Does Coleslaw Go Bad? A Complete Guide to Its Shelf Life

logo by Editorial Staff | Updated on September 17th, 2023

A summertime staple that graces barbecue tables across the country. But how many of us have pondered its longevity—especially when it’s homemade? Understanding how long coleslaw lasts and recognizing the signs of spoilage not only guarantees the continued enjoyment of this delicious side dish but also protects your health.

What is Coleslaw, Anyway?

The term “coleslaw” is derived from the Dutch word koolsla, meaning cabbage salad. Introduced to the United States by Dutch settlers in the 18th century, this scrumptious mix has stood the test of time. Today, it’s a beloved companion to burgers, ribs, and a plethora of other meaty delights.

Comprised mainly of shredded cabbage and carrots, coleslaw gets its iconic tang and creaminess from a dressing often made of vinegar and mayonnaise. While the U.S. version usually includes mayo, you’ll find mayo-less variations in other parts of the world, such as Europe, that are just as delectable.

How Long Does Coleslaw Last?

Store-Bought Coleslaw

When it comes to store-bought coleslaw, the expiration date on the packaging is your friend. Generally, store-bought coleslaw remains good for 1 to 2 days past the printed date if unopened, and 3 to 5 days after opening. While it might be tempting to keep it around for a bit longer, salads like coleslaw are perishable items that can spoil quickly.

Homemade Coleslaw

Homemade coleslaw, on the other hand, is good for about 3 to 5 days in the fridge. This can vary depending on factors like recipe ingredients and how you store it. If you find your coleslaw turning watery after a couple of days, you might need to re-evaluate your storage methods.

Shelf Life of Coleslaw: A Handy Guide

Storage LocationStore-bought coleslaw (Unopened)Store-bought coleslaw (Opened)Homemade Coleslaw
FridgeUse-by date + 1 – 2 days3 – 5 days3 – 5 days

How to Safely Store Coleslaw at Room Temperature and in the Fridge

Room Temperature

If you plan on serving coleslaw at an outdoor event, aim to keep it out for no longer than two hours. Coleslaw’s ingredients begin to deteriorate at room temperature, posing a food safety risk.


Your refrigerator is the safest haven for your coleslaw. To maximize its shelf life, place the coleslaw in an airtight container to protect it from absorbing odors from other foods and from drying out.

Freezing Coleslaw: What You Need to Know

You can freeze coleslaw but with some caveats. Freezing is suitable for up to three months but may significantly affect the texture and flavor. Mayonnaise-based coleslaws tend to separate and become watery upon thawing. On the other hand, oil and vinegar-based slaws are better suited for freezing.

Signs Your Coleslaw Has Spoiled

While no one likes to waste food, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Signs of coleslaw spoilage include:

  • Mold: Any mold is a definite indicator that it’s time to throw out your coleslaw.
  • Discoloration: Black or brown patches suggest your coleslaw is past its prime.
  • Odor: If your coleslaw smells off, it’s likely spoiled. Always give it a sniff before eating.

How to Keep Your Coleslaw Fresh

The key to keeping coleslaw fresh is proper storage. An airtight container in the fridge is ideal. If you’ve prepared a large batch, take out only what you plan to consume immediately and refrigerate the rest. Coleslaw should never be left out for more than two hours to avoid bacterial growth.

Can You Freeze Cabbage for Coleslaw?

Yes, you can freeze shredded cabbage, but you should consider blanching it first for better results. Blanching helps preserve the texture and flavor of the cabbage, making it better suited for future use in coleslaw.

Freezing KFC Coleslaw: Yay or Nay?

Though KFC coleslaw is creamy and delicious, freezing it is a risky business. Once thawed, it tends to become watery and lose its original texture. So, consume it fresh for the best experience.

How to Thaw Frozen Coleslaw

The best method for thawing frozen coleslaw is to transfer it to the fridge a day before you intend to use it. This gradual thawing helps preserve as much of the original texture as possible.


Coleslaw is not only a tasty addition to many meals but also an item that requires careful handling to ensure it remains safe to eat. By understanding its shelf life and adopting proper storage techniques, you’re guaranteeing that your coleslaw stays as fresh and delightful as the day it was made.


Editorial Staff

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