Can you use Hershey’s cocoa after expiration date?

Quick Answer

Hershey’s cocoa can be safely used for an extended period past the printed expiration date, as long as it has been stored properly in a cool, dry place. Cocoa powder has a very long shelf life due to its low moisture content. Properly stored cocoa powder will maintain good quality and flavor for 2-4 years past the printed date. However, expired cocoa may start to taste stale or develop a slight rancid flavor. Always inspect and smell cocoa to check for freshness before use.

Does Cocoa Powder Go Bad?

Cocoa powder is made by pressing cocoa beans to remove a portion of their fat content, then grinding the pressed cake into a fine powder. This process gives cocoa powder a very low moisture content of about 5-8%. Foods with low moisture are less susceptible to spoilage from microbial growth.

Provided it has been stored properly in a cool, dry place, cocoa powder can last 2-4 years past the printed expiration date before quality starts to decline. Properly stored, unopened cocoa powder has an even longer shelf life of 5-10 years past the printed date.

However, if cocoa powder is exposed to moisture, high temperatures, or direct sunlight, it will deteriorate faster. Signs of expired cocoa powder include:

  • Loss of aroma and flavor
  • Faded color
  • Lumpiness
  • Rancid smell

How to Tell if Hershey’s Cocoa Powder is Bad

Here are some steps to evaluate if your box of Hershey’s cocoa powder is still good to use after the expiration date:

Check for visible mold

Inspect the powder closely. Mold will show up as black, green, or blue fuzzy spots. This is a sign the cocoa powder is spoiled and should be discarded.

Smell the cocoa powder

Expired cocoa powder will lose its chocolatey smell. It may start to take on a flat, stale aroma or a slight rancid odor.

Look for lumping

Cocoa powder should have a fine, uniform consistency. Lumping, clumping, or hard packed powder is another sign moisture exposure has caused the cocoa to start deteriorating.

Taste the cocoa powder

Mix a small amount of the cocoa powder in hot water or milk and taste it. Fresh cocoa powder will have a rich chocolate flavor. Expired cocoa powder may taste flat or have slight bitter, chemical notes.

If your opened cocoa powder shows no signs of spoilage, it should be safe to use. Make sure to store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place after opening.

How Long Does an Unopened Package of Hershey’s Cocoa Powder Last?

An unopened, sealed package of Hershey’s cocoa powder has a very long shelf life. The shelf life depends on the best by date and proper storage conditions.

Unopened Shelf Life After Best By Date

– 1-3 years past best by date: Cocoa will stay fresh and usable, but may start to slowly lose flavor intensity.

– 4-5 years past best by date: Cocoa is reaching end of peak quality but still safe to use. Flavor may be weaker.

– 5+ years past best by date: Quality declines rapidly. Cocoa may taste stale and have weaker chocolate flavor.

For best quality, use unopened cocoa powder within 1-2 years of the printed best by date.

Proper Storage Conditions

To maximize shelf life, store unopened Hershey’s cocoa powder in a cool, dark cupboard away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Ideal temperature is 60-70°F. Avoid temperature extremes. High heat can shorten shelf life.

The dry, sealed cocoa package helps block moisture and oxygen from entering. Don’t refrigerate or freeze cocoa powder, as temperature fluctuations can lead to condensation inside the package.

With proper dry storage, an unopened package of Hershey’s cocoa powder can still be good for up to 5 years past the printed date.

How to Store Opened Hershey’s Cocoa Powder

Once opened, cocoa powder is more vulnerable to environmental moisture and potential contamination. Follow these tips for storing opened Hershey’s cocoa:

– Transfer cocoa powder to an airtight container like a glass jar or plastic container with a tight seal.

– Exclude as much air from the container as possible. Oxygen can speed staling.

– Store in a cool, dry spot away from sunlight. The pantry or cupboard works well.

– Avoid storage in the refrigerator or freezer, as temperature fluctuations can introduce moisture.

– Use a clean, dry spoon to scoop out cocoa powder. Don’t reintroduce moisture.

– Write the opening date on the container for reference.

– Use opened cocoa powder within 2-4 years for best quality.

Proper storage helps maximize the shelf life and freshness of opened Hershey’s cocoa.

Signs Hershey’s Cocoa Powder Has Expired

Here are the main signs that opened Hershey’s cocoa powder has gone bad and should be discarded:


Fresh cocoa powder smells rich, dark, and chocolately. As it goes stale, those aromatic compounds fade. Expired cocoa powder will have a flat, bland smell or a slight rancidity.


Good quality cocoa powder should have a uniform color. Expired powder may look paler brown and faded. Check for signs of moisture clumping too.


Stale, old cocoa powder won’t have the same robust chocolate taste. It may taste flat, chalky, or bitter. Rancid cocoa powder can have chemical, soapy notes.

Mold Growth

Dry cocoa powder shouldn’t grow mold if properly stored. But prolonged moisture exposure can lead to black, green, or blue mold fuzz. Discard immediately if this occurs.

When in doubt, remember smell and taste are the best indicators of freshness. Immediately discard any cocoa powder that smells or tastes unpleasant.

What Happens If You Drink Expired Cocoa Powder?

