How to determine the expiration date of a hot sauce

Many types of hot sauce can have a longer expiration date than many other condiments used to enhance certain foods. This is true because of the acidity or low pH value of many varieties of hot sauce. Determining when a hot sauce is no longer acceptable for consumption and stamping it with an expiration date is up to the manufacturer.

As a general rule determining the expiration date of a hot sauce can be done with laboratory testing to determine the rate of bacterial growth. The expiration date should then be labeled on a hot sauce bottle to communicate to consumers the quality of the sauce over a duration of time.

A manufacturer or producer of a hot sauce does not want a consumer eating a hot sauce that has spoiled and does not taste good anymore. This could cause harm to the human body and will give a negative portrayal of the food product. Therefore, a date is stamped on the product by the manufacturer as a communication tool to let consumers know it should not be eaten after that date.

These dates are also used as a way to cut down on food waste. If a consumer does not know how long a product is considered edible, they are more likely to dispose of it, therefore wasting a product that is still edible. Consumers may not be aware of the longevity of some brands of hot sauce, especially if they do not eat it regularly.

Manufacturing companies perform tests, either within their companies or by outside agencies, on their products to determine the expiration date of a hot sauce. The tests performed will put hot sauce through different temperature settings, exposure to light, and other conditions a product may go through during storage and consumption.

The hot sauce is then tested to determine if the quality is still OK for consumption or edible after a certain period. Hot sauce can be tested for longer durations compared to other products to determine the quality of the product over time. The hot sauce should not be consumed during these periods of testing for reasons that it may have spoiled. Once the expiration date is determined it is labeled on the nutritional label or onto the glass but there may be different phrases used on products to differentiate sales or consumption.  

The expiration date is different from the “sell by” date

According to FSIS (Food Safety and Inspection Service), the “sell by” date is used to communicate to stores selling the product as a recommendation for how long to display the product on store shelves. The expiration date or “use by” date is intended for the consumer to be aware of how long the product will last for consumption and may be different from the “sell by” date.

How to tell if the hot sauce has gone bad

Many varieties of hot sauce have a low pH giving them a long-extended shelf life so they will still taste good. Therefore, it won’t be as obvious that the sauce has gone bad when compared to other condiments. There are simple sensory testing methods involving sight and scent that can be used without elaborate or expensive laboratory testing. This should be done with any hot sauces you intend to have for sale and could take months or years for some sauces.

Perform a visual inspection

There are ways to determine if a hot sauce has gone bad that does not take any kind of scientific experimenting or expensive laboratory testing. It’s not rocket science to look at a bottle of hot sauce to see mold or bacteria growth. If this were the case this would be a very, very old hot sauce or a sauce with a higher alkaline level.

It is not uncommon to have some popular well-selling brands of hot sauce separate over time. Some solids can sink to the bottom but this is not an indication that the sauce has gone bad. This is very common and is why hot sauces are labeled “shake well before serving”.

Further visual testing can be done over time to compare the sauce being tested to freshly made sauce over specific increments of time. This test can compare color, texture, and mold growth against a sauce that has been determined to be fresh.

Use your sense of smell

Testing the scent of a hot sauce would be similar to a visual test and may not be quite as noticeable as a visual test if the sauce is bad. Hot sauces can have a sharp pungent scent or almost sour scent if the sauce has a high vinegar content.

Also like the visual test, using a sense of smell will be more prominent on a sauce that is on the alkaline side of the pH scale. Milk and cheeses can shorten the shelf life or push a hot sauce towards the alkaline side of the scale, making the “smell test” more noticeable. Fortunately, many hot sauces do not contain these ingredients.

Hire a company to do microbiological testing

Microbiological testing is the testing of bacteria, mold, or pathogenic organisms in a hot sauce within a controlled laboratory setting. This type of testing is essential for food safety but these test results can cost over $500 per product.

These manufacturing companies hire laboratories to test for shelf life such as RL Food Laboratory. Some will only test for a duration of one year but many hot sauces will last longer. Many of these labs perform accelerated testing to mimic a longer duration and provide the extended date. The food testing laboratories will store the products in conditions similar to what people may have in their homes and perform periodic testing. 

Don’t taste a hot sauce that has gone bad

The last thing you will want to do is taste a hot sauce that has gone bad. Not only will it be foul-tasting but it could also upset your stomach and make you sick. Larger companies may perform more elaborate testing than simply tasting a sauce.

However, no one knows your hot sauce as much as you do. This could prove to have accurate results for sensory testing but is not an indication of bacterial growth unless you can see it. If you are confident in a taste test to determine an expiration date for your hot sauce, perform some simple sensory testing first.

How long does hot sauce last once it is opened?

Opened hot sauce can last up to 6 months in a non-refrigerated environment. Hot sauce that has been opened and refrigerated can last 1 to 2 years. Hot sauces containing fruits may have a shorter shelf life if the pH isn’t low and a cream-based hot sauce will only have a shelf life of about 2 weeks once it is opened.

