If you are lucky enough to have leftover cake after a party, the last thing you want is to have it go to waste due to improper storage. The shelf life of most baked cakes can be extended by freezing, but cakes left on the counter or in the pantry need to be eaten rather quickly.
Cakes purchased baked and packaged from a store typically include a "sell-by" date on the label. Sell-by dates are not the same as eat-by or use-by dates. They are typically used to prevent a company from selling stale baked goods. Most of these kinds of cakes are made with added preservatives to extend shelf life, so they will typically last longer than a homemade cake. Usually these kinds of packaged cakes go stale instead of spoiling and becoming unfit for consumption. Cakes like these are safe for consumption before and up to the use-by date, but they are typically also safe for at least one to two days past the use-by date.
On the Counter
Cakes from a bakery and standard frosted cakes, like sheet cakes or stacked cakes, are generally safe to eat for up to three days after they are baked and decorated if they are not refrigerated. Cakes made or decorated with fresh ingredients, like fruit, or cream-based frosting, like whipped cream, should not be stored on counters for more than the time during which they are being served. These cakes should not be eaten if they are left out for more than 24 hours.
In the Fridge
Refrigerators are usually the most appropriate places to store cakes; they extend the life of the cake and don't require defrosting. Most kinds of cakes are safe to eat for up to four days if they are stored in the refrigerator. Cakes made or frosting with dairy ingredients should be stored in the refrigerator.
In the Freezer
Freezing cakes is a suitable method for long-term preservation. Frosted cakes are safe to eat for up to 12 months, though the texture and consistency can be impacted after four months of freezing. Other kinds of cake, like cheesecake and angel food cake, are safe to eat if frozen for up to three to four months.
Exceptions and Suggestions
Fruitcake has a particularly long shelf life; authentic fruitcakes can be safely frozen for over a year, and will keep for months in the refrigerator due to the high content of dried fruit and alcohol in the cake. All cakes should be stored securely either in sealed plastic storage containers or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. No matter how long your cake has been stored, if it develops mold or smells sour, do not eat it.
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