How To Tell If Pizza Dough Is Bad (Tel-Tail signs)

how to tell if pizza dough is bad

If your pizza dough has a flaky or orange peel like texture this can be a sign its past its best.  An off white or grey color can also be a sure sign.  A smell almost like alcohol is another sure sign.  It may also feel odd, like it has lost some of its elasticity.  It may tear easier making it harder to roll into a ball or shape into a pizza base.  If it has gone really off then mold spores may have appeared on or in the dough and it should be discarded immediately.

I’ll go into the reasons behind each of these areas below

  • Texture
  • Color
  • Smell


Pizza dough is mostly flour and water mixed.  The right consistency is key.  Over time the water in the dough will diminish.  This causes the texture of the dough to alter, becoming drier.  Its appearance will also change to a more flaky or crusty look.


The grey color which happens to pizza dough over time is believed to be caused by the enzyme-catalysed oxidation of phenolic and fatty acid compounds that are naturally present in flour.  Over time this reaction cause the dough to take on a slight grey appearance.  This process does impair the flavour of the dough and is a clear indication that its taken a turn for the worse.


Pizza dough is made using yeast and the yeast starts a fermentation process (converting sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide).  This can give the dough a beer or alcohol smell which is normal.  Over time the fermentation process will continue and this can cause over fermentation which can make the dough smell sour with a much stronger alcohol smell.  This will ultimately give the dough a sour taste.

If your dough exhibits any of the above signs or perhaps a combination of some or all of them then the dough is telling you its not happy. 

If I personally see any of these traits with my pizza dough it goes in the bin.  I have seen articles saying you can rescue the dough by doing various things but believe me the end result just will not be as good as you can get using fresh unspoilt dough.

I always look for a combination of the above signs. The bottom line though is if the dough does not look good or smells funny then it is not going to taste its best. For me I just think ‘what is the point’, I want my homemade pizza to taste amazing and if I had any doubts about the dough at the start this will be in my head when taking my first bite! I would just rather make a fresh batch of dough.

The key to fantastic results is starting with fantastic ingredients.

What Happens If You Eat Bad Pizza Dough?

The first thing to say is do not eat raw pizza dough. Raw pizza dough can contain bacteria such as Salmonella and E. Coli. The FDA states this bacteria can cause food poisoning. Eating a small piece of raw pizza dough is relatively harmless but certainly don’t eat something the size of a pizza.

If you ate some dough that contained enough bacteria to cause food poisoning then can start to feel the effects a few hours after you ate it. The symptoms can start as long as 72 hours after eating the offending item. These are the main symptoms.

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach Cramps

You may also get the following but these are less common.

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle/Joint Aches
  • Dry Mouth/Throat

Some of the bacteria can survive the harsh conditions in the stomach. If the bacteria remains undetected by the bodies immune system it will begin to multiply. They eventually penetrate the lining of the gut which will trigger a strong immune system response.

The immune cells release proteins called cytokines. These cause inflammation and swelling which in turn causes discomfort. Whilst this will make you feel uncomfortable it is a good thing because it means your body has started to deal the dangerous bacteria.

Bacterial toxins can cause the intestinal wall pores to open allowing water and other fluids to flood in. This is what can cause watery diarrhoea. This in turn can cause dehydration through a loss of fluids from the body.

Not all bacteria causes vomiting but some can. Its thought that certain bacteria stimulates the vagus nerve which transmits a signal to the brains vomiting centre.

The dry mouth feeling tends to be caused by dehydration. This can happen as a result of the cytokine release which happens as part of the bodies immune systems strong response to the bacteria.

Fever and headache is less common but can happen. This is often a sign that the immune system is struggling to battle the bacteria. E. coli can be very dangerous and whilst its rare you can actually die from it if things go the wrong way.


How Long Before Pizza Dough Goes Bad?

This all depends upon how the pizza dough is stored, under what conditions etc etc. There are a number of safe ways of storing pizza dough. Each one varies how long your pizza dough will last. They will keep it fresh for a varying number of days. Make sure you choose one of them and this will help keep the dough fresh

  • Counter top – 24 hours (make sure it is wrapped in plastic wrap)
  • Fridge – 2 to 3 days
  • Freezer– 2 to 3 months

I have used all of the above methods in the past. Whilst you can just put your dough on the counter top I always opt for the fridge or freezer. The warmth at room temperature promotes bacteria growth so it is best avoided.

