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Does nacho cheese go bad in a can?

Nacho cheese in a can is a popular convenience food item that many people keep stocked in their pantries. However, since it is a dairy product, some people wonder if nacho cheese can go bad after opening or if an unopened can will last indefinitely. Here is a closer look at how long nacho cheese lasts once opened or unopened.

Does opened canned nacho cheese go bad?

Once you open a can of nacho cheese, it is important to store it properly and consume it within a reasonable timeframe to prevent spoilage. Here are some key points on how long opened canned nacho cheese lasts:

  • Shelf Life After Opening: 2-3 weeks refrigerated
  • Signs it Has Gone Bad: Mold, sour smell, curdling, separation
  • How to Store: Refrigerate after opening, keep covered
  • Freezer Life: 2-3 months in airtight container

The shelf life of opened canned nacho cheese is approximately 2 to 3 weeks if stored properly in the refrigerator. Make sure to reseal the can tightly and refrigerate after each use. Over time, the cheese can start to dry out, curdle, or separate. If you notice any mold, sour odors, or a major change in texture, it means the nacho cheese has spoiled and should be discarded.

To extend the shelf life of opened canned nacho cheese, you can transfer it to an airtight container or zip top bag and freeze for 2 to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator before using again. The cheese may change texture slightly after freezing but will be safe to consume if it has been continuously frozen.

How long does unopened canned nacho cheese last?

An unopened can of shelf-stable nacho cheese has a much longer shelf life compared to refrigerated cheese dips. Here is how long nacho cheese lasts unopened:

  • Pantry: 12 months past printed expiration date
  • Dry Storage: Up to 2 years
  • Freezer: 3-4 years frozen

Unopened canned nacho cheese lasts for quite a long time because of the preservatives, stabilizers, and sodium content. It will typically stay safe for consumption up to 12 months past the printed expiration date on the can when stored in a cool, dry pantry.

For even longer shelf life, you can store an unopened can of nacho cheese in a dry area like a basement or root cellar and it should last around 2 years. Some people report successfully storing unopened nacho cheese for even longer by rotating the oldest cans to the front.

The freezer provides the longest shelf life for unopened canned nacho cheese, extending it to 3-4 years. Make sure the can is not dented or bulging first. Defrost in the refrigerator before opening the can and using the thawed cheese.

Why canned nacho cheese lasts so long

There are several reasons canned nacho cheese can maintain quality and safety for such a long duration compared to homemade cheese dips:

  • Low moisture content reduces microbial growth
  • High sodium acts as a preservative
  • Acidic environment inhibits mold
  • Thick texture doesn’t separate easily
  • Preservatives and stabilizers prolong shelf life
  • Can provides barrier to oxygen and light

The combination of low moisture, high sodium, and preservatives like sorbic acid create an environment where spoilage microbes cannot easily grow. The acidic pH, thick texture, and lack of oxygen penetration due to the canning process also contribute to the long shelf life.

However, once opened, canned nacho cheese is exposed to oxygen and becomes more susceptible to mold growth without the airtight can barrier. Refrigerating and use within 2-3 weeks is important for safety at this point.

How to tell if canned nacho cheese has gone bad

Canned nacho cheese can grow mold, curdle, separate, or develop an unpleasant sour odor if left too long past its prime. Here are signs that indicate your canned nacho cheese has spoiled:

  • Appearance: Mold, curdling, separation, liquid at bottom of can
  • Texture: Becomes thinner, changes consistency
  • Smell: Sour, buttermilk-like, or ammonia odors
  • Taste: More tangy, bitter, or unpleasant flavors
  • Expired: Past expiration by over 1 year

If you notice any of those warning signs upon opening a new can or once refrigerated, it is safest to throw the nacho cheese away. Do not taste questionable nacho cheese. Moldy nacho cheese or cheese with an acid or ammonia smell has the potential to cause food poisoning if consumed.

With an unopened can, bulging or heavily dented sides can signal the cheese inside may be contaminated or spoiled even before opening. An unopened can that is largely past its expiration date should also be discarded.

How to store canned nacho cheese properly

To get the longest shelf life out of your canned nacho cheese, follow these storage recommendations:


  • Store in a cool, dry pantry away from direct light
  • Avoid storage above 85°F
  • Keep unused cans rotated front to back
  • Freeze for up to 4 years (if can intact)


  • Refrigerate leftover cheese
  • Seal can tightly or transfer to airtight container
  • Use within 2-3 weeks
  • Can freeze extras for 2-3 months

Proper storage helps nacho cheese retain its texture and flavor longer while reducing the chances of premature spoilage or food safety issues. Refrigerating opened cans is especially important since the cool temperature prevents microbial growth and any mold formation.

