Can Hot Sauce Go Bad?

3 min read

We’ve all seen it. That ubiquitous bottle of hot sauce at your local taqueria or diner, just sitting there on the table, unrefrigerated, for who knows how long. Or that half used bottle that’s been hanging out in your friend’s fridge for what, maybe years? 

Should you use it? I mean, hot sauce goes bad, right?

The quick answer is yes. Hot sauce, like any other food item, can eventually “go bad” or spoil. But there are a lot of factors that can determine how long that will take.

Hot sauce manufacturing and bottling is highly regulated by the FDA. In order for hot sauces to ship between states, they have to meet rigorous standards for being “shelf stable”. This means that they have to have a minimum pH that makes them pretty acidic. So all of that vinegar, the hot peppers themselves, and salt make for a long lasting combination that lasts for a long time unopened and even after opening.

How long does it last?

Hot sauces are much more likely to lose “freshness” far before they actually “go bad”. That may mean that over time, the color of the sauce changes, becoming darker due to exposure to light. Or, the heat levels may slowly change as the sauce gets older. 

It varies greatly by sauce, their ingredients, and a number of other factors, but generally a sauce that’s never been opened is still good for up to two years past its “best by” date.

An opened bottle of sauce is typically good unrefrigerated (again, depending on the sauce) for up to six months, and refrigerated for about two years.

Again, sauces can actually last much longer than this and still be “good”, they may just not be as potent or “fresh”.

Best by date on hot sauce

What about the “best by” date?

There has been a lot of coverage in recent years about expiration dates and best by dates, and how they don’t really mean much when it comes to how “good” food actually is. Frankly, we find that most of these dates are relatively arbitrary. As Kenji Lopez-Alt said in the NY Times, “The first thing you should know? The dates, as we know them, have nothing to do with safety.” (https://www.nytimes.com/article/expiration-dates-coronavirus.html)

Unlike what many people are led to believe, the best by date does not indicate when a food is unsafe to eat. It’s just a recommended date for when the food is at its “peak” of freshness. There is no standard determining these arbitrary dates, they’re just set by the manufacturer. Many foods, particularly hot sauces, taste just fine and are perfectly safe months and years after the supposed “best by” deadline.

How can you tell if hot sauce is bad?

So, hot sauce doesn’t go bad very easily, nor very quickly. How, then, do you tell when it has? Well, in most cases, the safe bet is to follow your nose. If it smells funky, off, or just unpalatable, then give it a toss. 

Some other things to look for are:

  • Visible mold or discoloration. If you see mold around the top or floating anywhere in the bottle, it’s time to toss it.
  • It fizzes when opened. On very rare occasions, unopened bottles will fizz or overflow when they’re first opened. That’s a big no, no, and they should be tossed. What this means is that there was some errant yeast or bacteria that somehow survived the bottling process.

Crusty sauce

How to keep hot sauce fresh

There’s not a lot you need to do to keep your hot sauce lasting for a long time. But the following can help.

  • Keep in a dark, cool place. Direct sunlight will darken the sauce (though won’t make it “go bad”).
  • Keep crusty old sauce from building up on the lid and top once it’s opened. This can speed up the development of mold.
  • Keep it capped tightly once opened.
  • Keep it refrigerated if the manufacturer calls for it (not all do). 
  • Consume it quickly like the hot sauce fanatic that you are!

Separation is fine

We sometimes have customers that are concerned about their hot sauce separating or settling. This is totally ok! It doesn't mean that your sauce is bad, it’s most likely a sauce that doesn’t use thickening agents like xanthan gum. Just give it a good healthy shake for a bit, and it will be just dandy.

Conclusion

Stop worrying about that hot sauce! It’s probably fine. But, as with any food, if you have any concerns about the safety of consuming a particularly aged hot sauce, don’t take the risk. After all, a bottle of sauce isn’t that expensive and we’re happy to sell you a new one. When in doubt, throw it out.


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