The Shelf Life of Food Coloring: Does It Expire?

Does food coloring expire?

Food coloring is a popular ingredient used to add vibrant colors to a variety of culinary creations, from cakes and desserts to Play-Doh. Many people wonder if food coloring has an expiration date and if it is safe to use after a certain point. In this article, we will explore the shelf life of different types of food coloring and how to properly store them for long-term use.

Types of food coloring

There are several types of food coloring on the market, each with its own characteristics and uses. The main types of food coloring include liquid, gel, powder, and paste-based varieties.

Liquid food coloring

Liquid food coloring is commonly used in small batch baking and cooking. It is inexpensive and readily available in grocery stores. Liquid food coloring does not contain any ingredients that can spoil or go rancid, which gives it an indefinite shelf life if stored properly. However, it may thicken or harden over time if not tightly sealed. Adding a few drops of hot water and shaking the bottle may help thin it and make it usable again.

Gel Food Coloring

Gel food coloring is preferred by professional bakers and individuals who make large batches of icings or cakes. It can provide more vibrant colors compared to liquid food coloring. Similar to liquid food coloring, gel-based varieties do not have an official expiration date. However, they can dry out or harden if not stored properly. If gel food coloring has dried out or changed color, it is best to throw it away to avoid potential contamination.

Powdered food coloring

Powdered food coloring is an excellent choice for long-term storage because it contains no liquid to dry out or harden. It can be stored on the shelf virtually indefinitely if stored properly. Powdered food coloring is often used in items that need to stay dry, such as coloring coconut shavings and sugar. However, the color may not be as vibrant as other types of food coloring, so it is not recommended for buttercream or similar applications.

Paste-based Food Coloring

Paste-based food coloring, like gel food coloring, does not have an official expiration date. With proper storage, it can last indefinitely. Paste food coloring is commonly used by home cooks and professional bakers alike. It can be revived by adding a little hot water if it has dried out or hardened. However, if the color has changed significantly or if there is any sign of contamination, it should be discarded.

Homemade Food Coloring

Homemade food coloring is made from natural ingredients such as beets, turmeric, spirulina, blueberries, and spinach. While homemade food coloring is a natural option, it doesn’t last as long as commercially packaged varieties. Homemade food coloring typically lasts about two weeks when properly sealed in the refrigerator. To keep track of its freshness, label the container with the date it was made.

Proper storage of food coloring

To ensure the long-term usability of food coloring, it is important to store it properly. Here are some tips on proper storage:

  1. Tightly seal containers: After each use, be sure to close the container tightly to prevent air from drying out the food coloring. If the original container breaks, transfer the food coloring to another airtight container.
  2. Prevent contamination: Inspect containers for signs of contamination, such as mold growth. If the food coloring shows signs of contamination or mold, it should be discarded immediately.
  3. Clean utensils: When using food coloring, always use clean utensils to avoid introducing contaminants.
  4. Protect from sunlight and heat: Store food coloring out of direct sunlight and away from heat sources. Heat can accelerate the drying process and affect the quality of the food coloring. Avoid storing near ovens or stoves.
  5. Choose a cool, dark cabinet: Find a cool, dark cabinet away from heat sources to store your food coloring. This will help maintain its quality and extend its shelf life.


In conclusion, most commercially available food colorings do not have an expiration date and can be used indefinitely if stored properly. Liquid, gel, powder, and paste food colorings can be used as long as they are tightly closed and protected from contamination. Homemade food coloring has a shorter shelf life and should be used within two weeks when stored in the refrigerator. By following these storage guidelines, you can enjoy using food coloring to create colorful kitchen magic for years to come.


Does food coloring have an expiration date?

Most food dyes do not have an official expiration date. However, proper storage is critical to maintaining their quality and usability.

Can I use food coloring that has dried out or changed color?

It is best to discard food coloring that has dried out or changed color. This may indicate a loss of quality or possible contamination.

What is the shelf life of liquid food coloring?

Liquid food coloring can be stored almost indefinitely if it is closed and stored properly. However, it may thicken or harden over time if not tightly sealed.

What should I do if gel food coloring is dried up?

If gel food coloring has dried out, it is best to throw it away. Adding hot water may help revive it, but if the color or texture has changed significantly, it is best to replace it.

What is the shelf life of powdered food coloring?

Powdered food coloring can be stored virtually indefinitely when stored properly. It contains no liquid that can dry out or harden, making it an excellent choice for long-term storage.

Can homemade food coloring expire?

Homemade food coloring made from natural ingredients has a shorter shelf life than commercially packaged varieties. It typically lasts about two weeks when stored properly in the refrigerator.