Have you ever wondered – does food coloring expire? As a home baker or cooking enthusiast, you likely have a stash of food coloring on hand to decorate cookies, frost cakes, or mix custom colors. Food coloring is highly concentrated and takes only a small amount to deeply color foods and liquids. A single bottle can go a long way, especially if you primarily use it for baking projects.
With such little being needed per use, food coloring may sit in your pantry for months or even years between uses. This leads many home cooks to eventually wonder – does this food coloring expire? Can old food coloring make you sick if used in food prep?
In this complete guide, we will cover everything you need to know about does food coloring expire and how to store it for maximum shelf life. We’ll also outline the differences between liquid, gel, powder, and natural food coloring options.
Does Food Coloring Expire?
The first question many people have is does food coloring go bad or expire? The short answer is that most standard prepared food colorings have an indefinite shelf life when properly stored.
Food coloring contains concentrated pigments or dyes that are used to stain foods and liquids. Unlike products like milk or meat, the ingredients in manufactured food colors don’t contain proteins, fats, or sugars that can spoil over time. As long as the bottles are sealed and stored properly, the coloring should retain its intensity and performance virtually indefinitely.
However, there are some signs that food coloring has expired and should be discarded:
- It has dried out or hardened significantly.
- The liquid has separated or looks curdled.
- The color has faded or changed tone.
- There is mold growth in the bottle.
- It imparts little to no color when used.
If your food coloring exhibits any of these qualities, it’s best to throw it out and replace it. Expired coloring may not be unsafe, but it likely won’t deliver the vibrant hues you need.
How Long Does Liquid Food Coloring Last?
Liquid food coloring is the most widely available and commonly used type. It comes in small bottles and is readily found in grocery stores. Popular brands like McCormick, Wilton, and AmeriColor make liquid food coloring.
Unopened bottles of liquid food coloring will last indefinitely. Once opened, liquid food coloring has an indefinite shelf life as long as it’s stored properly in an airtight container away from heat and sunlight.
Over time, the consistency may thicken due to evaporation. You can restore the liquid food coloring by adding a bit of water and remixing. If it has dried out completely or changed color, it should be discarded.
For optimal quality and performance, use liquid food coloring within 2 years of opening. But as long as it still flows and hasn’t separated, thickened excessively, or faded, older liquid food coloring is still safe to consume.
Does Gel Food Coloring Expire?
Gel food coloring has a thicker, paste-like consistency compared to standard liquid food dyes. Popular brands include AmeriColor, Wilton, and Chefmaster.
Unopened gel food coloring has an indefinite shelf life, similar to the liquid forms. After opening, it will last several years with proper storage. Tightly seal the container after each use.
Since gel coloring has a thicker consistency, it can dry out or harden over time. If it becomes difficult to squeeze color out of the bottle or appears caked, it’s best to discard and replace.
Gel food coloring can also fade or change tones if it’s exposed to sunlight or heat over time. Check that the color still looks vibrant before use.
For best results, try to use gel food coloring within 2-3 years of opening. But as long as it retains its texture and appearance, it will remain safe to consume.
Does Powdered Food Coloring Expire?
Powdered food coloring offers an advantage over liquids or gels – it can’t dry out or harden. It comes in a container of loose powder or tablets. Popular brands include Wilton and AmeriColor.
Dry powder food coloring has an indefinite shelf life if stored properly. Keep it sealed in the original airtight container out of direct sunlight and away from heat and moisture. As long as it hasn’t gotten wet or sustained water damage, powdered food coloring will stay potent.
There is no advantage to refrigerating powdered food coloring. Simply keep it in a cool, dry place like the pantry or cupboard. It will maintain its coloring power and remain safe to use.
Check powdered coloring before use to ensure the powder still appears vibrant. Fading may be a sign that it has expired and should be replaced.
Does Food Coloring Paste Expire?
Food coloring paste has a thick, viscous consistency similar to gel coloring. Brands like Chefmaster and AmeriColor make paste food colorings in many shades.
