Cottage cheese is a dairy product (made from milk) so at some point is does go bad. However, there are many factors that determine the length of time before cottage cheese spoils. No brand or product is the same because they each contain different levels of preservatives. Not keeping cottage cheese at an appropriate temperature will also impact its shelf life. Regardless, cottage cheese has a short shelf-life even when keeping it in optimal conditions.
How Long Does Cottage Cheese Last?
Almost all commercial cottage cheese products have a sell-by-date located on the container. This is the time when the product should be sold by the store and not the actual expiration date. The actual expiration date or time when spoilage is a concern depends on if the product is sealed or unsealed. By sealed we mean that the thin plastic wrapping (not the lid) that initially covers the product is still attached. Unsealed means that wrapping has been removed, but the plastic lid remains on when not in use.
Sealed: Cottage cheese will last 7 to 10 days beyond the sell-by-date.
Unsealed: Cottage will last up to 7 days.
Proper Storage of Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese should be left in a refrigerator that maintains a temperature between approximately 35 to 40°F. The lid should remain on the product at all times (unless being used) and the container should be returned to the refrigerator immediately when not in use. However, you can leave cottage cheese at room temperature, but the FDA recommends sticking to a “two-hour rule” to return the cottage cheese back into the refrigerator. Additionally, if the room temperature is over 90°F, stick to a one hour rule for refrigeration.
Cottage Cheese Spoilage
Always be conservative when judging if cottage cheese has gone bad. It is better to waste a few dollars if it potentially appears spoiled than risk being seriously illness. Any sign of discoloration or separation (runny texture) means it is likely not edible. Cottage cheese tends to take on a yellow or light brownish tint when it starts to spoil so it is best to discard it if it shows any color but white. A strong sour smell is also an indication of spoiled cottage cheese. It is best to dispose of cottage cheese that smells off or not fresh.
Freezing Cottage Cheese
Note that you can freeze cottage cheese, but no longer than six months is recommended. No more than three months is highly recommended for the best potential taste and texture. However, cottage cheese is not an ideal food to freeze because of its high moisture content. It likely will not be suitable for fresh eating when thawed, but may work well when added to a dish as one of several ingredients. We recommend freezing a sample batch to see how your favorite brand does in freezer before freezing several containers.
It is advised to use your best judgement when determining if cottage cheese is spoiled. Throw it away if the color is off, it smells bad, tastes bad, or shows any signs of spoilage. This is true even if the current date is before the sell by date. How long cottage cheese will last depends mainly on the conditions in which it is stored. Keeping cottage cheese sealed before consumption and at the appropriate temperature will help it last as long as possible. Again, when in doubt, just throw it away.