Hot Sauce 101: Shelf Life, Spoilage, and Storage

Here’s all about storage, shelf life, and going bad of hot sauce. After reading this guide, you will know if yours is still safe to eat, if you should refrigerate it after opening, and how long it lasts.

Some people love hot sauce and cannot get enough of it. Others hate it and never buy it. And somewhere in the middle, there’s a third group of people: those who use it only if a recipe calls for it.

If that’s you, chances are there’s a half-open bottle of hot sauce sitting in storage for quite some time already. And whenever you see it, you start thinking: “does hot sauce go bad?”.

Sounds familiar?

If so, this article is for you. Here’s what we cover below:

Read on.

Bottle of hot sauce
Image used under Creative Commons from Veganbaking.net

Does Hot Sauce Go Bad?

Properly stored, hot sauce lasts quite some time, even after opening the bottle. An unopened hot sauce keeps for a couple of years, and it typically lasts for at least 6 months of opening if left at room temperature, or over a year if refrigerated.

Over time, hot sauce degrades in appearance (its color changes), taste, and overall quality. The longer it sits open, the worse off it will be.

That said, hot sauce can go bad. If it’s contaminated with mold spores or other microorganisms, it might develop an off odor, its taste might change, and mold might show up on the surface.

That’s not a common occurrence, though, because hot sauce typically contains lots of vinegar and some chili peppers, both natural preservatives that keep the product safe.

Now, if you’re not quite sure if your hot sauce is safe to eat or not, here are some guidelines.

How to Tell if Hot Sauce Is Bad?

Signs of spoiled hot sauce include:

  • Mold. If there’s mold on the surface, or the sauce gives off a moldy smell, it’s done for.
  • Off smell. There isn’t one set smell of hot sauce because there are hundreds of flavors out there, but if yours smells yeasty, fermented, or off in any other way, discard it.
  • Appearance change. Hot sauce darkening and turning brown is completely normal (more on that in the next section), but any other significant changes are not. If there’s anything that bothers you about the texture or appearance, throw it out.
  • Off taste. If everything seems okay, but the sauce tastes plain bad, discard it for quality purposes.

Last but not least, if you’re not sure your bottle of hot sauce is still safe to eat, err on the side of caution. Better safe than sorry.

Tomato sauce with hot peppers, garlic, and onion
Tomato sauce with hot peppers, garlic, and onion

Color Change

Hot sauce typically becomes darker the longer you store it, and at some point, it turns brown no matter the initial color. That’s a natural reaction of chili peppers to the presence of light and air, which warm temperatures can speed up.

(That’s why if you refrigerate hot sauce after opening, it doesn’t darken as quickly.)

The color change isn’t anything to worry about, and the sauce stays okay to use. But sometimes, that change might result in slight degradation of flavor.

In other words, when your hot sauce turns brown, you have to taste it yourself to tell if it’s still good enough (quality-wise) to eat or not. In most cases, it will continue to add that extra bit of oomph to whatever food you pour it onto.

The same rules apply to Tabasco and many BBQ sauces that are based on chili peppers.

Chicken strips and a spicy chili sauce
Chicken strips and a spicy chili sauce

How Long Does Hot Sauce Last?

 PantryFridge
Hot sauce (unopened)Best by + 1+ years 
Hot sauce (opened)6+ months1+ years
Homemade hot sauce (fresh peppers)1 – 3 weeks
Homemade hot sauce (fermented peppers)2 – 3 months

A typical bottle of hot sauce has a shelf life of 2 to 3 years and easily keeps for months past the printed date. Once you open the bottle, it keeps quality for at least 6 months if stored at room temperature, and over a year if refrigerated.

Those guidelines are quite conservative, and more often than not, your hot sauce will keep for much longer.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to tell how long exactly.

As I mentioned in the spoilage section, hot sauce keeps quality for quite a while because vinegar and chili peppers, both great preservatives, make its base. Because of that, it’s more about quality than safety.

If you store your hot sauce well (more on that later), and it doesn’t show any signs of spoilage, the best you can do is to taste it to learn if it’s still good enough taste-wise.

If it’s a couple of months past its date, and it tastes great, then go ahead and use it. But if it’s nearing the “expiration” date and already tastes so-so, it’s probably time to open a new bottle.

(Of course, the first scenario is the norm and the second an outlier.)

Tip

Plain hot sauce flavors usually keep quality better than those more exotic tastes that have gained popularity in recent years. For example, Original Red Sauce Tabasco retains quality much longer than other flavors.

Speaking of printed dates …

Expiration Date

The date printed on a hot sauce bottle is a best-by date that only estimates how long the product should keep top quality. It’s by no means an expiration date and has little to do with food safety.

That said, most brands recommend using their products before the printed date to get the best possible quality.

As I explained earlier, if your hot sauce seems okay, it should taste good even if you store it for a couple of extra months (opened) or years (unopened).

As usual, if you’re no longer comfortable with the printed date (e.g., it’s 3 years past it), toss it. When in doubt, throw it out.

Homemade Hot Sauce

Homemade hot sauce keeps for about 1 to even 3 weeks if you use fresh peppers, and for a couple of months if you ferment your peppers. No matter which option you choose, store homemade hot sauce in the fridge.

The above works for most hot sauce recipes out there, but not all of them. If yours doesn’t contain that much vinegar but includes some fruits as the base for the sauce, it’ll probably last only a couple of days, maybe up to a week.

