Time to clean out the pantry! Are you wondering does dry pasta go bad? We all do. So let’s find out.
There may come a time when you are deep in thought, perhaps pondering the origins of our vast universe; maybe rueing the mistakes of relationships past, or potentially you are staring at the 6-year-old pack of dry uncooked pasta in the back of your cupboard and wondering if dry pasta has gone bad.
Well, my friend, you have come to the right place!
This article will be scrupulous in its analysis of this worthy topic, and we will leave no stone unturned in our relentless pursuit of the truth!
Here’s what we know so far:
- Dried pasta is very shelf stable because it has nearly zero moisture content.
- If kept properly in a dark place within covered airtight containers, all types of pasta can be good to eat for months or even years past the best-by date.
- Even if unopened dry pasta appears to be good to eat, it still might not taste very good if you’re using this staple food waaaay past its expiry date.
Here’s our quick checklist to find out does dry pasta go bad after opening:
- It may seem obvious, but keep dry pasta and egg noodles DRY. That means away from steam and humidity, too. If your dry pasta takes on moisture, like the container is near a stove, it can get moldy. It can be hard to tell if it has taken on moisture just by examining the package, so you’ll need to open it and check it. Any dry pasta that feels spongy or slimy should be thrown away. Kitchens that are always 85F and above, it may be best to keep them stored with a moisture-wicking silica gel pack you sometimes see in beef jerky or dog treats.
- Transfer open dry pasta to airtight containers. Sometimes dry pasta gets too dry and then becomes brittle. Even in the best airtight containers, dry pasta can lose its flavor after years of being stored. Glass containers are best if you think you’ll have pasta in years of storage, so it doesn’t pick up that plastic flavor.
- You may need to taste it anyway. Dry pasta is food after all, and after so many years, even kept perfectly dry and out of direct sun, can lose its flavor. The ingredients break down from time and exposure to air. It just becomes stale, or worse, rancid at that point.
- Check the ingredients. Some dry pasta that contains eggs or dairy can show signs of spoilage, so if you don’t see spots or mold growth, it still might be safest to throw it out if it’s more than a few months past the best-by date.
- Look for insects. Bugs love pasta, too. Many of us leave plastic wrapped dry spaghetti in the cupboard with one end open, but usually for weeks or months, not years. The dry pasta might look fine, but I always check for pantry moths, weevils and bugs before putting it in the water.
- Finally, check dates and, like The Dude, abide. If it’s passing all the sniff tests, visual checks, and taste tests, but something doesn’t seem right, even if the best-by date hasn’t come, abide by the expiration dates and toss it. Toss it all. Fresh is best, as we like to say.
- Speaking of fresh…if you’ve made or bought non-commercial homemade dry pasta or homemade fresh pasta (confused yet?), like from a farmer’s market, that changes things a bit. The shelf life will be shorter. It probably hasn’t been dried as long or as well as commercial dry pasta. It probably says to keep it in the refrigerator because it’s still flexible and may contain eggs and maybe dairy. Green, black or white mold spots will be obvious on this kind of pasta, and a sniff test will give you all the information you need to know. Fresh dry pasta will go bad if left out much more quickly: stale, moldy, and possibly buggy.
Shelf stable refers to foods that do not require storage in the refrigerator and tend to be ok to eat indefinitely, on the provision that the freshness and quality WILL degrade over time.
To please all the Nonnas out there, we will go the extra mile with a brief history of how raw dry pasta came about will be covered, which will then lead into some of the types that you might find in your grocery store.
There are many traditional shapes and sizes for pasta that become region specific to parts of Italy and other parts of the world as well.
To understand how long dry pasta lasts, an analysis of the chemical composition and reactions that occur during the production process is essential.
This is affected by whether the pasta is store-bought or homemade pasta.
Storing pasta correctly will also significantly affect pasta shelf life, which becomes important within the context of this article.
Have you ever wondered what those white spots on your pasta are?
Maybe you want to know if you can freeze-dry pasta? (Hint: Turns out this sentence can be interpreted in more ways than one—stick around and find out!)
Let’s cast our imagination back through the sands of time to 1700 BC.
The modern culinary arts are merely a futuristic dream at this point when the people of one of the early Chinese dynasties created something special: A noodle derived from rice flour.
It took many centuries for this amazing idea to develop through several iterations from the Middle East to the Roman Empire until the foundations of modern-day pasta were created in 8th Century Sicily.
Fast forward to the 1600s when pasta began to be mass-produced and exported, through to the industrial age of almost universal love for pasta over many cultures.
