Does Gelatin Go Bad?

So you bought a bunch of gelatin packets a few years ago, and some of them are still sitting in the pantry. And now that you need one, you start to think: does gelatin go bad? You need a packet or two for a salad or dessert, but first, you need to make sure that what you have is actually okay to eat.

Or maybe you’ve bought one of the ready-to-eat gelatin snacks or gelatin cups, and you wonder how long does it last. Maybe the shelf life seems to be quite long, and you’re unsure if it’s not a producer’s error or something. Or perhaps you find it odd that gelatin snacks are often kept on the shelf instead of the refrigerated section, and you want to make sure that storing them at room temperature is okay.

If either of these concerns sounds familiar, this article is for you. In it, we talk about storage, shelf life, and going bad of gelatin and ready-to-eat gelatin products. If that’s something you would like to learn more about, read on.

Colorful jello cups
Image used under Creative Commons from Andrea.Pacheco

How to Store Gelatin

As I already mentioned, when it comes to gelatin, you can either buy dry and powdered products, or some ready-to-eat ones, usually snacks. And as you might imagine, how to store powdered gelatin is completely different from storing jelly.

Storing Powdered or Dry Gelatin

Let’s start with storing dry gelatin and its derivatives, such as flavored gelatin and jello dry powder mix. It usually comes in a single-serving packet or envelope. You should store these packets in a cool and dry area. The pantry is the best spot, but a cupboard in the kitchen is a better choice if you use it quite often. Make sure to keep the product away from heat, sunlight, and moisture. When exposed to moisture, the gelatin won’t set properly once chilled.

If you open a packet and don’t use all of the powder right away, make sure to seal the leftovers tightly. If you don’t expect to use the rest of the gelatin anytime soon, it might make more sense to pour it into a small airtight container or jar. This way the gelatin (and other ingredients if present) will be well protected from any moisture.

Storing Prepared or Ready-to-Eat Gelatin Products

When it comes to where to store ready-to-eat gelatin products, the best answer is to keep them at the same temperature as they were in the store. If the product was refrigerated, chances are it requires refrigeration. But more often than not such products aren’t sold refrigerated, and you don’t have to put them into the fridge once you get home. In case you were wondering why is that, ready-to-eat gelatin snacks contain a pretty high amount of sugar and some preservatives. Those ingredients make them shelf stable and last quite a long time.

But even if the snack doesn’t require cold temperature, slightly lower than room temp is always preferred. So it’s best if you have a cool pantry where you can keep such snacks. And if you don’t, you can either store them food product in the kitchen (away from heat and sunlight), or in the fridge. Obviously, the refrigerator is the better choice if you’re looking for the longest possible storage time.

Once you open the package, store the leftovers in the kitchen. And make sure they’re tightly sealed so they won’t pick up any strong smells from the kitchen.

Storing Homemade Gelatin

Say you made jello, some marshmallows, or any other gelatin-based snack at home. How do you store the leftovers for later? Well, pretty much the same way you store opened ready-to-eat gelatin products. That means you need to cover it tightly, possibly using an airtight container, and put into the fridge. And the sooner you refrigerate the leftovers, the better for their quality. So if you’re planning a nice dessert for your guests, make sure not to let those desserts sit on the table for longer than an hour or so.

Fruit jelly
Image used under Creative Commons from Steven Depolo

How Long Does Gelatin Last

Generally, powdered gelatin, both unflavored and its derivates, come with a best-by date. The date is there usually for legal reasons, not because the product will spoil or lose potency. So you can easily use dry gelatin for months or even years past that date. And if you were to scour the Internet looking for the actual shelf life of dry gelatin, you would find quite a few places claiming it pretty much lasts forever. Once you open an envelope of dry jello and don’t use all of it right away, try to finish it within 3 months for best results.

When it comes to ready-to-eat snacks, they all come with a best-by date too. And they usually last about 3 to 4 months when stored in the pantry, and a month or two if refrigerated. Of course, there are a ton of various jelly-like products, so it’s best if you follow the storage and shelf life guidelines on the label. Nevertheless, it’s entirely reasonable if a jelly snack has a shelf life of half a year, and that’s definitely not an error in print. Once you open the package, try to finish the snack within a week and make sure it’s adequately stored all the time.

When it comes to homemade gelatin products like salads or desserts, try to finish them within 7 days and keep in the fridge tightly sealed all the time.

PantryFridge
Dry gelatin (unflavored or flavored)Best-by + 1 year
Ready-to-eat gelatin snacks (sold unrefrigerated, unopened)Best-by + 1 weekBest-by + 1 month
Ready-to-eat gelatin snacks (sold refrigerated, unopened)Sell-by + 1 week
Ready-to-eat gelatin snacks (opened)7 – 10 days
Homemade gelatin foods7 days

Please note that the periods above are estimates and for best quality.

How to Tell if Gelatin Has Gone Bad

It’s difficult to tell if powdered gelatin is no longer safe to eat. But if you’re seeing slight to significant changes in color or it develops an off odor, discard the product. Same thing if you find anything else that makes you think something bad has happened to the powder. If it’s an unopened packet that sat stored well for a long time, chances are it’s perfectly fine.

For prepared gelatin, discard the product if it has taken on a watery consistency, or simply started to lose texture. If you are seeing signs of mold growth, toss the product out. Slight changes in color and taste are signs the gelatin snack is starting to degrade in quality. If the changes are still small, it’s up to you whether you eat it or discard it. Significant changes mean it’s time for the product to go.