How Long Does Pasta Sauce Last in the Fridge?
You made a delicious homemade pasta sauce that took hours, and it was a labor of love. But after you put the leftovers in the fridge, you have something different the next night.
Then you go out to eat or get take-out the night after that. Then it’s sitting there in the fridge and you wonder, “How long does this last for, anyway?”.
Let’s get this out of the way right now—it takes about five days before your pasta sauce will go bad, but it depends on a variety of factors. That’s just the average.
It’s time to cover the basics so you can know how to optimize your pasta sauce for the longest shelf life in your refrigerator.
Does Pasta Sauce go Bad?
Yes, it absolutely does. Homemade pasta sauce is highly acidic because tomatoes register on the higher end of the pH scale.
But that doesn’t mean they’re invulnerable to short-term shelf spoilage. Pasta sauce still begins to build bacteria, which breaks down the makeup of any food, turning it to rot.
Pasta sauce doesn’t just change in the blink of an eye, which is why it’s so difficult for people to spot the differences when it goes bad—it’s a gradual shift.
It changes color, but then it begins to mold. That’s when it’s blatantly visible that your pasta sauce is very bad.
Average Pasta Sauce Shelf Life
Pasta will last for four to five days if it’s primarily homemade. If you’re only using pre-made, store-bought sauce out of a can or jar and you haven’t done anything to it, you may be able to stretch seven to ten days out of it.
Why is this? Despite tomatoes being acidic and having a decent ability to ward off mass bacterial growth, processed sauce has citric acid added to the formula. This is found as a preservative in almost everything we eat, from fast food to some bread (seriously).
How to Tell if Pasta Sauce is Bad
Ideally, your pasta sauce will either be a bright red color or if you stick to more traditional Italian recipes, it may come out slightly orange. That’s good (and looks delicious), and that’s going to be your first sign to look for when trying to figure out if your sauce is bad.
If your pasta sauce is darkening to a bold red or maroon color, it’s starting to go bad. When you open your container with the sauce in it, you’ll be able to look at the direct center and see a contrast.
The direct middle might resemble the same color that it had while you were cooking it, but the edges will begin to change to that darker shade. It works inward. In this instance, if it’s changing colors but it’s only a thin halo around the edge, you have the rest of the day to eat your sauce before it loses flavor or goes bad.
While it should go without saying when you can see white fuzz growing on the surface or in the edges of your container, that’s mold—toss everything out, including the container.
Store Your Sauce in a Container
Get an airtight container, whether it’s a glass jar with a tight lid, Tupperware, or Ziploc bags. You just need a tight seal.
This is going to limit oxidation from air exposure. Your fridge pumps air in and out through the vent, so rapid oxidation can occur in the fridge, effectively spoiling your pasta sauce 40% faster. Store it properly to avoid this.
If you don’t have Tupperware, you can make do by putting a heavy plate on top of the bowl or pot that your sauce is in, but do not use this for a long-term solution. You have about 24 hours to use your sauce in this situation.
Related Post: Food Storage Containers
Use Date Stickers When You Make Your Pasta Sauce
You have about five days if you chill your sauce properly before it’s going to go bad. If you’re very picky, like me, then you’re probably going to give this 72 hours at the very most just to err on the side of caution.
However, if you’re not good with keeping a mental checklist of when you put your sauce in the fridge, you can use date stickers to slap on your containers and keep tabs on how long your sauce will be good for.
This isn’t just a good idea for you to remember, but if you live with family, a spouse, or roommates, you know they’re going to dig through the fridge and get their hands on your homemade sauce. These stickers will at the very least let them know if it’s still good or not.
Chill at Room Temperature Before Refrigerating
Most importantly among everything you do, you need to refrigerate your tomato sauce. Even if it’s store-bought, came out of a can or a sealed jar or whatever, you still need to refrigerate it properly.
But you can’t just put hot or warm tomato sauce in the fridge right off the stove. When you finish cooking food, you have four hours once it reaches a temperature lower than 140° F, to refrigerate it before bacteria has built up to the point that the food is considered unsafe to eat.
This is because rapid cooling from the air in your refrigerator will target the exterior section of your food first, while the internal temperature is still either hot or at the best, very warm. The warmer food (while still being under 140° F) can spread newborn bacteria to the cold food, which will allow it to grow and turn into mold quicker.
If you let the temperature steadily lower over 30-40 minutes at room temperature, you reduce this risk. If you make big pots of sauce, you can buy what’s called a cooling stick, which is a plastic food-safe tube that you fill with water and freeze. Stirring your sauce with this for two to three minutes effectively brings down the total temperature at the same time. Refrigerators are for keeping food from spoiling, but these can help you get it in the fridge quicker.
Related Post: Pasta Pots