Does Hot Sauce Go Bad?

If you’re a spicy food fan, you likely have a cupboard full of hot sauces. Some are your staples, some may be gifts, and others may be random buys. It’s those last two where the question “Does hot sauce go bad?” really comes into play. It’s for those opened, yet barely used hot sauces or those Taco Bell packets that were stuck in the back of a shelf “for future use.” So does hot sauce go bad? Most opened hot sauces can last up to three years under the right conditions, and unopened for much longer. But it depends on your definition of “bad” really.

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The ingredients matter to a hot sauce’s shelf life

Chili peppers and vinegar, the main ingredients of most hot sauces, are both well-known as preserving agents. The high acid in vinegar and the capsaicin in chili peppers both keep bacteria at bay. So you’re likely not going to get sick from a few drops from an older opened bottle of hot sauce.

But let’s talk about added ingredients. The fancier your hot sauce gets, the more chance there is something in it that can potentially turn. If you have a hot sauce using apricot, pear, or other fruits or vegetables, then it needs to be refrigerated after opening as a precaution. The same is true for hot sauces featuring mixes of mustards or other condiments. The more diluted the hot sauce becomes (beyond peppers and vinegar), the more you need to be careful and follow storage best practices.

What’s the shelf life of an opened bottle of hot sauce?

As long as you follow storage directions on your bottle of hot sauce, an opened bottle should keep easily for three years. Unopened bottles can be longer. But that’s not to say the taste will be the same as it was when you first opened it. Over time, the flavors will change as ingredients lose their flavor potency. Shaking the bottle up may help bring some of the flavors back to life, but overall expect a different taste. It may even be hotter than before as the chili peppers in the hot sauce age.

One aspect of the bottle to be careful of is the cap. The crusting that happens around the cap can build bacteria over time. So it’s best to clean caps thoroughly if you expect to hold onto a bottle for more than a few months.

My hot sauce changed color. Is it bad?

Not necessarily. Again, this comes down to the ingredients in the bottle. Chili peppers themselves darken over time, and that’s some of what you may see. Other ingredients, too, darken over time, like mustards. That doesn’t mean they’re bad. Again, you may find the taste to be different from how you remember it, likely hotter.

What should I do if I’m in doubt about whether a hot sauce has turned?

Most hot sauce bottles are just a few bucks, so when in doubt – pitch it. Simple as that. It may be better in the long run anyway because of the flavor changes mentioned above.

Also read the bottle. Most hot sauces don’t contain “Use by” expiration dates, but if they need to be refrigerated, it’ll be mentioned. If you have had an opened bottle in the cupboard for years that should have been refrigerated, it’s time to chuck it.

If your bottle contains an expiration date and you’re beyond it,  it’s best to pitch it as well. There’s definitely a chance that the hot sauce is still fine to eat. Those expiration dates typically have to do with the lessening of the overall flavor, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.


UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on April 6, 2022 to include new content.
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Whit

I have a gift box of 8 hot sauces called ‘Global Hot Sauce Collection’, neither bottle has been opened, the seal on the caps has never been removed. The best by date varies for each bottle by 1 month or so but the year for each was 2015. Should I just keep them as a collector’s gift or should I indulge myself?

Esteban

Hi, i have a few questions, how is the best way to bottle the fermented hot sauce, heating the sauce and then bottle or heating the bottle then pour the sauce in? the other question that i have is how to make sure that the hot sauce with vegetables stop fermenting

thx

Kev Man

I have a commercial hot sauce company. Im a certified food safety manager and i have a certificate in food processing. We keep a few cases of each year’s batch. We have some sauces that were opened 3 years ago and never refrigerated. In fact, im eating some right now.
As the years pass, the flavor gets more complex, and i swear, it gets hotter.

Dillon Mucha

I need some barbecue sauce so does the flavor ever change from hot sauce to BBQ sauce?

V.S.

I am planning on making several different hot sauces from your web site . Some will contain fruit . My plans are to pressure can them in my “All American Pressure Canner” using half pint canning jars . We are true pepper heads here and eat a lot of hot sauce . Have you had any experience with this type preserving hot sauce ?

tim

I did a run of 2500 bottles of my scotch bonnet based hot sauce and at the neck of the bottles they are turning brown. /the more vinegar ones are fine. why is it only the top

Roy Brashears

I made several types of hot sauces and put them into 5 ounce bottles. There are around a dozen of them stored in small boxes that were capped and sealed with shrink wrap using a heating gun. (All bottles were sanitized in advance.) I placed them in a relatively cool spot in my apartment. When I first poured them into the bottles, the colors were bright and vibrant. Here it is now a bit more than a year now and I went to check on them and the bright colors were noticeably darker. I opened a couple of them and… Read more »