The color of a dish is as important as its taste.
Case in point: A study made by Emerald Insights reveals that 90% of buyers can decide after seeing the color of a particular product. (*)
And perhaps you already know this since you have a bottle of food coloring at home.
But here’s the thing: Even though color plays a significant role in the appeal of food items, food coloring is one of the few products that are hard to use quickly.
Because of this, we usually have a bottle or tube of food coloring that has been in our pantry for months to years.
Now, the issue is: can you still use it? Does food coloring go bad?
Summary: Most food coloring products last indefinitely. However, there’s one exception to this rule.
Read this article to find out what it is!
In this article, we’ll also talk about:
Allow us to bring more color to your understanding of food coloring. Let’s get started!
What’s in a Food Coloring?
We must identify the contents of food coloring to get better insight into whether it can go bad or not.
So what’s in food coloring? The answer would depend on what type of food coloring we are talking about. Food coloring products are categorized into three types, and these are as follows:
- Synthetic Organic Compounds: derived from either crude oil or petroleum.
- Synthetic Inorganic (Mineral) Compounds: made from iron oxide.
- Natural Coloring: produced from vegetable and fruit juices.
Does Food Coloring Go Bad?
So does food coloring expire and go bad? As mentioned, most of the food coloring products in the market are shelf-stable and have an indefinite shelf life.
However, there’s one exception—natural food coloring. This is because this type of food coloring is derived from the extracts of vegetable and fruit juices.
The advantage of these food color extracts is they don’t contain allergy-prone ingredients. (*) However, their ingredients are prone to spoilage, making their shelf life a lot shorter than synthetic food coloring. This goes the same with homemade food coloring containing food-based ingredients. (*)
How Long Does Food Coloring Last?
The shelf life of food coloring depends on its type. We’ve summarized the shelf lives of the different types of food coloring below:
|Type of Food Coloring||Shelf Life|
|Synthetic Food Coloring||Best By/ Best Before date + few months to years (as long as there are no spoilage signs)|
|Homemade/ Natural Food Coloring||2 to 3 weeks|
1. Natural and Homemade Food Coloring Shelf Life
Since natural and homemade food colorings are made up of ingredients that are prone to spoilage, it has a shorter shelf life—2 to 3 weeks.
2. Artificial Food Coloring Shelf Life
As mentioned, synthetic food coloring has an indefinite shelf life.
But why does it have an expiry date if it doesn’t expire?
Trivia: As per the law, manufacturers are required to print the expiry date on all items intended for consumption for the safety of the consumers. So even though certain food items don’t expire (case in point: food coloring), manufacturers indicate a printed date to satisfy the law.
Here’s the deal: The printed date is not an expiry date but a best before the date, which indicates quality rather than safety.
The date will tell you when you can expect to enjoy the artificial food coloring at its best quality. Beyond the indicated date, it’s still safe for consumption.
But of course, you can’t expect it to retain its quality forever. So you may notice that its quality will deteriorate past the said date.
Please keep in mind that the abovementioned shelf lives are just estimates. All products are safe for consumption within the expected shelf life—as long as they are correctly stored and don’t exhibit any signs of spoilage.
When to Stop Using Food Coloring? Two Signs That It Has Gone Bad
There are two reasons why you should stop using food coloring— poor quality and spoilage.
Expired food coloring may be safe for consumption, but its use will come with a few issues. This is especially true if the food coloring has been stored for years past the best before date.
And while food coloring is expected to last indefinitely, there are instances when foreign substances will introduce into its bottle and may cause it to spoil.
To ensure the quality and safety of food coloring, you should inspect it closely and look for the following signs:
1. Change in texture
Regardless of what form of food coloring you use, a change in texture is one of the telltale signs that food coloring has already lost its quality. Here are some examples of the texture changes that you can expect:
- Gel Food Coloring: All dried up and becomes hard
- Liquid Food Coloring: Thicker consistency
- Powder Food Coloring: Forms clumps
If your food coloring shows any of the texture changes mentioned above (except for the liquid food coloring), you should throw it out and get a new bottle of food coloring. This is because all these changes will give your food an unpleasant texture.
Pro Tip: You can easily address this texture change by adding a few drops of water or glycerin and stirring it vigorously.
2. Mold Growth
If you accidentally introduce other substances into the bottle (by using dirty utensils, leaving it open for a long time, exposing it to moisture and air, etc.), mold may grow.
If you noticed dark spots or white fuzzy growth at the surface of the food coloring, cap of the bottle, or even in the bottle opening, discard it right away as it’s no longer safe for consumption.
How to Store Food Coloring Properly
The good news is all the signs mentioned can be prevented or delayed with proper storage. To help you out, we’ve compiled some of the best storage practices for food coloring below:
1. Protect It from heat, light, and air.
All these elements will cause the food coloring to oxidize, causing its quality to deteriorate faster. This will result in color changes (fading) and texture (drying up or thinner consistency).
To avoid this, the best thing you can do is store food coloring in a cool, dark, and dry place like your kitchen pantry. Also, ensure that your storage place is far from heat sources like your oven, stove, or kitchen windows.
2. Clean the lid and the rim of the bottle after use.
When you scoop out or get a small amount of food coloring, a small amount is left in the bottle’s cap or rim.
If you won’t clean it, the remnants will create crusting on the said areas and will prevent you from being able to seal the bottle tightly. As a result, the contents won’t be protected from air and other elements.
Additionally, there’s a high chance that bacteria will grow on the crusting, which may lead to contamination and, ultimately, spoilage of the food coloring.
3. Use clean utensils when collecting food coloring.
To avoid bacterial contamination, make sure your utensils are clean. You should also prevent the mouth of the bottle from coming in contact with the ingredients of your dish.
4. Refrigerate homemade or natural food coloring.
Since their ingredients are prone to spoilage, storing them at colder temperatures can help preserve their shelf lives.
The Bottom Line
Food coloring lasts indefinitely (except for natural and homemade food coloring, which can go bad within 2 to 3 weeks).
But even though these products are shelf-stable, they can still lose their quality or spoil over time. That’s why you must store them properly, and you can do this by following all of the storage tips we’ve shared with you.
Up Next: The Shelf life of Canned Foods