Can you use Old Bay seasoning past expiration date?

Old Bay seasoning is a popular spice blend that contains 18 herbs and spices. It is commonly used to season seafood dishes like shrimp, crab cakes, and fish. Some people wonder if Old Bay is still safe to consume after its printed expiration date has passed.

Quick Answers

– Old Bay can be safely used past its printed expiration date as long as it has been stored properly and there are no signs of spoilage.

– The printed expiration date is simply a guideline for peak quality and flavor. It does not necessarily indicate when the product becomes unsafe.

– Properly stored, unopened Old Bay can last 12-18 months past its printed date before quality degradation is noticed. Opened Old Bay will last 4-6 months.

– Look for changes in color, texture, and smell that may indicate Old Bay is no longer good. If it smells musty, tastes bitter, or is clumpy, it should be discarded.

Why Do Spices Have Expiration Dates?

All food products, including spices, have printed expiration or best by dates on their packaging. For spices, this date marks the timeframe where the manufacturer can guarantee the best flavor, color, aroma, and overall quality.

Over time, spices will naturally lose potency as the oils start to evaporate. Expiration dates let consumers know when to expect the best experience from the spice. However, the loss of flavor over time does not mean the spice has actually spoiled or become unsafe to eat.

Factors that Impact Shelf Life

How quickly a spice loses potency depends on several factors:

  • Storage method – Improper storage exposes spices to more air, light, and moisture which accelerates deterioration.
  • Processing method – Spices that are irradiated or steam treated tend to hold their potency longer.
  • Leaf vs. seed – Leafy spices like oregano and basil lose flavor faster than hard spices like peppercorns.
  • Age before packaging – Fresher spices that are packaged quickly after harvesting will last longer.

High quality spices that are stored properly in airtight containers away from heat, light, and moisture are more likely to retain good flavor and aroma past their printed date.

How to Tell If Old Bay Is Bad

Because the expiration date relates more to quality than safety, you need to rely on your senses to determine if Old Bay has truly spoiled and needs to be discarded. Signs that Old Bay has gone bad include:

  • Change in color – Fresh Old Bay is reddish-brown. It will fade to a pale brown or gray as it ages.
  • Change in texture – Old Bay will become hard and clumpy if the spices have completely dried out.
  • Diminished aroma – Old Bay’s lively aroma dissipates as the essential oils break down.
  • Bitter or musty taste – Stale spices take on unappealing flavors.
  • Presence of moisture – Dampness or caking indicates contamination.
  • Mold growth – Check Old Bay for fuzzy mold spots which signal spoilage.

Trust your senses. If Old Bay smells, looks, or tastes off from what you expect, it is best to throw it out.

How to Store Old Bay

To get the longest shelf life out of your Old Bay seasoning:

  • Keep sealed in its original container until ready to use. Opening exposes the spices to air and moisture.
  • Store in a cool, dry place away from light and heat. A dark pantry or cupboard is ideal.
  • Avoid storage in humid environments. Any moisture accelerates deterioration.
  • Close the shaker tightly after each use. Frequent exposure to air causes faster staleness.
  • Use a clean, dry spoon to scoop out Old Bay. Don’t introduce moisture from utensils.
  • Buy only as much Old Bay as you will use within 6-12 months.

Does Old Bay Ever Go Bad?

Yes, Old Bay can truly spoil and become unsafe to eat after an extended period of time. Because it contains garlic and onion powder, contamination is possible in the right conditions.

If Old Bay is kept past the point of staleness, usually longer than 1-2 years past its date, it can develop bacterial growth under the right conditions. Some common pathogens that could grow include:

  • Salmonella
  • E. coli
  • Clostridium botulinum
  • Bacillus cereus
  • Staphylococcus aureus

These bacteria cause foodborne illness when ingested. So very old Old Bay kept in poor conditions can make people sick.

Botulism Risk

There is a small risk of botulism with garlic stored too long in oil. Since Old Bay contains garlic powder, some people wonder if this poses a botulism risk.

However, botulism in spices is very rare. The bacteria requires a moist, oxygen-free environment to multiply. As long as Old Bay is kept dry, botulism contamination is highly unlikely.

How Long Does Old Bay Last?

Here are some general guidelines for how long properly stored Old Bay will maintain good quality and safety beyond its printed expiration date:

Storage Method Time After Printed Date
Unopened in pantry 12-18 months
Opened in pantry 4-6 months
Unopened in refrigerator 24 months
Opened in refrigerator 8-10 months

The fridge extends shelf life due to the colder, more stable temperature. But even there, Old Bay will eventually lose its potency and should be discarded.

How to Use Old Bay Past Its Date

Old Bay that is slightly past its prime can still be used with some precautions:

  • Use it sooner rather than later. Don’t let it sit around too long past its date.
  • Use more than you normally would to compensate for faded flavor. But don’t overdo it.
  • Smell and taste it first. If it smells or tastes off, pitch it.
  • Be extra diligent checking for signs it has truly spoiled.
  • Stir before use to distribute any stronger spice pockets.
  • Use in cooked dishes rather than raw. Cooking can mask staleness.
  • Avoid using to season delicate foods like oysters or shrimp. Overpowering flavor.
  • Substitute a portion with fresher spices like paprika, garlic, or onion.

With care, you can safely use Old Bay for a reasonable time past its prime. But it’s always best to keep a fresh supply if you use a lot of Old Bay.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does Old Bay go bad if never opened?

An unopened container of Old Bay has a very long shelf life of about 1-2 years past its printed date. As long as it was stored properly in a cool, dry place, it will maintain good quality well past its date as long as the seal remains intact.

Can expired Old Bay make you sick?

Old Bay that is just slightly stale past its date is unlikely to cause illness. But very old Old Bay that is more than 2 years past its expiration can potentially grow dangerous bacteria if stored improperly. If it smells pungent, musty, or rotten it is best to discard.

Is it safe to use Old Bay right after expiration date?

Yes, immediately after its printed expiration date, Old Bay will be perfectly safe to use. The spices will still retain nearly the same potency. Use by dates indicate peak quality rather than safety.

Does Old Bay expire?

Technically yes, Old Bay can expire and spoil after a long enough time, usually more than 2 years past its printed date. It will eventually lose its potency, aroma, and flavor. Very old Old Bay also runs the risk of contamination if stored improperly.

Can I use Old Bay that is 2 years old?

Old Bay that is 2 years past its date is still safe to consume as long as it was stored properly and there are no signs of actual spoilage like mold, moisture, or a rancid smell. However, its flavor and aroma will likely be diminished.

Is it safe to eat expired garlic powder?

In most cases, garlic powder lasts 1-2 years past its printed date before losing potency. It can be safely consumed but may require more to impart the same amount of flavor. Very old garlic powder that smells musty or is clumpy should be discarded.


Old Bay seasoned can retain quality and safety for a reasonable time beyond its printed expiration date. While it may slowly lose potency, Old Bay does not necessarily become hazardous to eat immediately after its date. With proper, low-moisture storage, unopened Old Bay can last 12-18 months past its date. Once opened, use within 4-6 months.

Rely on your senses of sight, smell and taste to determine if your Old Bay has exceeded its shelf life. Discard Old Bay that has changed color, aroma, texture or shows any moisture or mold growth. Otherwise, Old Bay can be safely used short term past its date if you compensate for some loss of strength. But for the best flavor, it’s advisable to buy smaller quantities you can use up quicker.

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