Always wrap the dough in plastic wrap as this helps prevent oxidisation of the dough which can speed up bacteria growth. It also helps prevent freezer burn if you are putting the dough in the freezer.

So make your dough and then day one use the fridge or freezer. This helps you make the best homemade pizza.

How Long is refrigerated pizza good for? Generally between 1 or 2 days but bear in mind this time will be shorter if you used a lot of yeast in your dough.

Can You Get Sick From Pizza Dough?

The simple answer is yes. If the dough is past its best and the bacteria that can form in pizza dough is present then it can cause food poisoning. Food poisoning can make you sick. The last time I had food poisoning was enough to put me off for a life time!

The main issue, according to the FDA is with the flour but raw eggs can also carry harmful bacteria. Raw flour comes from a grain that is straight from the field and therefore is untreated with any bacteria killing process. If a wild animal answers the call of nature, bacteria from the animal waste can contaminate the grain, which could subsequently be harvested and milled into flour.

In 2016 the FDA investigated an outbreak that infected dozens of people across the US. It was traced back to a strain of bacteria called Shiga toxin which causes E. coli 0121. Basically not good!

What Does Bad Pizza Dough Smell Like?

An easy way to tell if pizza dough has gone off is through smell. Yeast is used to make pizza dough as it creates air pockets in the dough. This is what causes the dough to rise. The this happens through a process called fermentation. Its the same process used in beer brewing.

Fermentation is caused by a chemical reaction. Glucose molecules in the flour are broken down anaerobically. this in in turn creates carbon dioxide which is what creates air bubbles in the dough. The bubbles cause the dough to rise and crates a light fluffy dough. Its a process that has been used in food/drink production for over 10,000 years.

If left to long this process can go too far in pizza dough. Over fermented dough does not taste good and speeds up the growth of bacteria. A warm environment will speed up the process. Pizza dough left at room temperature will rise/ferment much quicker than dough left in the fridge. Dough stored in a freezer will ferment at even slower speed. The dough will start to smell of alcohol or beer. This is a tell tell sign that the dough is no longer good.

The further the process has gone the stronger the smell will be.

Can You Prove Pizza Dough Too long?

It is a bit of a science and to some degree personal preference as to how long you should prove your pizza dough. If left too long however the fermentation process will go to far and the dough will spoil. Ideally leave your dough between 24 and 48 hours to prove. Some will push this as far as 72 hours but this really is down to personal preference. I like to prove mine for 24 hours. I find this is plenty and gives the dough a good consistency.

I have tried proving it for 48 hours but I couldn’t see any noticeable difference so why bother with the extra time. Seventy two hours is to long in my personal opinion.


How long does pizza dough last? At the end of the day it depends. Stored in the ways suggested above it will keep fresh between 2 days and 2 months (fridge vs freezer). The key things that effect how long it will last are temperature and the amount of yeast used in the recipe. Temperature is the key one here. Kept at room temperature the dough will last maybe a day or two and then its gone bad.

Use the fridge and you bring the temperature down so you will gain a few more days before it spoils. Even better use the freezer as this will extend its life span by thirty to sixty days (some times more). With the recipe I use I like to use the fridge. One or two days for my dough recipe is perfect as it means I’m eating pizza a couple of times that week. Happy days!

Also there is nothing to stop you placing the dough in the freezer if after a couple of days you decide you do not want to use the dough that week. If doing that I would probably use that dough within 30 days as you have already gone a bit further down the process with the day it was in the fridge.

Bottom line is check the dough for signs of spoiling. Keep an eye out for those signs we have listed above and if you are not sure then do not use that dough. Yes it might mean you have to wait an extra day for that perfect pizza but its better to do that then to risk a terrible meal or even worse giving you and your guests food poisoning. It is just not worth the risk. I hate food waste but in reality the cost of making a batch of dough is so small it really should not be second thought.

Having had a nasty case of food poisoning from a local restaurant I have no issue with playing it on the safe side these days. If you are doubting the dough then its really not going to taste great anyway. Stay fresh.

Further Reading

How long does pizza dough last in the fridge – this article goes into a lot more detail about using your fridge. This is my favourite method for prolonging the life of my dough.

Pizza dough recipe – there are hundreds of recipes out there but this one is by far my favourite and was taught to me by a very experienced Italian chef. Give it a try!

FDA – If you would like to know more about the risk of bacteria then the FDA’s website is very good and talks about the science behind these processes.

wikipedia -lots of really great information here as usual.

U know pizza 🙂

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