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How Long Can Birthday Cake Sit Out?

Wondering how long that birthday cake will last? We did the research so you can do the eating. Or not.

You made cake. Or maybe you bought cake (hey, it’s the thought that counts!).

I’ll tell you a secret. Whether you made the cake yourself or bought it from the cakery isn’t what’s important right now. We’re not the cake police here and no one is judging.

The important thing is that, despite your best intentions to get everyone at the birthday party to eat the cake, there’s still a considerable amount of it left now that the party is over.

So you found yourself wondering: Can you leave the cake out on the countertop? And, if yes, how long will it last? For the answers to your questions—and the ones you didn’t know you had to ask—read on below.

How to Store Birthday Cake

Not all cakes are the same. Sponge cakes can stay out for a few days and still be good to eat; cakes with whipped cream, whipped egg whites, or other ingredients that spoil quickly shouldn’t be left out for more than a few hours or they can make you sick.

So let’s take a minute or two to talk about the three most common storage methods for cakes in the home kitchen.

On the kitchen countertop: Although the exact shelf life of birthday cakes varies from recipe to recipe, most cakes will keep at room temperature for 3-4 days before drying out completely. Keep the cake under a cake cover for maximum freshness.

Generally speaking, sponge cakes store well at room temperature. Keep them in a cool, dark place away from heat sources and direct sunlight; the cooler the better, and the shorter the fresher.

Cakes with cream, custard, and fresh fruit should never be left out at room temperature for more than 1-2 hours, or they may become overgrown with bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Such cakes should be kept refrigerated or frozen from the moment you’ve prepared them or brought them home.

In the fridge: Place the birthday cake in the bottom shelf of your fridge, either under a cake cover, inverted bowl, or sliced and stored in airtight food containers, and refrigerate for 4-7 days, depending on the ingredients.

The key is not to leave the cake uncovered in the refrigerator. Otherwise, it may take on odors from other foods in the refrigerator and develop a weird taste—and a cake that tastes weird is one that’s uneaten and thrown away.

In the freezer: Technically, frozen cake stays safe to eat forever because the temperature in the freezer stops bacterial activity. But the cake will dry out and lose flavor over time, and it will retain its best quality for only 2-3 months.

To freeze cake, slice it and transfer the slices to food storage containers or freezer bags, then place them in the freezer. It’s a good idea to label the freezing date on each container or bag so you don’t forget by when to eat the cake.

To thaw frozen cake, move it from the freezer to the fridge and leave it there overnight. The next day, the cake will be thawed out and ready for you and your family to enjoy again.

How to Tell If Cake Has Gone Bad

Two types of bacteria grow on cake (and food in general): those that cause it to spoil and those that cause food poisoning. The spoilage is easy to determine, but the safety isn’t. So the best that you can do is use storage time and decay from spoilage to gauge the cake’s safety.

If you leave the cake out for more than a few days or keep it in the fridge for more than a week, discard it. We can’t see, smell, or taste the bacteria that cause food poisoning, and a cake that seems perfectly fine may just as easily be overgrown with them.

What we can see, smell, and taste, however, is the decay from the activity of spoilage bacteria, molds, and yeasts. Cake that molds, smells bad, feels slimy, or tastes bad should be thrown away and not eaten because its safety cannot be determined.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.