Does Hot Sauce Go Bad?

| Last Updated: September 5, 2019 |

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If you’re a chilihead, it’s likely you’ve got a cupboard full of hot sauces. Some are your staples, some may be gifts, and others may have been chance buys to test the flavor. It’s those last two where the question “Does hot sauce go bad?” comes into play. It’s for those hot sauces that may have been sitting around for a while, or those mild and hot Taco Bell packets that were stuck in the back of a shelf for future use. Oh yes, we all horde.

So does hot sauce go bad? Depends on your definition of “bad” really.

It’s all about the ingredients.

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’s something that can potentially turn. If you’ve got a hot sauce with hints of 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, the more you need to be careful.

How long are we talking for an opened bottle?

As long as you follow storage directions on your bottle of hot sauce, an opened bottle should keep easily for 3 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’ve 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.

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  • 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 smelled each one. There was no noticeable bad smell and I did not see any bacteria (or other things) floating on the top and there was no noticeable bad smell. Although there was no “separation” of the ingredients, I did notice on a few of the bottles that the top area closest to the neck was darker than the rest of the sauce. I shook them up but the color did not change.

    It took me quite a while to make these hot sauces (around 5 or 6 different types using different hot peppers such as Habaneros and Carolina Reapers, some plain but some mixed with pineapple or peaches) and I have to wonder if they have turned bad. I have a few “opened” bottles in my refrigerator and they all still look bright and vibrant just as they were when I first made them. Those are still good.

    Do you think if I empty all the bottles into a sauce pan (separating the different types, of course), heat them up and put them back into the bottles (thoroughly cleaning the bottles and then re-sanitizing before hand) be good for me to do? Or should I just throw them all out as a precaution?

    It took me quite a while to make all those hot sauces and I really don’t want to throw them out if there is any way I can “save” what I still have in inventory.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Roy – I’d base this on the other ingredients beyond the peppers and vinegar (if it’s vinegar based). If this is high acid (vinegar) and capsaicin (peppers) with little else in the mix, then likely the coloring is simply aging of the peppers in the hot sauce. If this is a more complex hot sauce (fruit-based, etc) with more perishable ingredients, then I might err on the side of caution. Though if you aren’t seeing any sign of bottling issues (crusty cap, not airtight) and they smell ok, it may be worth a tiny taste test. Note those sauces may be hotter than you remember (and hotter than those in the fridge) due to the pepper aging.

      The refrigeration of your opened sauces slows down ripening of the peppers, so that’s likely why your opened sauces still have the vibrant color you remember when bottling and why they may actually be a little less spicy than those that have darkened. They may also taste slightly sweeter depending on the peppers used.

      I don’t think the reheating will matter one way or the other – they are either bad or not and the reheating won’t change a poor flavor if bad. Hope this helps!

  • 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

    • Tim – my guess it has to do with the other ingredients in the hot sauce you made. You mentioned the more vinegar-based ones are fine, so guessing this run has additional ingredients beyond the chili pepper and vinegar base. It’s likely one of those ingredients is creating the color change. It may be oxidation. A lot of popular hot sauce ingredients oxidize fast, like garlic.

    • This results also from the small amount of O² that was remaining inside your Bottle/packaging. That small but significant amount of Oxygen oxidized just the top part of the neck of the bottle thus also eliminating what oxygen still remained. Are you booking or vaccum packing your product when bottling?

  • 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 ?

    • Hi Dillon, not sure I follow. BBQ sauce is typically heavy on the ketchup as a base, so typical hot sauce blends won’t ever have a similar flavor. But if you mean something else, just reply and I’ll try to answer!

  • 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.

    • Absolutely! The deeper the red, as they age, the truer the flavor. This is not only applicable to homemade sauces but even my Sriracha as well. Got one bottle that’s 2 years old and is significantly darker red and boy if lit the wife up the other night. As I’ve said for years- I’ll take an aged bottle of hot sauce before some aged wine

    • This makes me feel so much better about the sauces I still have from last year.

      I grew heirloom Tabasco and Cayenne, made a few different mashes and fermented them (5% salt) for about 30 days. I added distilled white vinegar to some mashes and a homemade white wine vinegar to others. Pressed them through sieves and bottled them. They separate since I didn’t add any lecithin or other emulsifiers but I think they’re still good.

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