Does Pasta Go Bad?

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, “Does pasta go bad?” as well as other related questions pertaining to the subject at hand like how to store pasta and how long does pasta last.

Does pasta go bad?

Absolutely, pasta does go bad over time. Pasta is primarily made from wheat flour, which contains proteins, starches, and fats. When exposed to moisture and warmth, pasta creates an ideal environment for bacteria and mold to grow, leading to spoilage (1,2). Now the question is whether the pasta is dry or cooked. 

What is the shelf life of pasta?

Dry pasta will last for about a year or two, on the other hand, fresh pasta will only last for about 4-5 days (3,4). Pretty much all dry pasta comes with a “best-by” or “best if used by” date. That date is not an expiration date, but only a rough estimate of how long the pasta will retain its freshness. 

Pasta won’t magically turn bad after this date. You can allow a few months to a year after the recommended date, subject to perfect packaging and ideal storage conditions.

When it comes to fresh or homemade pasta, it’s good for only a couple of days. If it’s a store-bought one, the “use-by” date on the package is a pretty good estimate (3). 

For homemade pasta and cooked leftovers stored in the fridge, it’s best for only 3-4 days (3,4,5). 

If you’d like to save it for longer, freezing the fresh pasta is pretty much the only option, by freezing you can extend the shelf life to 2 months (3). 

Last but not least, cooked leftovers. If stored properly, they usually retain good quality for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge (3,4,5)

What affects the shelf life of pasta?

The shelf life of pasta is primarily impacted by a number of factors, such as its moisture content, air exposure, temperature, and packaging (2).

Moisture in pasta makes it vulnerable to bacterial and mold growth when kept in humid conditions. The pasta’s fats and oils oxidize when they are exposed to air, which causes rancidity and a drop in quality (2,6). 

When it comes to temperature, high temperatures can hasten microbial growth and chemical reactions, further reducing shelf life (2,7). 

Packaging is also very important because pasta is more susceptible to contamination and moisture absorption if it is not kept in airtight containers (7).

When pasta is cooked, it becomes a favorable environment for bacteria, molds, and yeasts to proliferate rapidly. The residual moisture content in cooked pasta provides a breeding ground for microorganisms, leading to spoilage, especially in these conditions (1,2).

Storing cooked pasta at room temperature allows these microorganisms to multiply even faster, significantly decreasing its shelf life (2,7).

Additionally, the ingredients used to prepare home made pasta or to cook pasta can also affect its shelf life. Different ingredients possess distinct physicochemical properties such as pH level and water activity, which affect their susceptibility to spoilage (6). 

The cooking and hygiene practices of preparing the dish can also influence the shelf life of cooked pasta or home made pasta (8).

How To Store Pasta?

Pasta is a food that is shelf-stable and can be easily stored for longer periods. You can keep it in your pantry to cook whenever you want. You should store dry pasta in a cool and dry area, preferably in the pantry or in the kitchen (9).

Once you open the package, you can leave the pasta in it, or transfer it to an airtight container as a container protects the food product from any moisture much better than the plastic packaging does. If properly stored uncooked, dried pasta can stay in the pantry for 1-2 years (3). 

Fresh and cooked pasta can be stored in the refrigerator as the cold temperature slows down bacteria and mold growth. Fresh pasta can last for around 4-5 days in the refrigerator (3,5).

Cooked pasta can go into the fridge in an airtight container; it can stay good for around a week. To avoid clumping, toss pasta with extra virgin oil. If the pasta is already mixed with sauce, no need to add anything else (3,5).

How To Tell If Pasta Is Bad?

When it comes to fresh pasta, it should be pretty obvious to tell if it’s spoiled or not. When you notice any discolourations, like white spots or signs of mold, throw the pasta out. Same thing if it developed an off smell (10).

A small hole in dried pasta packaging means a safe entrance for bugs and insects. The biggest enemy of dry pasta is little pantry bugs. Because of that, when you store dried noodles for an extended period, it’s good to thoroughly check the contents of the container before using them. If you can find any little bugs in there, discard the pasta (11). 

If none of the mentioned signs appears, your fresh pasta should be fine. Of course, if it’s already a few days past the “use-by” date, it’s probably better to stay on the safe side and discard the pasta anyway.

Cooked pasta leftovers have very similar signs of spoilage. Brown or black specks, white spots, or any signs of mold mean you should throw the pasta out. Same thing if it smells off, or you store it for longer than like 5 days (10).

Dry pasta, in most cases, doesn’t go bad in a way that it gets moldy and unsafe to eat. Not unless some moisture or other substances reach it (4).

What happens if you eat bad pasta?

If bad pasta contains harmful microorganisms, eating it can cause a foodborne illness that can affect different people in different ways. Depending on the type of bacteria present on the pasta you consumed, the signs and symptoms of a foodborne illness might range from minor to severe. (1,15).

Frequent symptoms of gastrointestinal issues due to a food poisoning are:

  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting 
  • stomach discomfort

B. cereus is a common foodborne pathogen that can grow on aged pasta, and it can cause cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. This bacterium has been linked to fatalities in severe cases. (16,17).

There is a higher chance of exposure to common pathogens like Salmonella, Campylobacter, Clostridium, or Listeria when eating contaminated pasta along with additional components like meat, eggs, or dairy products (1,15).

It is advised to follow the indicated shelf-life guidelines mentioned above, inspect the pasta before consumption, and use appropriate storage techniques to lower the risk of foodborne illness brought on by consuming damaged pasta.

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we have answered the question, “Does pasta go bad?” as well as other related questions pertaining to the subject at hand like how to store pasta and how long does pasta last. 

References

1. Sanguinetti, A.M. Quality Changes of Fresh Filled Pasta During Storage: Influence of Modified Atmosphere Packaging on Microbial Growth and Sensory Properties. Food Science and Technology International, 2011, 17(1):23-9

2. Qiu Y, Zhou Y, Chang Y, et al. The Effects of Ventilation, Humidity, and Temperature on Bacterial Growth and Bacterial Genera Distribution. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022;19(22).

3. Food labeling and product dating. USDA.

4. Shelf-life for refrigerated partially dried pasta. Environmental Health Services, 2013.

5. Leftovers and food safety. USDA. 2020.

6. Coorey, Ranil, et al. The impact of cooling rate on the safety of food products as affected by food containers. Compr. Rev. Food Sci. 2018, 17, 827-840.

7. Roccato, A., Uyttendaele, M., & Membré, J. M.  Analysis of domestic refrigerator temperatures and home storage time distributions for shelf-life studies and food safety risk assessment. Food Res. Int. 2017, 96, 171-181.

8. Food Safety Education Month: Preventing Cross-Contamination. USDA, 2022.

9. Aranibar, C., et al. Storage and preservation of dry pasta into biodegradable packaging made from triticale flour. J Food Science and Technology, 2019, 57(2).

10. What are the signs of food spoilage?. USDA, 2023.

11. Brien, J., et al. Common pantry insects. Depart of Prim Inds. 2021.

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