Should You Use Expired Spices?

We've all done it. Looked at that expired gallon of milk, did the smell test, and asked the question: Should I drink it or not? Fortunately, it's pretty easy to tell when milk goes bad. The telltale signs include an unpleasant sour smell, discoloration, and a thicker consistency. It's not as easy to tell when certain foods go bad, though, which means it can be difficult to determine if you should eat them or not. Spices are one example.

Just as with most packaged food, spice bottles have an expiration date, but they can actually last a long time. In fact, dried herbs and powdered spices can last up to three years while whole or unground spices can last up to four (via Healthline). The same can apply to spices you make yourself. Their shelf life ultimately depends on the type of spice, how it was processed, and how you store it.

Once the expiration date passes, you'll have to choose between throwing the spices out or keeping them in the spice rack (or wherever you store them) and continue using them. But before you decide whether or not to use expired spices, it's important to consider a few things about use-by dates, food safety, and how spices change with time.

What happens when you use expired spices?

If only a few days have passed since the expiration date, many foods are still safe enough to eat. According to CNN, most consumers think there's a correlation between food expiration dates and food safety, but there actually isn't such a connection. The dates generally indicate freshness only, not the risk of food poisoning.

All foods, including spices, change and lose their freshness to some degree over time. Spices oxidize when exposed to oxygen (via Kemin), meaning they gradually deteriorate in various ways, including in their aroma and flavor. The closer you get to that expiration date, the less fresh the spices will be. After the expiration date passes, they won't be as aromatic or flavorful as they were months or years prior.

So should you use expired spices? You certainly can, as it's not dangerous to do so, but this could affect the overall taste of the food to which you're adding the spices. You might end up having to add other spices to compensate for the loss in aroma or flavor of the expired spice. With that caveat, you may find it better to just throw the expired spice out and buy a new, fresh one.