How Long Can Yogurt Sit Out?

Determining whether it is safe to eat that yogurt you left out

Some foods can last a nice, long time without any sort of special treatment, surviving days or even months to be enjoyed later so long as you store them properly. Unfortunately, yogurt is not one of those foods. In fact, it is somewhat a fragile food that requires special care if you want it to stay good, and even if you do take care of it properly, it still doesn’t tend to last all that long. Yogurt is also the type of food that becomes very unpleasant and even dangerous to eat if it has spoiled, so knowing exactly how long it last is very important to know.

Here, we’d like to help you understand all the factors that determine how long yogurt will remain safe to consume in multiple different scenarios, so you can avoid getting sick eating something that you are supposed to be able to enjoy.

Thankfully this question is very simple and straightforward, but on the flipside, the answer to this question is unfortunate; two hours is the maximum time limit for how long your yogurt can sit out while still being safe to eat. After that, it is quite unsafe to risk eating yogurt, as, being a dairy product after all, being out in room temperature for even a brief amount of time is quite dangerous.

However, this max limit can actually be even lower, as it truly depends on the temperature of the room in which the yogurt has been left in. If the room temperature is roughly forty to ninety degrees Fahrenheit, then the two-hour rule applies, but if (for whatever reason) the room temperature is above ninety degrees, you’ll be lucky if the yogurt even lasts a single hour before becoming contaminated.

By contamination, we are referring to what happens to the live bacteria in yogurt when it stays warm for too long. While that bacteria is good for digestion in its normal quantity, the bacteria will quickly begin to multiply as they sit around in warmer temperatures and too much of this bacteria tips the scale into not being very good for your body. It becomes a serious case of too much of a good thing.

That said, if you don’t remember when exactly you left some yogurt out on the counter, you can’t really be sure of how to apply your timing rule. For that reason, it is important to know how you can tell if your yogurt has gone bad, which we’ll talk about here.

#1 Don’t Confuse the Expiration Date with the Best By Date

A lot of foods on today’s market don’t even specify when they go bad, but dairy products almost always have an actual expiration date on them. This is not to be confused with the ‘best by’ date, which they may also have: the best by date only specifies when the producer believes your yogurt will no longer be its best quality. Stale, but not spoiled, if you will. The expiration date is an actual indicator of when your yogurt is no longer safe to eat, so don’t get the two confused, which will either lead to throwing away perfectly good yogurt or eating something that’s already bad.

#2 Mold Is a Sure Indicator that Nearly any Type of Food is Bad

Generally speaking, mold doesn’t grow on things that are safe to eat, and this is especially true for yogurt. If you open a jar and you see any spots of furry green or black floating around in the yogurt, it is undoubtedly, absolutely unsafe for you to eat. Mold is extremely dangerous and can present all sorts of major health hazards if it is consumed, so don’t take any sort of risk in regards to that.

Especially do not assume you can just ‘cut away’ the mold and have the rest of the yogurt still be safe to eat. Even if you remove the visible mold, it is almost guaranteed that the bacteria is still present in the rest of the yogurt, and is still incredibly dangerous to consume.

#3 Be Aware of the Consistency of the Yogurt before Eating it

This would probably be obvious when you stick your spoon into it at first, but even so always make sure that the consistency of your yogurt feels right. There’s no other way to word it than to be sure that it actually feels like yogurt; if it is starting to clump or get crumbly, or if there seems to be far more liquid than yogurt in the container, it is probably bad and should be disposed of.

However, the latter is sometimes hard to determine, as it is normal for yogurt to get slightly watery from time to time, especially if it has been untouched for a while. In those cases, you can usually give it a good stir and be fine, so it can be difficult to discern how much water is too much water: use your best judgment in whether or not it has become too watery. Your first instincts are usually right.

#4 Bad Yogurt Usually Smells Bad

Like nearly all dairy products, once yogurt has spoiled it begins to smell quite bad. If you wrinkle your nose upon sniffing your yogurt, it is probably a good idea to throw it away. However, you should probably know what your yogurt smells like when it is actually fresh, as yogurt generally tends to have a mildly sour smell even when in a normal state. Either way, you can generally trust your nose to warn you when something is no longer safe to eat, or at least when it is starting to go down that path.

What Can Happen if you eat Spoiled Yogurt?

Well, unless the yogurt is so bad that it has started growing extremely disgusting amounts of mold, you probably won’t have to go to the hospital, and you probably won’t even need to see your regular car specialist. After all, typical food poisoning is unpleasant but generally doesn’t cause extremely serious health issues.

