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How To Tell If Cottage Cheese Is Bad: 4 Simple Signs To Look For

Ever wondered how to tell if cottage cheese is bad? 

If you aren’t necessarily familiar with the smell, taste, and appearance of cottage cheese, you may wonder how to tell if cottage cheese has gone bad

Most commercial cottage cheese looks lumpy with curds (small and large), sometimes appearing loose with liquid pooling on the top, but if you’re using dry curd cottage cheese, it could be neither.

Learn more here about cottage cheese and unlock some tips to check if your cottage cheese is still good to eat.

Cottage cheese features a slightly tangy, mild flavor, and creamy texture that appears lumpy with shiny, squeaky curds.

You can use cottage cheese in sweet and savory recipes because it’s a versatile product, but before using the leftover cottage cheese in your next recipe, ensure it’s still edible and safe.

Below, I will share a few indicators that your cottage cheese may not be safe for consumption.

I will also answer all your questions about cottage cheese, so let’s dive right in.

Spoiled cottage cheese may have a sour or rancid smell and a very sour taste that could cause you to recoil or spit it out.

The texture of the cheese can also change, becoming grainy or curdled.

The appearance may also be different, with pink, green, or black discoloration or mold growing on the surface, sides, or lid of the container.

Don’t consume cottage cheese with mold growing on the surface, as it indicates that the product has spoiled.

What are the 4 signs that cottage cheese has gone bad?

To tell if cottage cheese is bad, look for the following signs:

1. Off Odor

A sour, stinky, yeasty, “off” or rancid smell indicates that the cottage cheese has gone bad and you shouldn’t eat it.

2. Changes in Texture

Cottage cheese past its prime may have a grainy or curdled appearance, which is a sign that the individual normally semi-solid curds are breaking down as they rot and spoil.

3. Mold

If mold grows on the surface of the cottage cheese, discard the product immediately.

Don’t try to remove mold so you can eat it; the mold has been growing throughout the product and it could make you sick even though it looks like you’ve removed it all.

4. Expiration Date

While an expiration is a guideline to freshness, if your cottage cheese container has been opened AND has passed its expiration date by more than a day or two, you may want to discard it just to be safe. 

Ensure to check the expiration date printed on the package and give it the sniff test and eyeball it before diving in with your spoon.

If your cottage cheese doesn’t have signs of mold or a bad smell, it’s likely still safe to eat.

Still, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and discard any cottage cheese that has been open for a long time or appears spoiled.

How long does cottage cheese last in the fridge?

Cottage cheese often lasts 5-7 days in the refrigerator after the package has been opened, as long as it has been stored properly.

Furthermore, unopened cottage cheese may last up to two weeks past its printed date if stored properly in the refrigerator.

Can cottage cheese go bad if left out of the fridge?

Cottage cheese can go bad if left out of the refrigerator because it’s a perishable food item.

Therefore, you should keep cottage cheese refrigerated to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

When exposed to temperatures above 40°F, bacteria can multiply rapidly and spoil the cottage cheese.

Don’t leave cottage cheese at room temperature for more than 2 hours, as it could be in the “danger zone” of bacteria growth between 40-140 F.

If left out for longer than 2 hours, cottage cheese should be discarded.

If you’re unsure if cottage cheese that has been left out is still safe to eat, it’s best to discard it to avoid the risk of food poisoning.

Can you eat cottage cheese past the expiration date?

Cottage cheese can be consumed several days after its printed date as long as it has been stored properly and refrigerated.

If it’s unopened and stored in the refrigerator, cottage cheese can last up to two weeks past its printed date. 

But…

Consume cottage cheese within seven days of opening—yet always look for signs of spoiling (since you can’t always tell if a container was left out on the counter and put back in the fridge).

How should cottage cheese be stored to prevent spoilage?

The key to keeping cottage cheese fresh is to ensure that it’s kept at a consistent, cool temperature and tightly sealed to keep out air. 

Also use fresh, clean utensils every time you go to serve cottage cheese to help avoid cross-contamination of foods that can affect spoilage and overall freshness.

It’s also important to check the expiration date on the package and consume the cottage cheese before that date.

From the popular Daisy Brand Cottage Cheese:

  • There are a number of ways to help your cottage cheese stay fresh: 
  • Refrigerate the product as soon as possible after purchasing.
  • After spooning out what you need, promptly return the remaining portion to the refrigerator.
  • After initial opening, remove the foil seal from the package completely and use the plastic lid to reseal.
  • Always use a clean utensil and avoid touching the inside of the container’s plastic lid to help maintain the quality of the product.

Can I freeze cottage cheese to keep it fresh longer?

It is NOT recommended that you freeze cottage cheese, per Friendship Dairies, as it affects the texture once it’s thawed. 

It becomes extra watery, and the curds are flat and flavorless after thawing.

To put a finer point on it, according to Darigold:

When cottage cheese is frozen, ice crystals swell and break the curd structure resulting in a mushy, watery texture when thawed, so it’s a good idea not to freeze it.

Does cottage cheese need to be refrigerated after opening?

Yes, refrigerate your unopened container of cottage cheese right away.

Then keep it chilled and refrigerate immediately after serving yourself some of that delicious cottage cheese. 

Cottage cheese should be refrigerated after opening at or below 40°F (4°C).

If you have homemade cottage cheese, keep it cold as much as possible, since it will lack preservatives.