Unopened food coloring paste has an indefinite shelf life. After opening, it will last several years with proper storage. Keep paste coloring tightly sealed and stored away from heat, sunlight, and moisture.
Since paste has a thick, sticky texture, it can dry out or harden over time. Check the consistency before use. If it becomes difficult to squeeze out or seems dried or caked, it’s best to replace it.
For optimal performance, try to use opened food coloring paste within 2-3 years. But as long as it retains its original vivid color and smooth texture, it should remain safe to use indefinitely when stored correctly.
Does Homemade Food Coloring Expire?
Many cooks opt to make their own natural food coloring using ingredients like turmeric, beets, blueberries, and spinach. Since these are made from natural plant-based ingredients, they do have a limited shelf life.
Homemade food coloring will last about 1-2 weeks when properly stored in the refrigerator. The plant matter and liquids may start to break down after that point. For long term storage, homemade food coloring should be frozen in ice cube trays.
Always check homemade food coloring before use. Discard if you notice any mold, off-odors, separation, or fading of the color. These are signs that the natural ingredients have started to spoil.
Storing Food Coloring For Maximum Shelf Life
Now that you know food coloring generally doesn’t expire, proper storage is key to getting the longest shelf life. Here are some tips for storing food coloring:
- Keep food coloring sealed tightly in the original container or an airtight sealed bottle if transferred. Air exposure can cause liquid coloring to thicken over time.
- Store in a cool, dry place like the pantry or cupboard. Avoid warm spots near the oven or fridge. Heat and light can degrade the pigments.
- Keep food coloring bottles upright. Laying bottles on their side can cause leaking issues over time.
- Avoid cross-contamination. Never dip dirty spoons or utensils in food coloring. Always use clean tools.
- Don’t refrigerate unless homemade. The cold won’t extend the shelf life of standard food coloring.
- Check before each use. Give food coloring a stir or shake to ensure it still flows smoothly and has maintained its original vibrant shade.
Following these tips will keep your food coloring performing at its best for years to come. Discard and replace any bottles where the coloring has changed consistency, separated, or faded.
Key Differences Between Food Coloring Types
There are a few key differences between liquid, gel, paste, powder, and natural homemade food coloring options:
- Liquid food coloring is the most common type found in grocery stores. It has a thin consistency and typically comes in small bottles.
- Gel food coloring has a thicker, more viscous consistency. The color is highly concentrated so you need less gel coloring to achieve bold hues.
- Paste food coloring is similar to gel with a thick, viscous texture. It adheres well to frostings and icings.
- Powdered food coloring comes in a dry powder form that must be mixed with liquid. It’s popular for candy making and dusting.
- Homemade food coloring is made from natural ingredients. It has a shorter shelf life than synthetic colors.
Consider how you plan to use food coloring when deciding which type to purchase. Gel, paste, and powder give intense color, while liquid is good for general use. Homemade coloring provides natural hues.
Final Thoughts on Whether Food Coloring Expires
When stored properly in a sealed container away from sunlight, heat, and moisture, most standard liquid, gel, paste, and powder food coloring have an indefinite shelf life.
However, homemade food coloring made from natural ingredients should be stored in the refrigerator and used within 1-2 weeks.
While food coloring itself may not have an expiration date, its coloring power and performance may diminish over time. Replace bottles where the food coloring has dried out, separated, or shows changes in color or consistency.
Following the storage guidelines and checking food coloring before each use will ensure you get the best results from your food dyes, whether used for baking cookies or coloring frosting. Vibrant, intense hues rely on fresh, potent food coloring.
So in answer to the key question “does food coloring expire”, the shelf life depends on the type and how it is stored. But with proper care, both homemade and standard food coloring can maintain quality and remain safe to use for your cuisine creations.
Bethany is an experienced food writer and recipe developer whose popular site Grangefarmschool.org provides home cooks with approachable recipes, cooking tips, and practical kitchen advice. Her thoroughly-tested recipes and inviting photography aim to make cooking fun and fulfilling for cooks of all levels.