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How long is meatballs and sauce good in refrigerator?

Meatballs and sauce can make for a quick, easy, and delicious meal. However, like any perishable food, it’s important to store meatballs and sauce properly in the refrigerator to maximize freshness and prevent foodborne illness. So how long do homemade or store-bought meatballs and sauce last in the fridge? Here is a comprehensive guide to answering this question.

How Long Do Meatballs Last in the Fridge?

The shelf life of meatballs depends on a few key factors:

Meat Used

What type of meat is used to make the meatballs affects their lifespan. Here are some general guidelines:

– Beef or veal meatballs: 3-4 days
– Pork meatballs: 2-3 days
– Turkey or chicken meatballs: 1-2 days

Meatballs made with ground meats like beef, pork or turkey tend to last a bit longer than chicken meatballs since chicken has less fat.

Preparation Method

– Fresh, homemade meatballs: 3-4 days
– Store-bought, precooked meatballs: 5-7 days

Meatballs that are freshly made at home and raw in the middle tend to have a shorter fridge life. Fully cooked, store-bought varieties last a bit longer.

Storage Method

– Loose in air: 2-3 days
– In sauce/gravy: 3-5 days
– Vacuum sealed: 2 weeks

Meatballs stored in an airtight container or vacuum sealed bag last longer than those sitting loose in the refrigerator air. Being submerged in sauce or gravy also helps meatballs retain moisture and freshness for longer.

So taking all these factors into account, most meatballs will last 3-5 days in the refrigerator if stored properly in an airtight container. Fresh, raw meatballs should be cooked within 1-2 days.

Always rely on your senses. Discard meatballs if they have an off smell or appearance.

How Long Does Meatball Sauce Last in the Fridge?

The shelf life of meatball sauce, marinara sauce or gravy depends on:


– Tomato-based sauce: 5-7 days
– Milk or cream-based: 3-4 days

Tomato-based sauces tend to last longer in the fridge compared to creamy dairy-based sauces. The high acidity of tomatoes acts as a preservative.

Storage Container

– Airtight container: 5-7 days
– Open container: 3-5 days

An airtight, sealed container helps keep meatball sauce fresher for longer by preventing moisture loss and contamination.

Added Ingredients

– Plain sauce: 1 week
– Sauce with meatballs: 3-5 days
– Sauce with cut veggies: 3-5 days

Added ingredients like raw meat or cut vegetables shorten the fridge life of meatball sauce since they increase spoilage risk. Plain sauce without extras lasts the longest.

So an unopened jar of plain tomato-based meatball sauce can last 1 week in the fridge. Once opened, it’s best to use within 5-7 days. Sauces with added ingredients should be eaten within 3-5 days.

Discard sauce if you see mold, off smells or textures. Reheating sauce can extend its shelf life slightly.

How to Store Meatballs and Sauce in the Fridge

To get the maximum freshness out of your meatballs and sauce, follow these storage tips:


– Place cooked, leftover meatballs in an airtight container. Plasticware or a zip top bag work well.

– Raw meatballs can be stored in their packaging on a fridge shelf for 1-2 days. For longer, rewrap loosely in plastic wrap.

– Submerge cooked meatballs in sauce or gravy to keep them moist.

– If freezing for longer term storage, wrap cooked meatballs in foil or plastic wrap first. They’ll last 2-3 months in the freezer.


– Transfer leftover sauce to an airtight container, leaving 1 inch of headspace.

– If sauce contains meat or cut vegetables, store in the fridge only. Do not freeze, as this can compromise quality.

– For tomato-based sauces, create a barrier between the sauce and lid (plastic wrap). This prevents the acidity from reacting with the lid.

– Cream-based sauces can be frozen for 2-3 months. Stir before reheating to redistribute separation.

General Tips

– Store meatballs and sauce separately in the fridge, combining just before serving. This prevents the meatballs from soaking up too much liquid.

– Place meatballs and sauce containers on fridge shelves rather than in the door, where temperature fluctuations happen more.

– Label containers with dates for easy reference. Use oldest ingredients first.

– Check regularly for signs of spoilage like mold, off odors, or sliminess. Discard if detected.

By following proper storage methods, you can enjoy tasty homemade or prepared meatballs and sauce for 3-5 days safely stored in the fridge. Trust your senses to determine when it’s time to toss. With some simple precautions, you can minimize food waste and protect yourself from illness.

How to Tell If Meatballs Have Gone Bad

It’s important to know when leftover meatballs are no longer safe to eat. Here are some signs that they’ve gone bad:


– Unusual dark or dull coloring
– Dry, cracked exterior
– Slime formation
– Mold growth (especially fuzzy, green mold)


– Very slimy
– Stiffness or hardening


– Sour, rancid odor
– Smells “off”


– Bitter flavor
– Not as juicy or tender


– More than 4 days since prepared or purchased
– Held at unsafe temps for over 2 hours

How to Tell If Meatball Sauce Has Gone Bad

With sauce, inspect the look, smell, and taste for freshness:


– Mold spots
– Separation of liquids
– Unnatural darkening in color


– Sour smell
– Rotten odor
– Very acidic or vinegary


– Significant flavor change
– Extreme acidity
– Metallic or chemical undertones


– More than 7 days since opening
– Held at unsafe temps for over 2 hours

What Happens If You Eat Bad Meatballs or Sauce?

Eating spoiled meatballs or sauce that contain pathogenic bacteria could lead to food poisoning. Symptoms may include:

– Nausea and vomiting
– Abdominal cramping
– Diarrhea
– Fever and chills
– Headache

Symptoms can start anywhere from 1-48 hours after ingesting contaminated food and last for 1-3 days. In vulnerable groups, food poisoning can be life-threatening.

If you suspect food poisoning, drink plenty of fluids and call your doctor, especially if symptoms don’t improve after a few days.

How to Reheat Meatballs and Sauce Safely

To enjoy leftover meatballs and sauce without the risk, follow these safe reheating guidelines:


– Reheat in sauce or gravy until internal temp reaches 165°F. This kills any bacteria.

– Can be reheated in the microwave, on the stovetop, or in the oven. Cover and stir periodically.

– Bring sauce to a gentle simmer before adding meatballs. High heat can toughen meat.

– Meatballs can also be reheated directly from the fridge in a hot skillet with sauce poured over the top.


– If sauce was previously frozen, thaw first in the fridge before reheating.

– Reheat in a saucepan or microwave until steaming hot, to at least 165°F.

– For thicker sauce, add a splash of water and stir frequently to prevent scorching on the bottom.

General Tips

– Refrigerate any leftovers after reheating and enjoy within 3-4 days. Do not re-freeze.

– When reheating meatballs and sauce together, go low and slow. High heat can break down the meat texture.

– Only reheat what you plan to consume at that meal. Do not heat the entire batch if uneaten portions will sit at room temp for over 2 hours before refrigerating again. This creates a food safety risk.


Meatballs and sauce can be safely enjoyed for up to a week when properly stored in the refrigerator. Keep sauce and meatballs stored separately. Use airtight containers and place on fridge shelves, not doors. Check frequently for signs of spoilage. Reheating to 165°F kills harmful bacteria for safe leftovers. With some simple precautions, meatballs and sauce make easy, long-lasting fridge meals the whole family can enjoy.