How to extend the shelf life of a hot sauce

The shelf life of a hot sauce can be extended by adding vinegar or preservatives. Vinegar is one of the most common components of a hot sauce and many preservatives used are natural as well. The addition of vinegar will alter the recipe if the hot sauce does not already contain it.

Distilled white vinegar will be more acidic than many other types such as apple cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar but they won’t affect the expiration date by much. It’s the addition of vinegar in a hot sauce that helps presterve the hot peppers and other ingredients in a hot sauce.

Some common preservatives such sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, and citric acid are used specifically in a hot sauce that does not have a low pH. These preservatives, also commonly used in other condiments, increase shelf life but not as much as vinegar may.

Other methods of extending the shelf life of a hot sauce once it is opened would be to make sure the cap is on tight and sealed properly. Allowing air to enter will promote bacterially and mold growth. Also, there can be dried sauce on the inside of the lid or cap that promotes bacterial growth. Keep the cap and top of the bottle cleaned.

An expiration date is not required by federal regulations

Labeling a hot with an expiration date or stamping it with “best used by” date is not under USDA, FDA, or other federal regulations. However, the FDA does consider determining the product’s shelf life as part of the manufacturer’s responsibility.

This is the reason many manufactures do not put the “best if used by” date on their hot sauces, because it is another step and expense in the manufacturing process, especially for smaller operations. It can be set up as part of labeling operations or as another step in the manufacturing process all together.

Why should I put the expiration date on the label at all?

If you plan on providing your hot sauce with an expiration date the USDA under the jurisdiction of the FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Services) recommends that manufacturers provide a “best if used by” date on products in efforts to help reduce food waste.

Adding the expiration date on a hot sauce bottle keeps consumers from guessing if the sauce is still edible or not. Most may not realize the extended shelf life of many hot sauces and discard before the product has gone bad. Labeling shows the last date of the peak quality and this keeps consumers from wasting food before it has gone bad. Because labeling can be a different part of the production and are ordered in larger quantities the bottling sauce, the dates are often stamped on the glass bottle.

Stamp glass with the expiration date

Often the expiration date is stamped on the glass and not printed on the label. Simple handheld stamps can be purchased or larger production operations may require machines. This will give a bottled hot sauce a professional appearance and will communicate to consumers the manufacturer’s desire to provide the consumer with a fresh product.

The ink should have a contrasting color from the glass (or plastic) bottle and there needs to be a certain type of ink used. Typically a quick-dry ink supplied by the manufacturer of the stamp must be used. Ink would need to be loaded much like an inkjet printer.

Printing an expiration date on glass bottles using a handheld Reiner Jetstamp 990 will require a lot of handling. It will also require additional handling and maintenance of equipment. Take this into consideration before committing to stamping your hot sauce bottles with an expiration date. 

Use a handheld printer to stamp dates on glass

There is a variety of handheld printers available from Amazon for under $300 that are suitable for printing on glass bottles. TOAUTO makes the HP-003 Handheld Inkjet to print on any type of surface, including glass and plastic bottles. Hand-held operations can be set up to be done without handling every bottle and speed up the stamping process.

Decide on the need to provide a bottled hot sauce with an expiration date before you purchase a handheld printer or stamping machine. If you have determined that your hot sauce has a short shelf life, such as cream or oil based sauce, then it would be wise to provide the bottle with the expiration date.

Why isn’t the expiration date on the label?

Hot sauce may be bottled and packaged in precise amounts based on the number of sales a business may make. The labels are often produced separately and are purchased in large quantities because there isn’t expiration to them.

Therefore you may have 1,000 labels but only 100 bottles of hot sauce that would have the same expiration. You could have 900 labels with the expiration date labeled on them just lying around until your next anticipated sale.

How long does hot sauce last?

On average some hot sauces with high acidity or pH level below 4.6 can last for 2 to 3 years if kept in the right conditions. Hot sauces that use vinegar get preserved from the acidic contents of the vinegar to increase the longevity of the sauce.

Typically a hot sauce will be labeled as a “best by” date much BEFORE it extends past the recommended date. This is a tactic used by the manufacturer to guarantee freshness.

Can you use hot sauce after the expiration date?

As a general rule, you should not consume hot sauce after the expiration date stamped on the bottle or packaging. Manufacturers of food products put a “best if used” date on a bottle of hot sauce to keep the consumer from eating a product that is not fresh. The manufacturer knows the product better than anyone and they certainly do not want to provide low-quality products.

What type of sauce has the longest duration?

A simple Louisiana style hot sauce consisting of hot peppers, vinegar, salt, and garlic has the longest expiration date. These type of hot sauces will typically use an aged red cayenne pepper and this process creates a fermented product. It is the fermentation that allows the hot sauce to be preserved.

Creamy-style hot sauces have the shortest expiration

Cream based hot sauces will have a much shorter time period in which they can be consumed. This is due to eggs, oils, or buttermilk that may be used to base these type of sauces, making them the consistency of a dressing. If you are making a cream based hot sauce it would be wise to have it tested in a labrotry to determine the exact date the sauce has expired.

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