That said, eating spoiled yogurt probably will have several unpleasant after effects, mostly centered on your poor stomach and digestive system. You will likely suffer from severe abdominal cramps at first, the primary indicator that something went wrong. After that, the symptoms can progressively get worse to include diarrhea and even vomiting. This is the usual extent of what can go wrong after eating expired yogurt, and while it isn’t life-threatening, you can plainly see that these are things that you would rather avoid.

Even so, if you ever feel that the negative side effects of eating spoiled food is inflicting more damage on your body than anticipated, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. It is possible to get serious foodborne illnesses from eating expired food, especially spoiled dairy products.

How to Store Yogurt Properly so it lasts as Long as Possible

Everything goes bad eventually, and generally speaking yogurt doesn’t have an extremely long shelf life, like most dairy products. That said, the best way to avoid eating spoiled food, not to mention save yourself a good bit of money, is to store your yogurt in a way that will extend its life as long as you possibly can. By doing this, you reduce the risk of it being spoiled before its time, and you won’t be buying as much if it lasts as long as it needs to.

#1 Always Store Yogurt at Temperatures lower than Forty Degrees Fahrenheit

As mentioned previously, heat is the primary reason yogurt goes bad, since it stimulates the bacteria into growing into quantities that are unsafe to consume. That being the case, you obviously want to keep your yogurt cold, and forty degrees is the minimum temperature it needs to be stored in. Of course, you would ideally want to keep it stored at an even lower temperature than that, since this not only provides more of a guarantee but also gives your yogurt a bit more of a fighting chance if the power ever goes out in your refrigerator.

If you keep your yogurt stored in a container that is the proper aforementioned temperature, a container of unopened yogurt can last up to two weeks past its best by date.

#2 It is Perfectly Safe to Freeze Yogurt to Extend its Lifetime to the Max

Freezing is the go-to way to ensure that nearly any food product lasts as long as physically possible, and yogurt is no exception; by freezing a container of unopened yogurt, it can last nearly three months past its best by date, and even opened yogurt will still last far longer than it would in any other type of storage.

Yogurt’s taste will remain almost entirely unchanged after being thawed, but keep in mind that will probably be a bit watery upon being thawed. This problem can easily be fixed by a quick stir, or by using the yogurt in a different type of dish, such as a smoothie.

#3 Ration your Yogurt in Realistic Portions when Possible

What we mean here is that you should try and predict how much yogurt you are going to eat in one sitting, if you have a container that has more than that. Many people prefer to leave the tub of yogurt out until they have eaten their fill, only then returning it to the refrigerator. Now, most people won’t sit around and eat their yogurt for two hours, but even so, it is better to try and grab only as much as you plan on eating so that the main container can be returned to the refrigerator and avoid any temperature drop.

This is a minor point, but something like this would also help with the whole problem of forgetting your yogurt on the counter or a table in the first place, since you’ll have returned the main container to storage already.

#4 The Longer Yogurt sits Out, the Shorter Life Span it will Have

We mentioned that the two-hour limit is the maximum for how long yogurt can sit out, but this does not mean the shelf life of your yogurt will reset to full if it makes it back a refrigerator after, say, an hour at room temperature. As soon as the yogurt reaches a warm enough temperature, the bacteria in it will start to multiply: two hours is simply the amount of time it would take for that bacteria to have definitely reached an unhealthy level.

If the yogurt sits out for just an hour, the bacteria have likely still multiplied to a degree, meaning that, while it is still safe to consume, the overall life of the yogurt has still been shortened. This is why we recommend keeping yogurt outside of storage as briefly as possible.

Why Is it Important to Know any of This?

Dairy products all need to be stored in very carefully to avoid contamination or spoilage, because they are one of the food groups that spoils the fastest when not kept in the right conditions. Yogurt is especially dangerous, because it already contains living bacteria, making it extremely susceptible to spoilage when not properly taken care of.

That’s why it is important for you to know how long you should reasonably expect a tub of yogurt to last, both at room temperature and in refrigerated storage. Knowing this, as well as the ways to determine if yogurt has gone bad, is the best way to ensure that both you and anyone that lives with you stay safe from the serious ailments of eating spoiled dairy products, and more specifically, potentially hazardous bacteria or mold.

Just remember this if nothing else; never eat yogurt that has been left at room temperature for two hours, under any circumstances. This cardinal rule is the most important of them all.