We’ve all re-discovered a long lost bottle of hot sauce tucked away in the corner of the fridge for months or years and wondered…
Does hot sauce go bad?
In short, yes, hot sauce can go bad — but most hot sauces will last for many years before spoiling.
Almost any food item will go bad eventually. When food spoils, there are two main components at play: oxygen and microorganisms. Oxygen can directly cause deterioration in the form of oxidation, which changes the taste and smell of some compounds. It also is required for the growth of microorganisms, yeast, and enzymes.
Why does hot sauce last so long?
Most basic hot sauces consist of two main ingredients: vinegar and peppers. Together these two ingredients make for a condiment with a long life span.
The acidic nature of vinegar is one reason that hot sauce is so resistant to spoilage. The Vinegar Institute goes so far as to say that distilled white vinegar has a near indefinite shelf life! And capsaicin, the chemical in peppers that make them spicy, have a demonstrated ability to kill or inhibit about 75% of tested bacteria.
Why do some hot sauces expire sooner than others?
Hot sauces made from vinegar and peppers can last many years, but this is not true for every hot sauce. There are thousands of different hot sauces available, each with its own recipe. The different ingredients in these sauces will have an affect on the shelf life as the vinegar and chili pepper ratios are reduced and other shorter-lived ingredients are added.
You’ll notice that sauces that contain little (or no) vinegar may spoil sooner, as well as sauces that have sugar, fruits, or vegetables in their recipes.
Does hot sauce need to be refrigerated?
Most hot sauces will not be refrigerated when you buy them. Some hot sauce brands recommend refrigeration after opening, while others do not. Look for a “refrigerate after opening” stamp on the bottle, or included in the design of the labels to know for sure.
However, even if your hot sauce doesn’t need to be refrigerated, doing so may extend the shelf life even longer.
Other tips for extending the shelf life of hot sauce
Refrigerating your hot sauce isn’t the only way to extend the shelf life.
As you use your hot sauce, keep the top of the bottle free from dry flaky residue, which can harbor bacteria. You can also pay special attention to keeping your hot sauce tightly sealed, which will prevent excessive oxidation and lead to early spoilage.
How to tell when your hot sauce has gone bad
Sometimes food spoils far before its “best by” date, and other times it is difficult to even find a reliable date on the packaging. Here are a few things to look at to determine if your hot sauce has gone bad:
Darkening and discoloration – some darkening of the sauce itself is normal over time, however it may indicate oxidation and degradation of flavor. Be wary of excessive darkening and discoloration.
Visible mold – if you can see mold or foreign objects in your hot sauce, it is definitely time to toss it. If it seems questionable, remove the cap and inspect both the cap as well as the top layer of the hot sauce.
Odor – unpleasant odors are a good sign your hot sauce has punched its last ticket. Toss it!
So, if you found an old favorite hot sauce hiding in the back of your fridge, the vinegar and spice in it has likely fought off the bacteria that might otherwise have made it spoil. But, if there’s any real question whether it’s still good or not – toss it! The $5 to replace the bottle is not worth risking your health!