover cooked pasta can be kept in the fridge for up to five days, and frozen for up to two months.

How can I tell if pasta is bad?

Like we said, dry pasta doesn’t really go “bad.” It won’t harbor bacteria, but it can lose its flavor over time. Use your best judgment based on appearance, texture and smell: If the pasta is at all discolored or smells rancid, toss it.

On the other hand, fresh pasta and cooked pasta will both make it very clear that they’re past their prime. If there isn’t already visible mold on the noodles, look out for a discolored or slimy texture, and unpleasant odors. In this case, do not pass go. 

Can I get sick from eating expired pasta?

It depends. Since dry pasta has zero moisture content, the risk of it making you sick from bacterial growth is slim to none. However, both fresh pasta and cooked pasta could be sources of foodborne illness if they’re eaten when spoiled.

How to store pasta for a longer shelf life:

As with many pantry items (like olive oil, vinegar and spices), you should store dry pasta in a cool, dark place to prolong its shelf-life. Your pantry or a dark cupboard are both good homes for that box of macaroni. If you want to go the extra mile, transfer the dry pasta from its original packaging to an airtight container to ensure no wheat-eating pests (like pantry moths) can get to them. We like glass mason jars so we can see what shapes we have on hand.

Fresh pasta should really be consumed within days of purchase, so there’s no need to store it in a special container as long as it’s packaged in something airtight when you bring it home. Just keep it in the fridge until you want to use it. To store it in the freezer, wrap it tightly in a double layer of aluminum foil to prevent freezer burn, or toss it in a freezer-safe zip-top bag.

Cooked pasta can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator—that is, if you have leftovers to begin with.

RELATED: All the Types of Noodles You Should Have in Your Pantry (Plus What to Make with Them)

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