Now in the present day, we have a veritable smorgasbord: Type of pasta in all shapes, sizes, flavors, and colors to choose from!
Types of dry pasta
There are so many different types of dry pasta that it would be nearly impossible to list even a fraction of them in this article (there are potentially more than 600 shapes)!
Check out Gordan Ramsey’s pasta guide and Jamie Oliver’s ultimate guide to pasta shapes, which give a good summary of some of the shapes you can find!
Here’s a list of 20+ plus different classic and alternative shapes that you may or may not have heard of before.
If you get the chance to make your own pasta, try making something that you haven’t tried before!
Flat ribbons that are around 6.5 mm in thickness and are a perfect accompaniment to your oozy winter ragu!
Literally flattened spaghetti, these are like Fettuccine but much thinner. Generally found matched with seafood.
I like to think of these as close as pasta can get to a luscious flat dumpling. Pappardelle is fantastic if you’re feeling peckish. Bolognese is perfect ladled onto a plate of pappardelle.
Spaghetti needs no introduction, it is one of those quintessential types of pasta that has become almost cliché in its usage.
Spaghetti, but a little thinner!
Spaghetti, but a little thicker!
Narrower than fettuccine, but quite similar. More noodly.
Bowties that come directly out of the debonair 1920’s!
Slightly bent tubes that could be the smooth, tiny cousin of penne, but just a little edgy.
Thinner than spaghetti, comparable to angel hair pasta, but is not quite as thin.
Traditionally rectangular sheets are used primarily for separating the layers between sauces and proteins or vegetables in the delicious Lasagne.
Note the subtle difference between Lasagna (the sheet) and Lasagne (the dish)!
These are spaghetti that has a cylindrical center so that the pasta absorbs and holds sauce on the inside.
Generally whole wheat, thick and soft pasta like spaghetti.
Very wide pasta shaped like a ring with the name presumably a reference to the similarities it has with a cut calamari (squid) ring.
Capelli da Chef
These must be one of the most compelling shapes on this list, as it is extruded into the intricacies of a chef’s hat!
Short and solid little nuggets of tastiness generally come in three sizes that are based on the imprecise yet endearing measurements of one, two or three fingers.
These are kitchen staples and come in medium size tubes with racing stripes and a diagonal slice on each end.
Larger diameter and longer penne-style cylinders, minus the diagonal ends.
These are super funky and look identical to the little pie-shaped pieces in the board game Trivial Pursuit.
The perfect spiral pasta for every cold picnic dish and lots of easy Sunday Italian dinners.
Coiled or braided pasta, with lots of grooves to soak up your delicious sauces
Trusty household egg pasta, good to hold all kinds of savory sauces.
Does Dry Pasta Go Bad?
Drying foods is one of the oldest and most common forms of food preservation, with pasta one of the many perishables that have benefited from this technology.
It’s in the name, but as you may have guessed water is one of the main factors we should be concerned with when considering if dry pasta does go bad.
As bacteria rely on water as a means of multiplying, any unwanted rehydration of your pasta should be expressly avoided.
This might be more of a concern if you live in a hot and more importantly humid environment, where your pasta will simply be absorbing moisture from the surrounding environment if it is left exposed!
Will dry pasta go bad in the heat? Yes, so keep your dry pasta in climate-controlled cabinets, in airtight containers out of the direct sun, away from the hot stove, and protected from high humidity are all best.
So, keep your pasta padlocked in its plastic wrapper or in an airtight container.
Speaking of air!
Oxygen is another major factor in determining harmful bacterial growth (for some bacteria at least, others are scarier and can grow without it).
The less time pasta is exposed to air the better.
Bacteria are also a bit of a spicy organism that loves to get hot!
The warmer the temperature the more likely bacteria are to multiply.
Keep your pasta in a cool, dry place like a cupboard environment to prolong its shelf life.
With all that said and done, as with all food items, yes dry pasta does go bad with a recommended shelf life of 2 years.
This is very conservative though and I would assume most of us would have inadvertently dug into the back of our kitchen cupboards and pulled out an old pack of years-old pasta that was perfectly fine.
How long does dry pasta last?
The common theme is that dry pasta should last for up to 2 years, officially.
This will depend on the pasta brand as well and particularly whether it is made in the traditional way using eggs, which would reduce that length of time depending on if it was pasteurized or not.
So check the expiration date on the package.
But if you’ve moved your dry pasta to airtight storage containers and have no idea when it was bought, give it a visual test, touch it to make sure it’s still dry, sniff it to make sure it doesn’t smell rancid or moldy, and ultimately, if you cook it and it tastes stale, unappetizing, sour, or “off” in any way, throw it out and don’t eat anymore.
