You may be wondering how long does pasta salad last in the fridge before it goes bad and is no longer edible. It’s a natural question, especially if you have some leftover from dinner, or maybe you want to make your salad in advance of a party.
Either way, there are several factors to consider beyond how long it will last before going bad.
I love making pasta salad, especially during the summer months. It’s economical, satisfying and very easy to make. So it’s not uncommon that I often end up with leftovers that I don’t want to go to waste.
In this post, I’m happy to share helpful tips and best practices for proper storage, and how you can easily recognize signs of spoilage to avoid any adverse effects.
How Long Does Pasta Salad Last in the Fridge?
Using up leftovers always helps to reduce food waste, so that’s a good thing. But not all pasta salads are created equal.
Homemade pasta salad
In short, a homemade pasta salad will last in the fridge 3-5 days if stored properly in airtight containers. However there are various factors that can shorten the recommended time. I explain this in more detail further down below.
Store-bought pasta salad
But what about salads you buy from the local deli or grocery store? Well, for store-bought pasta salads, they should be consumed 1-2 days from the date of purchase and not to exceed the expiration date noted on the container.
For the sake of this article, we’ll be assuming that the type of pasta salad we’re dealing with is homemade, not store-bought. Although many of these tips are still relevant.
Knowing how long your pasta salad can last in the fridge will depend greatly on the following.
- Ingredients used in the salad.
- Temperature it’s exposed to.
- Storage method used in the fridge.
Let’s break each of these down.
Ingredients Influence How Long Pasta Salad Can Last in a Fridge
The type of foods that are used in a pasta salad recipe will help narrow down how long it can be stored in the fridge.
Meats and fish
If using poultry or even tuna, it’s best to use caution and store your pasta salad no more than 3 days. If the pasta salad contains fresh vegetables only, then you can store it up to 5 days.
Dairy vs oil based pasta salad dressings
Does your pasta salad dressing contain milk products, even almond milk? If so, you’re better off storing it in the fridge no more than 3 days.
These types of dressing are common with the classic macaroni with mayo pasta salad many of us we grew up with.
If you know you’re going to be making enough to have leftovers, then I recommend avoiding any dairy-based dressings and opt for an oil based dressing, such as Italian dressing.
PRO TIP: When making pasta salad rinse the pasta with cold water as soon as it is done. This will cool the pasta allowing any other ingredients to remain cold when added together. This practice also removes the starch from the pasta which makes it sticky.
Temperature Can Influence How Long Pasta Salad Lasts in the Fridge
Understanding the role temperature factors in with your food is critical for keeping your pasta salads free of harmful bacteria, both inside the fridge and out.
Your refrigerator needs to be operating at peak performance. I try to keep my pasta salad towards the back of the fridge where I know it’s a little cooler and less exposed to temperature drops when I open the refrigerator door throughout the day.
The ideal temperature should be 40 degrees F (4 C) or below. If storing in the freezer, it needs to be at zero degrees F (-18C ). You’ll need to use a handheld thermometer to hang in the fridge or freezer to see actual temperatures since many refrigerators don’t display the actual temperature.
PRO TIP: If you have a lot of leftover pasta salad and need it to cool down quickly (perhaps it’s been out for almost two hours), divide it up into smaller size containers so it will cool down more quickly in the fridge.
But it’s not just the temperature of the fridge that matters. You need to also consider the room temperature as well when you have the pasta salad sitting out. According to the FDA website, food born bacteria can double every 20 minutes.
The FDA states that leftovers “need to be refrigerated or frozen within 2 hours.” And if the air temperature is above 90F, then you need to cut the time by half to just one hour.
Remember, we’re not just talking about leftovers. This also includes the amount of time your pasta salad is sitting out before being served or during transit.
PRO TIP: If serving your pasta salad at a picnic or where you have to travel, keep in in an insulated thermal container filled with ice or frozen cold packs.
How to Store Pasta Salad in the Fridge
When storing your pasta salad in the fridge, whether as leftovers, or ahead of time, follow these proper storage techniques.
- Store in airtight containers ensuring a solid seal. Although you can use sealed storage bags, try to use hard containers that will be less likely to be exposed to the air through their material.
- If your pasta salad contains dairy products, poultry, meat or fish, store for only up to 3 days. Otherwise you can store it up to 5 days such as my ravioli pasta salad, a delicious Italian pasta salad.
- Make sure the temperature of the fridge is 40F or below.
- Label and date contents to be on the safe side.
I recommend using glass storage containers with airtight lids. These are the kinds I use in my kitchen. I particularly like the snap on lids which I think give a tighter seal and are easier to use.
How to Store Pasta Salad in the Freezer
If you’re not sure that you’ll have enough time to eat all the leftover pasta salad, then store it in the freezer. Yes, you can indeed freeze it, but there are considerations. Here are some tips.
- Dairy does not store well in the freezer. The fats separate and it won’t taste the same when it is thawed. The texture changes and will have a slightly gritty feel to it. So that nice creamy pasta salad that tastes smooth and silky – yeah not so much anymore.
- Foods can last indefinitely in the freezer. When people say a pasta salad is good in the freezer for only so many months, they are referring to the freshness of the ingredients. For pasta salad, I wouldn’t freeze it for more than 2 to 3 months. I think you will lose a lot of the freshness of the salad.
