Food coloring is one of those things that’s hard to use up fast. We usually only use it at home for things like cake decorating and parties, and it’s a product where a little goes a long way – so many households can find they have a bottle hanging around for years on end.
That’s really fine, and nobody seems to suggest that consuming outdated food coloring is going to do anyone any harm. As long as the product hasn’t been contaminated, it should color your cakes just as safely as the day you bought it.
Does food coloring expire? If you’ve ever looked at the dates on food coloring and wondered whether food coloring actually really ever goes off, the answer is no, not really. Food coloring doesn’t have any fresh ingredients in it, so it isn’t going to suffer from being past its expiry date.
You may notice some reduction in quality and the brightness of the color, but the food coloring won’t hurt you if you consume it past its expiry date.
What’s in Food Coloring?
The ingredients will vary a little depending on what kind of food coloring you buy, but synthetic food coloring is usually derived from petroleum. Individual colors will also have varied ingredients, and you can look at the numbers to find out what the color is.
Natural food coloring is not necessarily better for you, as it tends to need more of the color to produce a similar result. That means natural food colorings are often more concentrated than synthetic ones.
Food colorings are generally considered safe for consumption and undergo rigorous testing in most countries, but some individuals do find that they can’t tolerate food coloring – either natural or synthetic – for various reasons.
Because food colorings do not tend to have ingredients that will expire, the food coloring itself will not expire. There isn’t anything there to go bad, so it should last almost indefinitely.
Why Does Food Coloring Have An Expiry Date If It Doesn’t Matter?
If you’re wondering why food that doesn’t expire even has an expiry date, you aren’t alone. It might seem silly, but food manufacturers are legally required to print expiry dates on products that are intended for consumption. It helps keep consumers safe, but it can sometimes cause these situations.
It means that expiry dates end up on foods like sugar, salt, and honey, which don’t really expire – and food coloring. The date printed on the bottle is almost meaningless, and has been put there to satisfy a law.
Of course, your food coloring may not stay exactly the same forever. Past its expiry date, you may notice its colors aren’t as strong, or that it’s starting to dry up, but it will still be safe to eat it.
If your food coloring has gone past its expiry date, even by years, it should be safe to use. You should always check products that you intend to eat for any sign of mold, and smell them to check you can’t detect anything rancid or unpleasant.
If in doubt, it’s safer not to consume, but don’t throw away your food coloring just because it’s past the numbers printed on the bottle.
How Can You Tell If Food Coloring Might Be Dangerous To Eat?
Improperly stored, any food can go off, and while none of the food coloring ingredients should decay, it might be that you have accidentally introduced other substances to the bottle. If so, they might turn moldy, and start to contaminate the food coloring with spores. You should be able to see these.
If you’re using a gel food coloring and the gel has started to dry up, it may not be dangerous, but it could make your food an unpleasant texture, so it’s best not to use it if so. A drop of water or glycerin may revive liquid food coloring which is starting to thicken and dry.
How Should You Store Food Coloring?
Proper storage will help your food coloring last as long as possible. It’s best to store your food coloring somewhere dry and cool, away from direct sunlight. This will help to keep the colors bright and minimize temperature changes which could affect the coloring.
When you have finished using a coloring, wipe the lid and around the rim of the bottle with a clean, damp cloth to remove any residue, and then seal the bottle tightly. This will prevent any leftover color “crusting” on the lid/bottle, which could stop it from sealing.
A badly sealed bottle may result in dust or other contaminants getting into your food coloring, which might cause mold.
When using food coloring, pour it onto a clean teaspoon, and don’t touch the mouth of the bottle to your food; this will also help prevent cross-contamination and keep the product clean.
What About Homemade Food Coloring – Does It Expire?
If you’ve made your own food coloring at home, the answer is completely different: you’ve made it from food-based ingredients, and these will spoil.
How long it takes will vary to some degree depending on what you have used, but you should make a note of when you made the food coloring, and aim to use it up quickly. You should also think carefully about storage.
Most homemade food coloring is best stored in the fridge, so as soon as it’s made, transfer it to a sterile container with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure you have cleaned both the container and the lid prior to use with hot, soapy water to avoid introducing other contaminants.
You should keep homemade food coloring refrigerated at all times, and check it looks and smells fresh before you use it. Seek more detailed advice according to the recipe and ingredients you have used, but do not treat it like commercial food coloring; it will definitely expire.
You can safely use commercial food coloring long past its stated expiry date as long as it has been kept clean, free from cross-contamination, and out of direct sunlight. It should be totally fine to use, and the only change you’re likely to see is that some of the liquid may evaporate out, leaving it drier than when you purchased it.