That’s because such hot sauce is more like a typical salsa (homemade salsa lasts only up to 5 days) than hot sauce loaded with vinegar and chili peppers.

Bowls of various dip sauces
Bowls of various dip sauces

Storage

You should keep an unopened bottle of hot sauce in a cool and dark place, away from sunlight and sources of heat. The pantry or a cabinet in the kitchen that’s away from the oven is a great choice.

Once you open the bottle, keep it sealed tightly when not in use.

As usual, follow proper food hygiene practices.

I know that sometimes we’re lazy and prefer to dip our chicken wings or fries directly in the bottle. But, unfortunately, that’s a sure-fire way to transfer contaminants and bacteria into the container. And that might result in the condiment going bad prematurely.

Also, look for a crust that often forms on the cap. That can be an area where bacteria start to grow. Plus, a cap with a crust of dried hot sauce looks really gross. Always clean the cap when it gets messy.

Next, let’s talk about whether or not you should refrigerate your hot sauce after opening the bottle.

Does Hot Sauce Need to Be Refrigerated?

Most hot sauces don’t require refrigeration after opening the bottle, but doing so isn’t a bad idea. A bottle that sits in the fridge instead of a cabinet at room temperature retains freshness and quality for longer.

Of course, some sauces benefit from refrigeration more than others, and in some cases, you might even notice a “refrigerate after opening” label on the bottle. If that’s the case, you should definitely keep the sauce chilled.

If you check the FAQ sections of various hot sauce producers, most say the same thing.

Speaking of hot sauce brands, let’s talk about the most popular ones in a bit more detail.

Popular Brands

Below you can find some basic info on storage, shelf life, and spoilage of a few of the most popular hot sauces available. Please note that you won’t find Tabasco or Sriracha there because both deserve separate articles.

Frank’s RedHot

According to the FAQ section on the product’s website, Frank’s RedHot comes with a shelf life of 24 months and maintains good quality for at least a couple of weeks after that date if you refrigerate it.

Also, unless it’s the Sweet Chili flavor, the sauce doesn’t require storing in the fridge to stay safe and keep quality. That said, if you refrigerate Frank’s RedHot, the product will stay fresh for longer.

Of course, the producer is quite cautious about their recommendations, and chances are the sauce will stay safe (and tasty) way past the mentioned period.

Cholula

According to the product’s website, Cholula keeps at least until the best-by date printed on the label and retains quality for about 6 months of opening. If it’s open for more than half a year, but still within the printed date, it’s okay to eat but might not taste as great as you’re used to.

Cholula doesn’t require refrigeration after opening, but like other sauces, can benefit from it.

Again, the brand’s recommendations are quite conservative, and more often than not, your “expired” Cholula will be okay to eat (and taste good), even if it’s more than a couple of most past its date.

Louisiana Hot Sauce

According to the brand’s website, Louisiana Hot Sauce has a shelf life of five years from when it’s made and doesn’t require refrigeration. As usual, the producer advises to discard any leftover sauce if it has passed the printed date.

The reason behind that given by the brand is that they “cannot guarantee the taste or performance of the product.” That means the sauce will likely be perfectly fine, but the overall flavor might be a bit worse than what you’re used to.

As you can tell, Louisiana hot sauce lasts longer than most other hot sauces (that last around two years), and like most others, doesn’t require you to store it in the fridge.

And similar to other brands, your Louisiana hot sauce should keep well beyond its date if you store it properly.

Texas Pete

Texas Pete hot sauce comes with a shelf life of a couple of years marked by the “Best Used By” date printed on the lid and doesn’t require refrigeration after opening. Once it passes the marked date, the quality of the sauce might not meet the company standard anymore.

Like it’s the case for other brands, Texas Pete company is quite cautious in their recommendations. In reality, the sauce will likely keep way past the printed date if you follow good storage practices.

Also, Texas Pete is one of the few brands that inform on their website that the color of the sauce might change after prolonged storage and that it’s nothing to be worried about.

Tapatio

Tapatio comes with a suggested shelf life of two years and doesn’t require refrigeration after opening. Of course, you can keep it in the fridge if you choose to.

What’s refreshing is that the brand clearly states on their website that the mentioned period doesn’t mark an expiration date, and doesn’t urge you to discard their product if it’s “expired.”

Instead, they inform that Tapatio hot sauce tastes best within two years, but it’s up to you what you will do when the sauce is past that period.

Hot Sauce Spoilage and Shelf Life Summary

Thanks for reading my guide to hot sauce. Let’s recap the most important things we’ve covered:

  • Does hot sauce go bad? While it’s possible for hot sauce to go bad in a way it grows mold or starts to smells bad or “funny,” it doesn’t happen that often. Its main ingredients are vinegar and chili peppers, both strong preservatives, and that means the condiment is resistant to microbial growth too. Please note that hot sauces of the milder variety have a slightly higher chance of spoiling than “regular” ones.
  • How long does hot sauce last? An unopened bottle of hot sauce lasts for months, if not years, past the printed date. After you open it up, the condiment usually retains quality for a couple of months if you leave it at room temperature, and at least up to the printed date if you refrigerate it. Typically, it’s still safe to use even after a couple of extra months, but it’s quality isn’t always the best. It’s up to you then to judge if it’s good enough or not.