How to freeze canned nacho cheese

Freezing gives you an easy option for preserving canned nacho cheese even longer term compared to refrigeration. Here are some tips for successfully freezing nacho cheese:

  • Make sure can has no dents or swelling before freezing unopened
  • Open can and transfer cheese to airtight container if freezing leftovers
  • Push out excess air and seal container tightly
  • Label container with date and contents
  • Lay flat in freezer to freeze quickly
  • Once solid, you can stack or stand up
  • Use within 2-3 months for best quality
  • Thaw overnight in refrigerator before using

The freezer time can be extended to 3-4 years for unopened canned nacho cheese since the integrity of the can protects it from freezer burn. For opened nacho cheese, the frozen storage time is shorter at just 2-3 months due to increased exposure to air.

Properly thawed nacho cheese regains a similar smooth, creamy texture as when originally opened. It may be slightly thicker after freezing but remains safe to eat.

How to thaw frozen nacho cheese

The safest way to thaw frozen nacho cheese is by transferring it from the freezer to the refrigerator overnight or 12-24 hours before needed. Microwaving is not recommended since it can create hot spots that affect the texture.

Here are some tips for properly thawing frozen nacho cheese:

  • Move container to refrigerator 12-24 hours before use
  • Avoid thawing at room temperature more than 1-2 hours
  • Never microwave from frozen state
  • Stir gently once thawed to blend any separated liquid
  • Bring close to room temperature before serving
  • Consume within 3-4 days
  • Do not refreeze after thawing

Letting the nacho cheese thaw slowly in the refrigerator prevents bacteria growth that can occur if left at room temperature too long. With an overnight thaw time, you also avoid any erupting or splattering that happens when cheese goes straight from frozen to hot.

Once thawed completely, the nacho cheese regains its normal creamy, smooth dip or sauce consistency. Enjoy it immediately or store refrigerated for up to 3-4 days. Do not refreeze nacho cheese after it has been thawed.

How long is nacho cheese good for after opening?

Once you break the airtight seal of a can of nacho cheese, it is important to finish it within 2-3 weeks for food safety and best quality. Here are some guidelines for nacho cheese after opening:

  • Refrigerator: 2-3 weeks after opening
  • Freezer: 2-3 months in airtight container
  • Shelf Life After Cooking/Heating: 3-4 days
  • Watch For: Mold, curdling, separation, sour smell
  • When In Doubt, Throw It Out!

Though canned nacho cheese keeps for quite a while unopened, its shelf life decreases rapidly after exposure to air. Always refrigerate leftover cheese within 2 hours of opening.

Properly stored in the refrigerator, the opened cheese stays fresh for 2-3 weeks. You can also freeze portions for longer storage. Discard if you notice any signs of spoilage.

If you heat up nacho cheese for serving, consume leftovers within 3-4 days. Keep leftovers refrigerated in a container. Reheated nacho cheese has a shorter shelf life due to increased risk of bacterial growth.

Can you eat canned nacho cheese while pregnant?

Canned nacho cheese is generally considered safe to eat in moderation during pregnancy as long as it is freshly opened and not expired. Here are some tips on eating nacho cheese while pregnant:

  • Avoid moldy, curdled, or spoiled cheese
  • Heating it until steaming reduces risks
  • Eat only freshly opened canned cheese
  • Avoid raw milk or soft cheeses
  • Watch sodium intake for processed cheese
  • Limit to 2-3 servings per week

The pasteurization process used for shelf-stable nacho cheese products kills any dangerous bacteria like Listeria or E. coli that can be risky during pregnancy. Thoroughly heating nacho cheese to steaming before eating provides extra protection.

However, nacho cheese provides minimal nutrition for pregnant women and babies. Eating more than 2-3 servings per week is not recommended since the high sodium, saturated fat, and preservatives add up quickly. Enjoy nacho cheese in moderation along with more wholesome prenatal diet options.


Nacho cheese from a can may be ultra-processed, but its long shelf life provides a convenient option for movie nights or parties when refrigerated dips won’t do. Unopened canned nacho cheese stays fresh for up to 2 years in the pantry and 4 years frozen. Once opened, enjoy leftover cheese within 2-3 weeks refrigerated or 2-3 months frozen. Canned nacho cheese is generally safe for pregnant women to eat in moderation as part of a balanced diet. With proper storage, canned nacho cheese can be ready anytime for cheesy nachos without the risk of foodborne illness.