What happens if I don’t refrigerate cookie dough?

Refrigerating cookie dough is an important step for food safety and proper storage. Not properly refrigerating cookie dough can lead to bacterial growth resulting in foodborne illness. Here are some quick answers about what can happen if cookie dough is left out:

Bacterial Growth

One of the biggest risks with leaving cookie dough out at room temperature is bacterial growth. Raw eggs and other dairy ingredients in cookie dough provide the perfect environment for bacteria like salmonella and E. coli to multiply quickly if not refrigerated. These bacteria can cause serious food poisoning or infection if the unbaked dough is consumed.


Along with bacteria, spoilage microorganisms can also proliferate rapidly in unrefrigerated cookie dough. Yeasts and molds will start to grow, causing the dough to become slimy or fuzzy. Spoiled cookie dough will have an unpleasant smell and taste. While spoiled cookie dough likely won’t make you sick, it will be unappealing and unfit for baking.

Loss of Rising Power

For cookie dough containing baking powder or baking soda as leaveners, leaving the dough out too long can cause it to lose its rising power. Baking soda and powder react with liquids in the dough to produce carbon dioxide bubbles that make cookies puff up when baked. If the dough sits for too long, these chemical leaveners will react prematurely and cookies won’t rise properly during baking.

Changes in Texture

Sitting out at room temperature allows ingredients like butter and eggs to soften in the cookie dough. This can change the dough’s texture, making it thinner and more likely to spread too much when baked. The dough may also absorb ambient moisture from the air over time, altering the moisture levels throughout.

Accelerated Spoilage After Baking

Even if you bake cookies using unrefrigerated dough that doesn’t show visible signs of spoilage, the cookies themselves will stale and spoil faster than normal. This is because bacterial growth and chemical changes have already started taking place in the dough, making the baked goods prone to quicker mold growth and staling.

When Is Cookie Dough Safe at Room Temperature?

Raw cookie dough containing animal products like eggs and butter should not be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours. Here are some guidelines on cookie dough storage:

  • Only make the amount of dough you plan to bake soon.
  • Portion dough onto baking sheets and refrigerate immediately until ready to bake.
  • Refrigerate bulk dough for no more than 3-5 days.
  • Cookie dough can be safely frozen for 2-3 months.
  • Edible cookie dough made without raw eggs, dairy or leaveners is safer at room temperature.

What Happens If You Eat Unrefrigerated Cookie Dough?

Consuming unrefrigerated cookie dough increases your risk of contracting a foodborne illness. Potential health effects include:

  • Salmonella – Diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting may start 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated cookie dough. In severe cases, hospitalization may be required.
  • E. coli – Severe diarrhea that may be bloody, severe stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Usually starts 3-4 days after ingesting. Can lead to kidney failure in severe cases.
  • Listeria – Fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea. May take up to 2 months to develop symptoms. Can be fatal in high-risk groups like the elderly, pregnant women, and infants.

While the risk is low, pregnant women, children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems should avoid consuming any raw or undercooked cookie dough. For everyone else, thoroughly cooking cookie dough before eating greatly reduces the risk of food poisoning.

How to Tell If Cookie Dough Is Bad

Look for these signs that raw cookie dough has spoiled and is dangerous to use:

  • Changes color or develops dark/light spots
  • Dough separates or appears curdled or lumpy
  • Liquid or oils leaking from dough
  • Mold visible on dough surface
  • Sour or rancid smell

Cookie dough left at room temperature too long may not always show obvious signs of spoilage. When in doubt, it is safest to discard the dough.

Can You Safely Rewarm Refrigerated Cookie Dough?

Properly stored cookie dough that has been continuously refrigerated can be safely rewarmed once before baking. Here are some tips for reheating refrigerated dough:

  • Rewarm dough in 10-15 minute intervals until pliable and scoopable. Do not microwave.
  • Knead briefly to redistribute yeasts and leaveners. Do not re-roll or overwork.
  • Portion and bake cookies immediately, do not re-refrigerate after rewarming.
  • Discard any dough that smells unpleasant or shows signs of spoilage.

Refrigerated cookie dough should only be rewarmed once. Rewarming and refrigerating repeatedly allows bacteria and molds to proliferate faster. For food safety, bake cookies within 2 hours after rewarming refrigerated dough.

Can You Freeze Cookie Dough Twice?

Freezing cookie dough can help extend its shelf life for 2-3 months. However, best practice is to only freeze cookie dough once – avoid thawing, reworking, and re-freezing. Reasons to only freeze dough once include:

  • Each freeze/thaw cycle degrades the structure. Dough may become more dense or dry.
  • Leaveners like baking soda will continue reacting each time dough is thawed and refrozen.
  • Multiple freezes allow more opportunities for dough to absorb freezer odors.
  • Texture and flavor can become less desirable with repeated freezes.

For optimal quality and food safety, thaw frozen dough completely in the refrigerator then bake all within 1-2 days. Do not refreeze thawed cookie dough.

Can Unbaked Cookie Dough Be Stored at Room Temperature?