Can you eat expired pasta?
Yes and no. You have to check it to make sure it hasn’t gotten spongy/absorbed water, hasn’t gotten moldy, and doesn’t have pantry bugs in the package or clinging to the pasta.
The key distinction to make for eating expired pasta is it will have a best-before, as opposed to a use-by date.
Use-by dates are typically used for items that have the potential to make you ill beyond the legally defined date.
Best before dates, on the other hand, are typically used for foods such as dry goods – like pasta – which has a date that the manufacturer cannot guarantee the level of quality that you would find between the production date and a best before date.
As such, you can indeed eat expired pasta but that of course is wholly dependent upon whether you have adhered to food storage guidelines (as covered above).
A key factor here would also be the amount of time that has passed since the best before date:
For dry pasta, you could assume that up to 5 years beyond that date would be fine, but there would need to be a point where one should be careful, particularly when considering egg-based pasta, which could present a higher risk.
How to store dry pasta
Kitchen storage is the bane of everyone’s kitchen organization, at least mine anyway.
I keep a lot of food storage containers in a plastic bin in my laundry room because my kitchen shelves just can’t hold another thing.
If you’ve spent any time in the kitchen, you may be familiar with the unfortunate packaging that beleaguers cooks: lightweight plastic around the spaghetti that tears easily and leaves gaping holes, cardboard boxes of macaroni, butterfly pasta, and rotini that tear when you open them and have no reclosable seal.
Even the bags of fun-looking dry pasta that have the plastic bag part on the bottom and the cardboard fold-over on top aren’t even going to clip shut very well.
If you’ve encountered a resealable bag of dry pasta or any original commercial box of pasta container that has velcro or something that reseals it easily and well, please point me in that direction.
Until then, let’s look at some ideal storing containers (affiliate links):
- Tall enough for spaghetti and plenty of other sizes for other pasta, too
- Wide mouth glass with silicone seals and flip-top lids
- Tall and round with bamboo lids and silicone seals
- Big-daddy countertop container with scoop (plastic)
- Stackable and come with labels, those flap-down airtight seals
- Similar to the above but flat and long instead of tall
- Zipper bags kept fully closed
Dry pasta presents complexity as you can opt to buy in bulk and store it in a larger tub, however, if you can manage to keep them in their original packaging kept closed that is the ideal situation so you have the best-by and expiration dates available to you.
That said, just use airtight storage and labels and write the date from the packaging.
Our good friends at Barilla recommend:
“Unopened and opened boxes of dry pasta should be stored somewhere cool and moisture-free, such as a cupboard or a pantry.”
They also warn against storing boxes in the fridge or freezer to reduce the potential for the pasta absorbing moisture.
Condensation is what happens when you take foods, especially dry pasta, in and out of cold spaces.
As an aside and on the topic of storing food in the freezer, most foods do not bode well when put in that super-cold environment and you are sacrificing food quality every time you opt to go down that path.
Another key term here is “shelf stable,” which are foods that do not require storage in the refrigerator and tend to be ok to eat indefinitely, on the provision that the freshness and quality will degrade over time.
Despite the longevity of dry pasta, there can be other concerns with storage, particularly for pantry insects such as meal moths, ants, or weevils.
Unfortunately, the longer your dry pasta has been stored the higher the risk of weevil infestation.
They can be brought into your environment in many of the foods that you are storing and then move across into your other foods.
Thus the longer your pasta has been in your pantry, the more time it has for the larvae to sit dormant and then hatch.
What are the white spots on dry pasta?
Flat, white, non-furry spots generally would indicate faulty milling of the flour that is used as one of the primary ingredients in pasta.
There are a few characteristics that typically define the quintessential color and therefore likely quality of pasta.
Most likely, if you are buying dry pasta, you would be looking for a uniform, amber-yellow color without shades of gray or red and with a surface appearance that is devoid of brown, black or white spots.
A key term to understand for this question is the niche topic of granulometry, which is the measurement of the size distribution in a collection of grains and can also be referred to as the particle size distribution test.
Granulometry is important in the field of pasta-making, which in some cases uses semolina flour.
If a single granule of semolina (or a whole cup of semolina granules) is too big, then it will not be capable of absorbing enough moisture (i.e., sufficiently hydrated) during the pasta-making process.
This factor on its own will produce a white spot on the surface of the pasta after it has been shaped, rolled, or extruded which cannot be removed in the drying stage.
As a means of addressing this, modern high-output pasta-making plants require the time for pasta-making to be reduced, to optimize production and therefore profit.
