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How long can pudding go unrefrigerated?

Pudding is a delicious dessert that often requires refrigeration to maintain its texture and prevent bacterial growth. But how long can homemade or pre-packaged pudding sit out before it becomes unsafe to eat? Here is a detailed look at how long pudding can stay unrefrigerated before spoiling.

How Long Can Homemade Pudding Stay Unrefrigerated?

Homemade pudding has a shorter shelf life compared to store-bought varieties due to its lack of preservatives. Here are some guidelines for homemade pudding:

  • Pudding made with eggs – Only 2 hours unrefrigerated. The eggs make it highly perishable.
  • Instant pudding made with milk – 4 hours unrefrigerated. The milk content creates a risk for bacterial growth.
  • Jell-O style pudding – 6 hours unrefrigerated. The high sugar content helps preserve it.
  • Chia seed or tapioca pudding – 8 hours unrefrigerated. The natural thickeners increase shelf life.

In general, homemade pudding should not sit out for more than 2-8 hours at room temperature before refrigeration. The texture and flavor will start to degrade over this time. After 8 hours, bacterial growth becomes a real risk leading to foodborne illness. So homemade pudding is best enjoyed freshly made and refrigerated promptly.

How Long Can Pre-Packaged Pudding Stay Unrefrigerated?

Commercially packaged pudding often contains preservatives and undergoes specialized pasteurization processing. This allows it to stay shelf stable 1-2 weeks past the sell-by date when unopened. Here are the pudding shelf lives for common grocery store varieties:

Pudding Type Unopened Shelf Life After Opening
Canned pudding cups 1 year unrefrigerated 3-5 days refrigerated
Shelf-stable pudding boxes 9-12 months unrefrigerated 3-5 days refrigerated
Refrigerated pudding cups 2 weeks past sell-by date 3-5 days refrigerated

As you can see, commercially prepared pudding lasts much longer than homemade varieties when stored properly. But once opened, pre-packaged pudding should be eaten within 3-5 days and refrigerated. Beware that keeping pudding too long after opening allows harmful bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus to grow over time as it gets repeatedly exposed to air and double-dipped.

How To Tell If Pudding Has Gone Bad?

Watch for these common signs that indicate your pudding has spoiled and should be discarded:

  • Change in texture – Fresh pudding is smooth and thick. Spoiled pudding will become runny, watery, or lumpy.
  • Mold growth – Fuzzy mold spots indicate pudding has become inedible.
  • Strange odor – Pudding gives off sour, unpleasant smells when bacteria has grown.
  • Change in color – Grey, brown, or green discoloration signals pudding has spoiled.
  • Taste – Rancid, bitter, or funky tastes mean throw the pudding away.

When refrigerated properly, the shelf life of pre-packaged pudding is about 1 week after opening. Homemade pudding only lasts 2-3 days in the fridge before quality decline. So inspect pudding carefully before eating and never consume if there are signs of spoilage.

Tips To Extend Unrefrigerated Pudding Shelf Life

Here are some tips to make your pudding last a little longer if refrigeration is not available:

  • Store in a cool, dark pantry away from heat sources like the oven.
  • Keep pudding in an airtight container to avoid air exposure.
  • Check ingredient labels and avoid puddings with egg if holding unrefrigerated.
  • Stir in a little liquor like rum which has antimicrobial properties.
  • Top with an airtight layer of plastic wrap right on the surface.

While these tips can extend shelf life for a few hours, pudding really should be refrigerated as soon as possible for food safety. The fridge keeps pudding below 40°F which effectively inhibits bacteria growth.

Can You Freeze Pudding To Extend Shelf Life?

Freezing is an excellent way to prolong the shelf life of pudding for up to 2-3 months. Here are some freezing tips for best results:

  • Use freezer-safe containers leaving headspace for expansion.
  • Cover pudding surface with plastic wrap before sealing lids.
  • Freeze homemade pudding within 2 hours of making.
  • Freeze unopened pre-packaged pudding by the sell-by date.
  • Thaw pudding overnight in the fridge before serving.

Most pudding holds up well in the freezer, retaining its texture and taste. Custard-style puddings with egg may separate slightly or become grainy after thawing. But a quick stir makes most frozen puddings look fresh again.

Can Refrigerated Pudding Be Refrozen?

Previously frozen pudding can be safely refrozen, though the quality declines after each freeze-thaw cycle. To refreeze pudding, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure pudding was kept frozen consistently at 0°F or below.
  2. Thaw in the refrigerator until softened but still chilled.
  3. Whisk or stir pudding vigorously to re-blend any separation.
  4. Repackage in airtight freezer containers allowing headspace.
  5. Refreeze immediately, using within 1 month for best quality.

Avoid letting the pudding thaw completely or sit at room temperature when refreezing, as this allows bacteria growth. As long as pudding remains partially frozen or properly refrigerated, it can typically be refrozen safely up to 2-3 times.

Is Refrigerated Pudding Safe After a Power Outage?

Pudding stored in the refrigerator may remain safe to eat for a short period during a power outage. Follow these guidelines on whether to keep or discard refrigerated pudding after a loss of power:

  • Keep refrigerated pudding if outage was under 2 hours long.
  • Discard pudding if outage exceeded 4 hours.
  • For a 2-4 hour outage, evaluate temperature. Discard pudding over 40°F.
  • Never refreeze pudding that has thawed to room temperature.
  • When in doubt, remember the old adage – if in doubt, throw it out!

Your refrigerator will keep food chilled for about 4 hours if the door remains closed. Pudding must stay under 40°F to inhibit bacteria growth. If pudding temperature exceeds this threshold or the power outage duration is unknown, it is safest to discard.

Can You Eat Pudding Past the Expiration Date?

It’s not recommended to eat pudding beyond the printed expiration or best-by date on the packaging. These dates indicate the last day the manufacturer guarantees peak quality. Over time, pudding will degrade in texture, flavor, and nutrition even when stored properly.

That said, commercially prepared, unopened pudding can often last 1-2 weeks past its expiration date if it has been continuously refrigerated or kept at proper room temperature below 70°F. Give it a look, smell, and taste test – if it seems fine, then fully refrigerated and sealed pudding can sometimes be safely consumed slightly past its date.

However homemade pudding and opened pudding cups should not be consumed past the expiration date. Any exposure to air and double-dipping introduces contaminants over time. So for food safety, it’s best to discard homemade and opened pudding by the recommend use-by date.


When left unrefrigerated, homemade pudding only lasts about 2-8 hours before the risk of spoilage and foodborne illness rises. Commercially prepared, unopened pudding lasts 1-2 weeks past its sell-by date. Once opened, all pudding should be refrigerated and consumed within 3-5 days.

Signs that pudding has spoiled include strange textures, odors, colors, or tastes. Freezing can significantly prolong pudding’s shelf life for up to 2-3 months. Refrigerated pudding may stay safe for up to 4 hours during a power outage. But when in doubt, remember it’s better to be safe than sorry when dealing with perishable pudding.