- Let the pasta salad thaw in the fridge, not on the counter. This is a big mistake people make. Thaw in the fridge overnight to avoid any bacterial growth that can cause food born illnesses.
- To ensure maximum freshness, use a freezer-safe container.
Marinating Pasta Salad
Sometimes, pasta salad just tastes better after it has been marinating for a while in a dressing. I find this to be true with my Italian tortellini pasta salad. I find it has more flavor throughout the dish when I eat it as leftovers the following day.
The FDA also states that you should always refrigerate foods when marinating. So, for example if your recipe calls a wonderful medley of herbs, olive oil and red wine vinegar, let it marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours, and not on the counter.
Signs of Spoilage in Your Pasta Salad
Relying on expiration dates and the number of days your pasta salad has been in the fridge aren’t the only factors to consider.
Knowing how to identify spoilage is critical no matter where the pasta salad came from. For example a California firm recalled chicken pasta salad due to possible salmonella contamination according to FSIS in 2010.
In 2018 there was another FDA recall due to salmonella in pasta salad by Hy Vee. That’s not the only one; it happens and it’s up to us, the consumers, to recognize when to toss it out, even if you made it yourself.
Here are some things to look for.
Mold grows on food. We might think of it in terms of moldy bread that’s been left out too long, but it can certainly grow inside sealed airtight containers in the fridge. Mold growth is a sign of spoilage, so toss it out.
Smells off or has an off odor
If something just doesn’t smell as pleasant as you recall, use your best judgment and avoid taking the risk. It’s not worth it, even if you are using proper storage conditions.
If you’ve taken a bite and it tastes bad or spoiled, toss it.
PRO TIP: Pathogenic organisms that are found in raw or uncooked meat can also be found on fruits and vegetables too. Make sure the foods you’re using in your pasta salad aren’t already spoiled before you use them. Always wash them well before using.
The Truth About Storing Leftover Pasta in the Fridge or Freezer
Pasta salads can be made with all sorts of pasta shapes and sizes. From ravioli salad to tortellini or angel hair pasta salad. However, they’re not all the same after being kept in the fridge, especially up to 5 days.
I’m sharing below my own experience and tips that you might find helpful.
- Avoid shapes like rigatoni or penne. These are thick and hard to return to the same soft texture.
- I find that stuffed pasta shapes work really well in salads thanks to the flavorful fillings.
- Thinner pastas in general such as angel hair or capellini pasta work great. I love eating my angel hair pasta salad cold the next day – the texture is the same and it’s wonderful.
- Freezing in general isn’t a great idea. Freezing can really alter the texture of any pasta shape if it’s not going to be reheated. For cold pasta salads, it’s just the way it is. However, some pasta salads can taste just as good reheated.
For example my sausage pasta salad recipe is originally served cold, but since I use penne in it, I reheat it with a dash of water in a pan and it tastes like a brand new meal.
- Unless you’ve tried it before and were satisfied, don’t try making your pasta salad more than a day in advance. As I mentioned above, my Italian tortellini salad is the exception – it tastes better after a day in the fridge. But I can’t say the same for every other salad.
- If you must make the salad a day or two in advance, leave out as many fresh ingredients as you can, unless it’s part of the marinade. So the freshly chopped grape tomatoes or whatever variety you want to include – add them the day of.
- Add any Parmesan cheese or other fresh cheeses such as mozzarella or Romano the day of. I think this is especially true when using fresh mozzarella since mozzarella can dry out when not properly stored in water.
How to Freshen Up and Thaw Your Refrigerated Salad
When you’re ready to serve your pasta salad after being in the fridge, there are a few ways you can freshen it up so you get the best tasting results.
- Add in extra fresh herbs such as basil and parsley when serving. Your existing herbs in the salad will lose their flavor quickly, even if in the fridge. Spruce things up with a small amount of freshly chopped herbs to compensate.
- The same principle goes with adding a dash of fresh olive oil or lemon juice. The lemon juice will add a brightness and is often used in Mediterranean or Greek pasta salads. My olive oil and lemon oregano vinaigrette recipe is a wonderful dressing.
- If you’re really short on time, zap it in the microwave for 10 seconds and let it cool at room temperature. This depends on how powerful your microwave is. I would only do this if the type of pasta you’re using is rather stiff and tough and could use the slightest amount of heat to soften. Some cold pasta salads taste better at room temperature than right out of the fridge.
Frequently Asked Questions
The good news is nearly any type of pasta salad can be kept in the fridge, or freezer. The best ones are those with an oil-base, not dairy, whether Greek, Italian, or American-style.
Tuna salad can last in the fridge 3-5 days, but I’d recommend using it by 3 days for freshness.
Most Italian pasta salads use an oil-based dressing. If this is the case with you, your homemade pasta salad can stay good for up to 5 days, although for best fresh results I’d eat it before 4 days.
More Pasta Tips
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy the following.
Learn how to reheat your alfredo sauce, even after being in the freezer.
Ravioli can easily fall apart when boiling. Read this post to learn how to properly cook ravioli.
Tortellini seem like they’d be tougher than ravioli, but they can still fall apart. Learn how to boil tortellini so they hold their shape and stuffing.
I hope I’ve helped cleared up any questions about how long pasta salad can last in the fridge.
Knowing the best way to properly store your salad and recognize signs of spoilage are critical for a healthy and bacteria-free dish. If you have your own tips, feel free to share them below – I’d love to hear them!