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Does Food Coloring Expire or Go Bad?

Does Food Coloring Expire or Go Bad?

Last Updated on March 2, 2023 by Practical Cooks

Think about this: One day, someone thought to themselves, “I must invent a way to change the color – but not the taste – of my dinner!” It seems ridiculous when we think of it that way, but food coloring is a practice that’s been around since early man. Even the ancient Egyptians liked to change the way their food and drinks looked.

The FDA has officially been overseeing this in America since the 1800s. As silly as it may seem, people simply love to dye their food. But how long will the dye last? Can food coloring go bad?

Food coloring can last for years, as long as it’s been stored safely. If you don’t see any visible issues or know of any potential contamination, food coloring is usually safe to use.

What are the main ingredients of food coloring?

What are the main ingredients of food coloring

This is an interesting topic because there can be a variety of ingredients. It all depends on what you’re using.

Many food coloring products contain natural or organic colors that come from vegetables. Others come from synthetics known as coal-tar dyes. You have probably seen, and even consumed, all of these in lots of different products.

The main elements of food coloring are these artificial dyes, as well as water and other synthetics to hold everything together and keep the colors fresh.

From bakery products to toothpaste, from candies to cosmetics, the products we use every day usually contain some food coloring ingredients.

Food coloring doesn’t contain a lot of additives. This is what gives it its long-lasting characteristic. There isn’t a lot in food coloring that can go bad, as long as it’s been stored safely. Because of this, most protected containers of food coloring will last months and even years.

What could cause it to go bad?

What could cause it to go bad?

Usually, the worst thing that will happen to food coloring is the color will fade. This isn’t unsafe in most situations. It does mean your baking project will be a little less vibrant, though.

Sunlight is the main culprit when it comes to making food coloring fade. To avoid this, keep the food coloring in a dark, cool location like your kitchen pantry.

Other factors to consider are moisture and outside contaminants. If your food coloring has been sitting open or exposed to the elements, you can be less sure of its safety over time. Check for any visual signs of mold or other problems. Smell the food coloring. If anything seems off, or if you simply don’t feel sure, stay on the safe side and toss the bottle. Pretty colors don’t make up for food poisoning.

What about gel vs. liquid coloring?

What about gel vs. liquid coloring?

These are made using similar ingredients, which means they’re both going to stay good for months or even years. As long as you store your bottles safely, you can rest assured they’ll be good long after the date printed on them.

How should food coloring be stored?

How should food coloring be stored?

A lot of people like to buy their food coloring in bulk. If you’re a baker, you may run through bottles of food coloring pretty quickly. But if you’re just hoarding them for the apocalypse so you can keep coloring your cupcakes long after the fall of modern society, here are some tips:



Sunlight is the ultimate enemy of food coloring. This isn’t because it will make it dangerous to eat. It will make the color fade over time, though. To keep everything vibrant and pretty, keep it away from the sun. Usually a pantry or cabinet with a door on it is the best spot.



The area should be dry. As with any edible materials, moisture will cause it to decay faster. It may even encourage mold to grow in certain circumstances.

Keep your food coloring containers closed. You may even want to transfer the coloring to air-tight containers, if you have a lot to store.

Is food coloring safe?

Is food coloring safe?

There has been a fair amount of testing and legislation surrounding food coloring in America. Since the 1800s and early 1900s, the FDA has been involved in making sure Americans get safe food coloring.

That doesn’t mean everything has gone smoothly. In the 1950s, some people started getting sick from using too much food coloring. Specific colors have since been proven to be toxic in certain quantities and circumstances. This is why some countries have banned those colors.

The United States has removed several colors from the allowed list, as well:


  • Red No. 2
  • Red No. 4
  • Red No. 32


  • Orange No. 1


  • Yellow No. 1
  • Yellow No. 2
  • Yellow No. 3
  • Yellow No. 4


  • Violet No. 1

What happens if you use old food coloring when you cook?

Chances are nothing will happen at all. That means you won’t get sick, and your food won’t take on the color you’re going for. Old food coloring will start to fade over time. That’s the main reason there’s an expiration date on the container.

You can make it last longer by storing it in air-tight containers in cool, dark areas.

What happens if you use food coloring that looks or smells bad?

First of all, don’t risk this. Any food that looks or smells bad is probably bad for you. It isn’t worth the risk.

Because most people use food coloring in tiny amounts, you can probably survive the experience of consuming some that’s really gone bad. However, you might feel sick to your stomach for a while. If you feel worse than that over the next several hours, it’s time to call the doctor.

Once you’ve recovered, you can throw yourself a party with fresh cupcakes – decorated with brand-new food coloring.