Consuming expired cocoa powder that has been stored properly is not dangerous or unsafe. However, it will have diminished flavor quality and intensity.

Over time, the natural oils in cocoa powder can go rancid and acidic. This creates “off” aromas and flavors. Rancid cocoa powder may have a stale, bland taste or slight bitter, soapy aftertaste.

In some cases, expired cocoa may also cause mild stomach upset if the rancid oils trigger indigestion. But this reaction is no different than consuming any spoiled or rancid food product well past its prime.

While drinking truly rancid cocoa powder isn’t ideal and should be avoided, it is very unlikely to make someone sick in the sense of foodborne illness. Just expect an inferior tasting beverage.

Can You Bake with Expired Cocoa Powder?

Baking with cocoa powder that is past its prime but not rancid is generally fine. Cookies, cakes, brownies, and other baked goods rely on many ingredients for flavor. So cocoa that is slightly stale may go unnoticed.

However, for recipes where chocolate flavor really takes center stage, like chocolate buttercream, chocolate ganache, or chocolate glaze, you may want to use fresher cocoa powder. A couple tips:

  • Increase amount: Add a tablespoon or two extra of expired cocoa to boost chocolate intensity.
  • Use milk chocolate: Melted milk chocolate can help mask weaker cocoa flavor in frostings or fillings.
  • Add espresso powder: A teaspoon of instant espresso can enrich chocolate taste.

If you smell or taste rancidity, it’s safest to discard the cocoa powder rather than bake with it. But cocoa powder that is simply older and less vibrant can still be an acceptable baking ingredient.

How is Cocoa Powder Processed and Why Does it Last so Long?

Cocoa powder owes its long shelf life to how its made and its low moisture content:


Cocoa beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and cracked to separate the outer husks. What remains is crushed into a paste called chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor contains 53-58% cocoa butter.

Cocoa powder is made by hydraulically pressing chocolate liquor to remove 75-80% of the cocoa butter. What remains is a pressed cake that’s ground into fine unsweetened cocoa powder.

Removing most of the high-fat cocoa butter content gives cocoa powder a very dry, low moisture makeup of about 5-8% water. This inhibits microbial growth and oxidative damage during storage.

Low Moisture Content

Spoilage microorganisms require available water to grow. With only 5-8% moisture, cocoa powder falls well below the safe threshold for microbial growth, which is around 60%.

Low moisture also limits chemical oxidation of fats that lead to rancid flavors during storage. The less moisture and fat, the slower the rate of oxidation.

So cocoa powder resists common causes of food spoilage – microbes and oxidation – due to its dryness. This allows properly stored, unopened cocoa to last up to 4-5 years past its printed date.

Does Cocoa Powder Need Refrigeration?

Refrigerating or freezing cocoa powder is not recommended. The cold environment can lead to temperature fluctuations and condensation build up in the packaging.

Trapped moisture is the enemy of cocoa powder’s shelf life. It can accelerate quality degradation and cause lumping or clumping during storage.

Ideally, cocoa powder should be stored at cool room temperatures of 60-70°F. The refrigerator (36-40°F) creates too broad a temperature swing when removing cocoa powder for use.

Freezing is problematic as cocoa powder easily absorbs freezer odors. Thawing and refreezing speeds up moisture migration into the packaging.

Store cocoa powder in an airtight container in the pantry or cupboard. If your kitchen is very warm, above 75°F, then refrigeration can help prolong shelf life slightly. Just be sure to allow the container to fully come to room temp before opening to prevent moisture condensation issues.

Does Microwaving Kill Bacteria in Expired Cocoa?

The microwave can be used to kill bacteria, but this does not apply or help make expired cocoa powder safe to consume. Here’s why:

Cocoa Powder is Low Risk

Cocoa powder is unlikely to contain hazardous levels of bacteria if stored properly. Its low moisture content prevents microbial growth. Only cocoa stored in poor conditions would be at risk.

Microwaves Don’t Penetrate Well

Microwave heat tends to penetrate and heat food from the outside in. It may not bring deep interior portions up to the needed bacteria-killing temperatures.

Easy to Burn and Change Flavor

Cocoa powder scorches easily in the microwave and can take on a burnt taste. Heating it too long destroys delicate flavor compounds.

Doesn’t Destroy Toxins

Microwaving kills bacteria but does not neutralize any toxins bacteria may have produced as byproducts of growth. These can still cause illness.

So microwaving offers no advantage in salvaging expired cocoa powder. Proper dry storage is still the best way to prevent harmful bacteria in cocoa powder.


When stored properly in a cool, dry place, Hershey’s cocoa powder maintains optimal quality and flavor for 2-4 years past the printed best by date. Tightly sealed, unopened packages last even longer – up to 5 years past the date.

Over time, opened cocoa powder gradually loses aroma and flavor. Smelling and tasting are the best ways to test older cocoa powder for freshness. Cocoa that smells or tastes unpleasant should be discarded, while cocoa that maintains a typical rich scent and taste can still be safely used in recipes.

While not ideal, using older or slightly stale cocoa powder in baked goods is generally fine. The other ingredients help mask any decline in flavor. But truly rancid cocoa powder with off tastes should always be thrown out rather than consumed.

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