How do you know if breadcrumbs are bad?

Quick Answers

Here are some quick ways to tell if breadcrumbs have gone bad:

  • Check the expiration or best-by date on the packaging – if it has passed, the breadcrumbs are likely stale or rancid
  • Inspect the color – breadcrumbs should be light tan or golden, if they are dark or grayish they are stale
  • Smell the breadcrumbs – fresh breadcrumbs have a toasted aroma, while stale ones smell musty
  • Taste a few breadcrumbs – stale breadcrumbs will taste bitter, cardboard-like, or leave an unpleasant coating in your mouth

Appearance and Texture

The appearance and texture of breadcrumbs can indicate freshness. When inspecting breadcrumbs:

  • Fresh breadcrumbs should be an even, light tan or golden blonde color. If the crumbs are dark or speckled with gray spots, that’s a sign they have likely gone rancid.
  • Stale, old breadcrumbs often appear darker and more yellow. This is oxidation of the fats in the crumbs.
  • The texture should be dry and crumbly. Breadcrumbs turn hard and brick-like when stale.
  • If the crumbs are limp, sticky, or clumped together, they are past their prime.
  • Mold growth – green, blue, black – is a sure sign breadcrumbs have spoiled and should be discarded.


Sniffing the breadcrumbs can provide a good idea of their freshness. Fresh breadcrumbs have a pleasant, nutty, toasted wheat aroma. Over time, the fats in breadcrumbs oxidize and go rancid, producing these off odors:

  • Musty – This smell indicates staleness and oxidation.
  • Pungent – Rancid fats give old breadcrumbs a sharp, unpleasant smell.
  • Ammonia-like – Breadcrumbs with this chemical odor are dangerously rancid and should not be eaten.
  • Alcoholic – Fermented, yeasty scent shows spoilage by microbes.
  • Moldy – An earthy, damp smell means breadcrumb mold contamination.

Taste Test

The ultimate test is tasting a few breadcrumbs. Fresh breadcrumbs have a pleasant, wheaty flavor. Stale and rancid breadcrumbs have these poor flavors:

  • Cardboard-like – Stale breadcrumbs lose moisture and taste dry and bland.
  • Bitter – Oxidized fats create a bitter, unpleasant taste.
  • Sour – This tanginess indicates fermentation by molds or bacteria.
  • Metallic – A chemical, tin-like taste shows the crumbs have become truly rancid.

Any bitterness, staleness, or off tastes mean the breadcrumbs should be discarded.

Checking the Expiration Date

Always check the printed best-by or sell-by date on the breadcrumb packaging. This will give you an idea of when the manufacturer determined the crumbs would remain fresh until. In general:

  • Pantry-stable breadcrumbs last 6-12 months past the production date.
  • Refrigerated breadcrumbs stay fresh for 3-5 months past the date.
  • Frozen breadcrumbs are good for about 1 year when kept frozen.
  • Once opened, breadcrumb shelf life decreases.

While the date alone doesn’t guarantee freshness, if the current date is past the best-by date, it’s risky to use and best to discard the breadcrumbs.

Proper Breadcrumb Storage

Storing breadcrumbs properly helps prolong their freshness. Here are some storage tips:

  • Pantry – Keep unopened breadcrumbs in a cool, dry pantry. Seal the package tightly.
  • Refrigerator – For opened packages or homemade crumbs, store in an airtight container in the fridge.
  • Freezer – For long-term storage, freeze breadcrumbs in air-tight bags or containers for up to 1 year.
  • Air exposure – Limit air exposure by sealing and storing away from light and humidity.
  • Cleanliness – Keep storage containers clean to avoid introducing mold.

Signs of Spoilage

Here are the common signs that indicate your breadcrumbs have spoiled and should be thrown out:

  • Mold visible on crumbs
  • Unpleasant sour or bitter smell
  • Off taste that leaves an aftertaste
  • Very hard, brick-like texture
  • Clumping of crumbs
  • Change from tan color to gray, dark yellow, or greenish
  • Presence of black or green spots on the crumbs

If your breadcrumbs exhibit any of those characteristics, it’s best to play it safe and discard them.

What About Freezing?

Freezing is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of breadcrumbs for up to 1 year. To freeze:

  • Place fresh breadcrumbs in air-tight freezer bags, squeeze out excess air.
  • You can also use rigid plastic containers or even ice cube trays.
  • Label bags with the date to track freshness.
  • Avoid refreezing breadcrumbs after thawing.

To thaw frozen breadcrumbs:

  • Place sealed bag of crumbs in the fridge overnight.
  • Or leave sealed bag on counter for 1-2 hours.
  • Use immediately after thawing.

Can You Refresh Stale Breadcrumbs?

If your breadcrumbs have gone a bit stale but haven’t spoiled, there are some tricks to freshen them up:

  • Low oven heat (200°F for 5-10 minutes)
  • Microwave (15-30 seconds)
  • Toaster oven (1-2 minutes)
  • Place in sealed bag with a slice of bread to absorb moisture

A brief heat treatment drives off some moisture from the crumbs to improve texture. Do not attempt to refresh moldy, clumpy, or rancid smelling crumbs.

How to Store Leftover Breadcrumbs

For breadcrumbs you use for cooking, be sure to store any leftovers properly after:

  • Let leftover breadcrumbs cool completely after cooking.
  • Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate.
  • Use within 3-4 days for peak freshness and flavor.
  • To freeze, spread in a thin layer on a sheet pan and freeze. Then store frozen crumbs in bags.

Watch for Moisture Absorption

Because they are baked dry, breadcrumbs easily absorb moisture from the environment. Avoid these situations to keep your crumbs crisp:

  • Do not store breadcrumbs in the refrigerator door, which exposes them to moisture each time it’s opened.
  • After taking breadcrumbs from the freezer, reseal the bag tightly or transfer to an airtight container.
  • If storing in an open container, use up within 1-2 weeks.

How to Make Breadcrumbs Last

You can take these steps to maximize the freshness of breadcrumbs:

  • Check expiration or best-by dates and follow them.
  • Transfer breadcrumbs to airtight containers after opening.
  • Keep opened packages in the fridge or freezer.
  • Freeze a portion of fresh breadcrumbs to store longer term.
  • Seal crumbs tightly for storage and minimize air exposure.

Uses for Stale Breadcrumbs

If your breadcrumbs pass their prime don’t waste them! Use stale breadcrumbs for these purposes:

  • Coat vegetables, fish, or chicken before pan frying
  • Use as filler in meatballs, meatloaf, or burgers
  • Make bread pudding or strata
  • Bake into casseroles or stuffings
  • Toss with olive oil and herbs and toast into croutons
  • Sprinkle on pasta dishes for texture and flavor

Cooking or baking stale crumbs restores moisture and allows you to use them up.

How to Store Unused Breadcrumbs

To save and store any unused breadcrumbs:

  • Let cool completely first if crumbs were used for cooking.
  • Transfer to an airtight container or resealable plastic bag.
  • Press out excess air before sealing and ensure the seal is tight.
  • Label container with date if homemade crumbs.
  • Store in the refrigerator and use within 3-4 days.
  • Can also be frozen for longer storage.


Checking for mold, rancid odors, unpleasant tastes, and expiration dates are all ways to determine if your breadcrumbs are past their prime. Proper storage techniques like refrigeration and freezing can prolong the shelf life. But if you notice signs of spoilage like color changes, staleness, or clumping, it’s safest to discard old breadcrumbs and open a fresh package.

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