Pasta dishes are some of the finest comfort foods. But sometimes you can end up with too much and not be able to finish. What do you do then? Can you leave that pasta out in the open and still eat it?
You should avoid eating pasta that was left out overnight. This is because, at certain temperatures, perishable food like pasta and meat sauce are vulnerable to bacterial contamination if you leave it for more than 2 hours. Especially at high temperatures. The best way to store pasta would be a refrigerator or freezer.
Pasta, like most other foods, has a time limit as to how long they can sit out. And beyond that time, consuming pasta can pose a serious threat to your health. That is why, in this article, we will discuss the proper way of storing cooked pasta, how long you can let it sit out, and the signs you can check to know if the pasta has gone bad.
How Long Can Cooked Pasta Sit Out?
Pasta often contains meat and cheese in it. Both of these are perishable food items that can go bad if you leave them out for too long. Moreover, cooked pasta can go bad if you leave it out in the open.
All of this means that leaving the pasta to sit out in the open for too long is not a good idea. This will result in bacterial growth and a decline in quality over time.
Now, normally, you can leave freshly baked pasta out in the open for 2 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. The residual heat from the oven can keep it safe for that period. So, you can enjoy your pasta without worrying too much about its quality.
But after a couple of hours, the food becomes progressively more vulnerable to bacterial infestation. So, you should look to store it immediately if you notice that the pasta has been sitting in the open for more than the recommended time.
Can Cooked Pasta Go Bad?
Yes, cooked pasta can certainly spoil. According to the USDA, food such as meat or poultry should not be kept at room temperature for more than 2 hours. This is because, at that temperature, bacteria and other germs have a very easy time contaminating and growing in the food. 
And pasta contains meat in its sauce. It also contains cheese, which can also perish after a few hours. Although hard cheese such as parmesan can stay fresh for several hours, you should still not take that risk.
What Happens if You Eat Bad Pasta?
The first thing you will notice is the decline of quality. But that is the least of your worries. Rotten pasta can have a serious adverse effect on your body if you consume it.
Consuming rotten pasta or its sauce will result in food poisoning. This will lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, etc. in less threatening cases. In rare cases, however, the contamination may be extremely severe. This can potentially cause you to lose consciousness and even lead to death.
B. cereus is a common bacterium that grows on rotten or spoiled pasta. This can cause symptoms of food poisoning such as stomach cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea. 
Due to the presence of meat, pasta can also be contaminated by Salmonella, Campylobacter, etc. These are all dangerous pathogens that can cause great irritation to your well-being. If the condition becomes particularly severe, you may need to immediately consult with a doctor or visit a hospital’s emergency room.
How to Properly Store Cooked Pasta?
Since pasta is prone to going bad and eating bad pasta is dangerous for the health, it is best to know how you can properly store them for later. So, if you have some leftover pasta after dinner, try out any of these options to keep them safe:
Put it in the Refrigerator
Pasta can stay safe and edible in the fridge for up to a week, but only if it’s not mixed with any sauce. The colder temperature inside a refrigerator will prevent any malicious germs from growing. This will also stop any bacteria already in the pasta from growing further too quickly. Thus, the shelf life of your pasta increases significantly after refrigeration.
Make sure you put the pasta in the container and close it properly.
But keep in mind that this is not a permanent solution. You should try to eat the pasta within 5-7 days as you continue to keep it in the fridge. Because despite the fridge’s intervention, the pasta will continue to lose its quality over time. Plus, every time you take it out and reheat it, it will lose its quality even further.
So, it is best to eat it within a couple of days after refrigeration.
Store them in the Freezer
If you want to extend the lifespan of your pasta even longer, freeze them completely. Frozen pasta can stay safe for a few months. Freezers will cool the pasta down to 0 degrees or lower. This is much lower than your standard refrigerator and therefore is more effective.
If your pasta is mixed with some sauce and then put in the freezer, you would want to reheat it before consuming. To do so, put the pasta and sauce in the pot, pour half of the cup of water, and wait until the dish starts to boil. Stir it constantly to avoid sticking to the bottom. Cook it for about 5 minutes.
How Can You Keep Pasta Fresh for Longer?
Sometimes, you may have cooked the pasta a bit earlier and you have to wait for some time before you start eating. In this scenario, the best thing would be to keep the pasta warm and fresh. Because the moment you put it in the fridge, it will start losing its quality and taste.
A great way of keeping your pasta hot and fresh for longer would be to wrap it in aluminum foil. These foils work by trapping the heat inside. So, the pasta will stay warm for longer, usually for 3-4 hours. Aluminum foil is a cheap and easy way of keeping your pasta hot for a long time.
Alternatively, you can keep the pasta in insulated lunch boxes. These boxes have been designed to reduce heat transfer. So, the food inside the box remains at its original temperature for longer. This is a great way of bringing pasta to a picnic or lunch and still enjoying it fresh and warm.
Can You Store Cooked Pasta in a Freezer?
You can put cooked pasta in the freezer. This will prevent bacterial growth and reduce the rate of oxidation. So, the food will deteriorate at a much slower rate than it would normally at room temperature.
Bacteria or germs will not be able to grow in that low temperature. However, the problem is that you have to take the pasta out every time you want to eat it. And repeatedly bringing the pasta out will still cause it to deteriorate.
How to Know if Pasta Has Gone Bad?
Eating spoiled food is a serious matter. And it is always better to avoid them rather than deal with the consequences. Fortunately, rotten food such as pasta has some revealing signs that indicate whether they are bad or not.
So, here are some tips you can use to discern whether a bowl of pasta is safe for eating or not.
Smell for Bad Odor
Similar to most other foods, bad pasta will give a rotten smell. The meat and cheese will, in particular, give off a noticeable sour smell. That is a clear sign that you should throw away the pasta immediately.
Look for Physical Changes
Sometimes the appearance can be enough to tell the state of the pasta. Signs such as discoloration, white or greyish spots on the pasta, etc. can tell you that the dish has been contaminated.
Like most food, pasta is best when you eat them fresh and hot. But if you have some spare, you should try to store them properly and consume them at a later time. Otherwise, you risk food poisoning which could lead to severe implications for your health.