How long does cottage cheese last once it’s been opened?

Cottage cheese usually lasts 7 to 14 days in the refrigerator after the package has been opened, as long as it has been stored properly.

Once opened, you should keep your cottage cheese refrigerated and tightly sealed to prevent contamination.

Furthermore, you should check the expiration date on the package and eat the cottage cheese before that date.

Can cottage cheese be safely consumed if it has a sour smell?

Cottage cheese is likely spoiled and shouldn’t be consumed if it has a sour smell.

A sour or rancid smell indicates that the cottage cheese has gone bad, as it may have been exposed to bacteria that can cause foodborne illness.

Cottage cheese should be kept refrigerated to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.

Once the package has been opened, bacteria can multiply rapidly, especially if the cottage cheese is exposed to room temperature.

In summary, you should toss cottage cheese if it has been left out for a long period or has passed its expiration date.

Does the texture of cottage cheese change when it’s gone bad?

The texture of cottage cheese can definitely change when it has gone bad.

Cottage cheese past its prime may have a watery or curdled appearance; it can also have a different consistency—thicker or thinner than usual.

These changes in texture can be caused by the growth of harmful bacteria, which can cause the proteins in the cheese to break down and change the structure of the cheese.

Note that other factors, such as temperature variations or prolonged storage, can affect the product’s texture.

Still, don’t risk your gut health.

Throw away the cottage cheese if it has a sour or rancid smell, discoloration, curdled appearance, or mold growing on the surface.

Is cottage cheese bad if it’s watery?

Not necessarily, but it’s good to check all the signs we mention above before eating it.

Cottage cheese can become watery if it has been stored for too long or if it has been exposed to temperatures that are too warm. 

These factors can cause the proteins in the cheese to break down and release liquid, which can make the cottage cheese appear watery.

It may not have the same texture and consistency as when it was fresh and may not taste as good.

That said, a watery appearance isn’t necessarily a sign that the cottage cheese is spoiled.

Per Daisy brand cottage cheese:

If the product is used infrequently, some natural separation might occur, which can cause part of the product to appear watery, and it sits on top of the solid areas of the cottage cheese product. Simply stir gently to blend it back together.

Pro Tip: To prevent the separation of whey from the product, smooth the surface of the product flat with a spoon just prior to placing it back in the refrigerator.

Note: if you experience other signs of spoiled cottage cheese, such as a sour or rancid smell, changes in color, curdled appearance, or mold growing on the surface, discard the product because it’s not safe to eat.

You shouldn’t leave cottage cheese out on the counter in room temperatures for more than 120 minutes total. 

So if you take out your cottage cheese several times a week and leave it out on the counter for 15 minutes at a time, you are shortening its freshness and shelf life.

The bottom line

Ever wondered how to tell if cottage cheese is bad? 

Learn more about the cheese and unlock some tips to check if your cottage cheese is still good to eat.

Here is a recap of the important things to know about how to tell if cottage cheese is bad:

  • Smell: Cottage cheese should have a mild, fresh, and only slightly tangy smell. If it has a rancid, pungent, or off-putting smell, it is bad and should be discarded and not eaten.
  • Texture: Cottage cheese should be smooth and creamy with curds that make it appear uniformly lumpy, so small curd cottage cheese has smaller curds than large curd, which tends to be slightly more “loose” than small curd. If it it has large clumps with a smelly, watery consistency, or has a grainy texture, it is bad and should be discarded.
  • Color: Cottage cheese should be white or off-white in color. If it is yellow, brown, or has any other discoloration, it is bad and should be discarded.
  • Mold: Cottage cheese should not have any mold on it. If you see any mold, it is bad and should be discarded.

If you are unsure if cottage cheese is bad, it is best to err on the side of caution and discard it. 

Eating bad cottage cheese can cause food poisoning, which can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other unpleasant symptoms.

More About Cottage Cheese

How To Tell If Cottage Cheese Is Bad (Our Full FAQ)

How To Tell If Cottage Cheese Is Bad (Our Full FAQ)

Cottage cheese is a delicious and healthy snack or recipe ingredient, but it can go bad if it is not stored properly. Here are some tips!

Ingredients

  • Smell: Cottage cheese should have a mild, fresh, and only slightly tangy smell. If it has a sour, pungent, or off-putting smell, it is bad and should be discarded.
  • Texture: Cottage cheese should be smooth and creamy. If it is lumpy, watery (with a bad smell), or has a grainy texture, it is bad and should be discarded.
  • Color: Cottage cheese should be white or off-white in color. If it is yellow, brown, or has any other discoloration, it is bad and should be discarded.
  • Mold: Cottage cheese should not have any mold on it. If you see any mold, it is bad and should be discarded.

Instructions

If you are unsure if cottage cheese is bad, it is best to err on the side of caution and discard it.


Here are some tips on how to store cottage cheese properly to prevent it from going bad:

    1. Refrigerate cottage cheese as soon as you get home from the store.
    2. Do not leave cottage cheese out at room temperature for more than two hours.
    3. Store cottage cheese in an airtight container.
    4. Use a clean spoon to remove each serving from the container.
    5. Consume cottage cheese within seven or so days of opening, but always look for signs of spoiling (since you can’t always tell if a container was left out on the counter and put back).

    By following these tips, you can enjoy cottage cheese safely and prevent it from going bad.

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