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Does Food Coloring Expire? (And How To Tell When The Quality Has Deteriorated)

Quick Answer

Food coloring does have an expiration date on the packaging which is required by law. Technically as it doesn’t contain any raw ingredients, there is nothing in the product to expire so you may consume it after this date. Food coloring may be safe to eat years after the printed expiration dates. If there are any changes in the characteristics of the product, it is advised to avoid consumption.

When you’re making a cake or icing a cookie, you reach for the food coloring and ask yourself a question.

How long has this been in here? You realize you’ve thrown the packaging away a long time ago and you start to panic that you’re going to poison someone. 

Luckily, we’re here to help. We know that food coloring is a difficult product to get through quickly unless you are a master baker or bake for a living.

Does Food Coloring Expire?

There is usually a half-used tube of food coloring nestled behind the flour waiting to be used. 

In this article, we are going to answer the question of whether or not food coloring expires.

The short answer is good news, it has an expiration date but you can still use the product safely after this date has passed. 

What Is Food Coloring Made Of?

Food colorings used in home baking are often very different to those used by manufacturers. Specific ingredients therefore depend on the kind of food coloring you buy and where you buy it from. 

There are two typical sources that these colorings come from, the naturally derived route from things such as plants, animals, and organic materials.

Natural materials encompass anything that can be found in nature. 

The other route is the chemical route, which is often coal or petroleum based and made safe for human consumption through various laboratory processes. 

Best Before Dates

Packaged food products such as food coloring should have a ‘best before’ date printed on the tube somewhere.

This indicates at which point the food coloring should be used by to retain the normal flavors and qualities. 

If you use the product, it will still be safe to consume but the quality may not be as good. In terms of food coloring, this may mean that the colors aren’t as strong so you might have to use more of it.  

As food coloring typically doesn’t contain any raw ingredients that may expire, it is safe to consume after the expiration date.

Technically speaking, the product cannot expire if none of the ingredients in it can go off. 

Expiry Dates

Expiry dates are different from best before dates and should also be indicated on the packaging of any food coloring you purchase.

The expiration date determines the absolute last date the product is safe for human consumption. 

Again, by law food manufacturers must display an expiration date on the packaging of their products for health and safety measures. 

Why Does Food Coloring Have An Expiration Date?

Although the product doesn’t contain any raw ingredients that have the potential to rot, the manufacturers are still required by law to print an expiration date on the packaging.

This may seem odd, but it is all to do with consumer safety. 

If by any chance someone does get sick from consuming an extremely out-of-date product, the manufacturers would be liable if they hadn’t indicated a safety threshold to consume the product. 

How To Tell When The Quality Has Deteriorated

As with many food products that don’t technically expire, there is still the possibility that they may change in some way.

With gel or liquid food coloring, the product may have a liquid film over the top of the product or may start to separate. 

With any signs of separation, you can simply give the contents a stir or a shake to combine the ingredients back together.

If this doesn’t work, however, it may indicate something else is wrong with the coloring and it is best to throw it away. 

These signs of deterioration don’t indicate that the food is unsafe to eat, you may not be able to use it as intended.

We would advise against using any food coloring that has done this, as it may alter the texture of your food. 

When To Avoid Consuming Food Coloring

When To Avoid Consuming Food Coloring

There are a few signs to look out for when testing whether food coloring is no longer okay to use. Here is our mini-guide to safe food coloring: 

Color

If the color of your product starts to change, it is best to throw the food coloring away.

This could indicate that something has entered the packaging to contaminate it, especially with gel or liquid food coloring. 

Mold

As with any food product, if you see mold on it you should avoid eating it. This can happen in gel food colorings, which means that the mold could be present throughout the gel making it safer to throw away. 

Texture 

As mentioned before, gel and liquid food colorings can dry out and harden if they haven’t been stored properly. Powdered food coloring will not do this. 

You can add some hot water to the product to slightly extend the shelf-life, but in most cases, it will probably not be good enough to use and it should be thrown away.

How To Store Food Coloring Correctly

To get the most out of your food coloring, you’ll want to make sure that you store it correctly.

There are obvious actions to take to ensure the freshness of the product, but we’ve added our own thoughts here too. 

  1. When you’ve finished using the food coloring, reseal the lid or container opening as tightly as possible to stop air from getting into it. If you can’t find the lid then cover the top with some plastic wrap to keep it sealed as much as possible.
  2. Examine the container for possible signs of contamination before and after use, sometimes baking ingredients can make their way into the packaging and contribute to the growth of mold.  
  3. If the packaging the food coloring is in breaks, remove the product and place it in a new container.
  4. Always store your food coloring in a cool, dry place away from heat sources such as ovens and other appliances. Locations such as a cool kitchen cabinet or a pantry are ideal. 

Which Food Coloring Lasts The Longest?

There are various forms of food coloring, including liquid, powder, and gel. Although none of them contains any raw ingredients, there are a few things that can impact their shelf life. 

With liquid and gel food colorings, there is a higher chance of outside contamination due to the form of the food coloring. It is easier for bacteria and mold to grow on liquids than on powdered substances.

Powdered food coloring won’t harden, thicken, or dry out like its counterparts. When stored correctly and kept safe from mold, the powdered form can last for a very long time. 

What About Homemade Food Coloring?

This is where the story changes, as homemade food coloring is made from completely different ingredients.

As it has been made from food-based or raw ingredients these can spoil which means they can go bad.

Homemade food coloring can be produced with any number of ingredients that may affect how long it takes for the coloring to spoil. 

Once refrigerated, homemade food coloring can last between two to six weeks depending on the ingredients.

Always check the information suggested on the recipe you used to find out how long the product can last.

To properly store homemade colorings, place them in an airtight container such as a plastic food box or jar with a lid. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Use Expired Food Coloring?

Yes, you can use expired food coloring. Even if your food coloring has gone past the expiration date, you can still use it if there are no signs of contamination and the product characteristics have not changed in any way. 

How Do You Revive Gel Food Coloring?

If your food coloring has dried out or hardened in any way then giving it a little stir may do the trick.

Another way to revive the product is to stir in a small amount of glycerine, this can be found in a local pharmacy. 

A final way to revive food coloring is to add a few drops of hot water. This works particularly well with liquid or gel forms of the product as it can loosen up the contents of the packaging. 

Once you’ve tried these tricks and the gel hasn’t come back to life, this means there is something wrong with it and it’s best to throw the food coloring out. 

Final Thoughts

Food coloring is a difficult product to use up as you generally don’t require a lot of it.

When you find some at the back of your cupboard, you may wonder if it’s safe to use. Food coloring technically cannot expire as it doesn’t contain any raw ingredients. 

We hope you now have all the information to make the best judgment on whether or not your food coloring is okay to use. If you’re ever in doubt, throw it out. 

Jess Smith
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