Storing unbaked cookie dough on the counter or at room temperature is not recommended. Here are the risks with leaving cookie dough out:

  • Rapid growth of bacteria, mold, and yeasts can occur as the temperature rises.
  • Harmful pathogens like salmonella or E. coli thrive and multiply faster as the temperature increases above 40°F.
  • Spoilage happens more rapidly compared to refrigerated storage. Dough may smell bad or change texture.
  • Leavening ingredients react quicker, causing cookies to flatten more during baking.

To minimize these risks, cookie dough should be refrigerated or frozen until ready to bake. For best safety and quality, cookie dough containing animal products should be baked or discarded within 1 week of refrigerated storage.

What Can Happen If Cookies Are Made With Spoiled Dough?

Using spoiled, unrefrigerated cookie dough to bake cookies can produce poor, potentially unsafe results. Effects may include:

  • Unpleasant sour, rancid, or bitter taste
  • Odd discoloration or texture
  • Dry, dense cookies that lack rise
  • Mold or bacterial growth on cookies after baking
  • Faster staling compared to fresh dough
  • Foodborne illness if pathogens are present

While baking may destroy some microorganisms from the spoiled dough, the quality will be subpar and the cookies won’t keep long. Discard any dough left out too long before baking. Don’t take risks with spoiled cookie dough!

Is It Safe to Bake Refrigerated Cookie Dough After 5 Days?

Here are some guidelines on maximum refrigerator storage times for cookie dough:

Cookie Dough Type Max Refrigerator Time
Regular dough with eggs and dairy 3-5 days
Vegan dough without eggs 5-7 days
No-bake edible dough 7 days

Baking regular cookie dough after 5 days in the fridge may be risky. Potential issues include:

  • Bacteria like salmonella may have multiplied to unsafe levels
  • Mold growth visible or not yet visible
  • Yeast or sour smell indicating spoilage
  • Texture changes like excessive softness or dryness

For best safety and quality, bake refrigerated dough within 3-4 days and discard any leftovers. If dough seems very cold, firm or dry after 5 days, it’s best not to bake with it.

Can You Store Cookie Dough at Room Temperature After Baking?

While baking cookie dough destroys most bacteria from raw ingredients, baked cookies should still not be left out at room temperature for long periods. Here’s why:

  • Mold can start growing due to moisture and imperfection in baked goods.
  • Baked goods stale faster when kept at room temperature.
  • Warm conditions allow baked cookies to absorb odors and aromas.
  • Melted chocolate or decorations may get messy or damaged.

For best quality and food safety:

  • Let cookies cool completely after baking, about 30 minutes.
  • Store completely cooled baked cookies in airtight containers at room temperature up to 3 days.
  • Freeze cookies for longer storage of 2-3 months.

Avoid leaving baked cookies out on the counter overnight. Refrigeration can extend their shelf life for up to a week.

Can You Get Sick from Eating Edible Cookie Dough?

Edible cookie dough made without raw eggs, milk or leaveners carries a much lower risk of foodborne illness. However, eating it still comes with some warnings:

  • Check labels to ensure pasteurized ingredients and no raw flour which could contain E. coli.
  • Don’t eat edible dough if you have a weakened immune system.
  • Consume dough before any “best by” date.
  • Discard if dough smells unpleasant or has mold.
  • Avoid eating excessive amounts of edible dough due to high sugar, fat, and calories.

Properly prepared edible cookie dough using pasteurized ingredients should be safe for most people when consumed in moderation. However, it does not provide the same nutritional benefits as baked cookies.

What Can Happen If Cookie Dough Is Left in a Hot Car?

Leaving cookie dough in a hot car, even for a short time, can have disastrous effects including:

  • Rapid growth of bacteria as interior temperature exceeds 90°F.
  • Softening of dough as it approaches or exceeds room temperature.
  • Changes in dough texture from condensation and humidity.
  • Accelerated chemical leavening reactions, resulting in flat baked cookies.
  • Potential toxins from microbial growth in raw flour and eggs.

Due to risk of severe bacterial and mold contamination, cookie dough left in a hot car for more than 1 hour should be discarded. Do not take chances with dough safety and only transport in coolers with ice packs.

Can Unrefrigerated Cookie Dough Still Be Baked?

Baking unrefrigerated cookie dough is a risky proposition and not recommended. Potential dangers include:

  • Foodborne pathogens like salmonella or E. coli may be present.
  • Toxins from microbial growth may persist even after baking.
  • The texture, flavor, and appearance of cookies may be poor.
  • Cookies may stale faster than normal after baking.

While bacteria will be reduced through baking, it may not completely eliminate all pathogens or toxins if present. When in doubt, throw it out. Discard any cookie dough left at room temperature longer than 2 hours.


Refrigerating cookie dough properly helps prevent bacterial growth that could cause foodborne illness. Leaving cookie dough unrefrigerated for too long allows pathogens and spoilage microorganisms to grow rapidly. Consuming unrefrigerated dough, or baking with spoiled dough, can potentially lead to illness or poor quality results. For the best results and food safety, always refrigerate cookie dough immediately until ready to bake.

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