As such, innovative machinery such as turbo centrifuges can be used to aid the hydration process to reduce these white spots.
As the consumer though, you should be fine if you do eat pasta with dry, flat white spots!
Give it a sniff test to make sure it doesn’t smell moldy, and you should be good to go.
This would indicate that you are eating dry pasta from a supplier which potentially doesn’t care about food quality standards and flavor, though.
How to tell if dry pasta has gone bad
Since we are dealing with a food item that is non-perishable, as opposed to fresh foods, it may be less obvious if it has gone bad.
As usual, though, you can still implement the standard tests for food freshness:
- Smell – In the case of dry pasta, there should be a very mild smell from the packet – If you notice anything unusual, then it’s probably not ok.
- Observe – Check for those white spots that we have covered earlier (remember that this is still ok to eat!), but make sure they are flat, small white spots on the surface of the pasta, as opposed to a furry mold. Speaking of molds, look out for all the normal intensely colored culprits (i.e., pinks, blues, reds, etc). These are very unlikely to be encountered though unless you have accidentally got the packet very wet or left it open.
- Touch – Keep an eye out for a slimy texture on the surface of the pasta – once again though this is unlikely in this case.
Mainly, just use your common sense. Trust what you feel and err on the side of caution to avoid getting sick.
Should I freeze dry pasta?
No, don’t put dry pasta in the freezer. (This is different than freeze-dried dry pasta. More on this below.)
Even dry pasta has some water in it (or it would be dust), and that water freezes and affects the taste and texture.
Since dry pasta already lasts a long time when stored properly in the cabinet, there’s no need to freeze it.
As soon as you defrost the pasta, the structure of the pasta would break down slightly and might result in a mushy product once cooked. Probably just best to avoid.
Let’s split it up to avoid any confusion and to appease all members of the audience!
Firstly, should you freeze pasta that you have bought in dry form?
I’m sure if you asked this to any Italian Nonna you might get a clip around the ear and at face value, it does seem a strange thing to do.
You would have to ask yourself what you are gaining from doing this.
Dry pasta already lasts for many years (and even further beyond if you go past that best before date), so by freezing it you may extend the life for a bit longer but for not much gain.
As soon as you freeze and then defrost a food item as well, you are generally sacrificing a level of quality and in the case of pasta, this is no different.
Should you freeze-dry pasta?
Now for the other interpretation, should you freeze dry it, which is a different type of storage.
Freeze drying is a very interesting method of food preservation that allows for incredibly long storage times, without the sacrifice of breaking foods down.
In this case, however, for dry pasta, it probably won’t result in much of a difference since the water content of dry pasta is already very low!
In a nutshell, it involves rapidly cooling foods under pressure, where a process called sublimation then occurs.
Sublimation occurs during the freeze-drying process (also called lyophilization) and involves the change of the frozen ice from inside the food to ‘sublimate’ to a gas, which avoids the liquid stage that would result in a breakdown of cells which results in mushy foods when defrosting.
Best to keep this method for fresh fruits for your morning muesli.
The bottom line
Thanks for reading all the way here.
Pasta lover, have we agreed that the best way to keep your dry pasta or box of spaghetti in the best quality is to transfer them to airtight containers?
We covered some of the origins of pasta, some of the over 600 shapes that it can be formed into and delved into whether dry pasta can go bad (it lasts for a long time!).
We also covered if you could eat expired pasta, which you likely can, depending upon how long it has expired.
You should avoid storing dry pasta in the fridge unless your area has a bug problem and keep it in a cool dry area out of sunlight.
White spots on dried pasta aren’t too big of a deal, although they indicate that the quality of the pasta may not be as high as other kinds.
You can tell if dry pasta is bad by using the classic tests of smell, looking, and touching, as well as using your common sense.
Avoid freezing dry pasta if you can, as it does not add much value and can affect the taste and texture after it’s cooked.
As always, stick around and check out some of the other FAQ articles if you are curious to learn more!
How To Store Dry Pasta
Keep your spaghetti, pasta, and noodles free from bugs and humidity with this simple trick.
- Spaghetti or pasta or noodles
- Airtight container
- Cupboard or pantry
- Remove the spaghetti, pasta or noodles from its original packaging and transfer it all to an airtight container (or two, if you have more pasta than will fit in one container).
- Apply the label to the container(s).
- Write the best-by date from the original package onto the label(s).
- Transfer your airtight containers to the cupboard or pantry.
- Store your airtight containers of pasta, noodles, and spaghetti away from heat, direct sunlight, moisture and humidity with the lids on tight to avoid attracting bugs.
- Recycle the original packaging.
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