How long does organic apple cider vinegar last?

Apple cider vinegar is a type of vinegar made from apples that has become very popular due to its many health benefits. It’s used for everything from cooking to cleaning to promoting weight loss. But how long does that bottle of organic apple cider vinegar actually last once opened?

Quick answer

Unopened, organic apple cider vinegar lasts pretty much indefinitely. An opened bottle of apple cider vinegar that’s been stored properly will typically last around 3 to 5 years past the printed expiration date. If it starts to smell funky or change appearance, it’s time to toss it.

What affects how long apple cider vinegar lasts?

There are a few key factors that determine how long that bottle of apple cider vinegar will last:

  • Container: Apple cider vinegar lasts longer when stored in glass or ceramic containers. Plastic bottles and metal lids can degrade over time.
  • Processing method: Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar has more nutrients but doesn’t last as long as pasteurized versions. Pasteurization kills off some bacteria and extends shelf life.
  • Storage conditions: Keeping apple cider vinegar away from light and heat helps preserve nutrients and prevents early spoilage.
  • Preservatives: Many vinegars contain preservatives like potassium sorbate to increase shelf stability.

Now let’s look at how long you can expect apple cider vinegar to last based on whether it’s unopened vs opened, and how it’s stored.

Unopened apple cider vinegar

An unopened bottle of apple cider vinegar can basically be stored indefinitely.

Since an unopened bottle hasn’t been exposed to air or light, the main factors that cause vinegar to spoil don’t come into play.

Over many years, very gradual chemical changes will still occur. But this extremely slow breakdown means that apple cider vinegar stored properly can stay good for decades.

For example, take a bottle of apple cider vinegar sitting in your pantry:

  • Storage conditions are room temperature, away from heat and sunlight
  • The glass bottle protects against air and keeps out bacteria
  • No oxygen can reach the vinegar to cause oxidation

Under these conditions, that vinegar will stay completely usable for at least 10-20 years past the printed expiration date. Some sources estimate it may last up to 100 years!

The key is keeping it sealed in suitable packaging and avoiding temperature extremes. As long as you don’t open it, apple cider vinegar simply won’t go bad.

Opened apple cider vinegar

Once opened, apple cider vinegar’s shelf life is shortened due to oxygen exposure. But an opened bottle stored properly still lasts a remarkably long time.

General guidelines for how long opened apple cider vinegar lasts:

  • Refrigerated: last about 1-2 years after opening
  • Pantry: around 3-5 years past printed expiration date

The shelf life depends mostly on storage conditions after opening:

Refrigerated storage

For longest shelf life, store opened apple cider vinegar in the fridge. The cool conditions dramatically slow chemical changes.

In the fridge, apple cider vinegar lasts about 1-2 years after opening. Keep it in the original container or transfer to a non-metal airtight container.

Over time, you may notice the vinegar getting cloudy or pH rising slightly. But refrigerated apple cider vinegar stays safe and usable for up to 2 years.

Pantry storage

At room temperature, apple cider vinegar still lasts a remarkably long time – around 3-5 years past the printed expiration date.

Storing it in a cool, dark pantry delays degradation. And yeast formation is slowed by limited air exposure from a tight-sealing bottle.

After about 3-5 years, deterioration becomes more noticeable. The aroma fades, color darkens, and muddy sediment appears at the bottom as the “mother” dies off.

So for optimal flavor and nutrients, try to use pantry-stored apple cider vinegar within a few years. But even after 5 years, it’s still safe – just not as tasty.

How to tell if opened apple cider vinegar is bad

Over time, even refrigerated or properly stored apple cider vinegar will show some signs of spoilage.

Watch for these characteristics to determine if opened apple cider vinegar has gone bad:

  • Cloudy appearance
  • Change from golden to medium amber color
  • Visible strands or globs
  • Strong unpleasant or musty smell
  • Mold presence

A little sediment at the bottom is normal. But if the liquid turns cloudy or shows changes from its usual appearance, it may need to be discarded.

Any mold growing in the vinegar signals it’s gone bad and should be thrown out.

And if the aroma seems funky or rotten, that’s also a sign not to use it.

Apple cider vinegar is very acidic so harmful microbes can’t easily grow. But yeasts and molds will slowly form over time, indicated by major visual changes.

Does apple cider vinegar expire?

Apple cider vinegar doesn’t really expire in the traditional sense. Since it’s acidic, it’s shelf-stable and does not require refrigeration.

Over many years, apple cider vinegar slowly undergoes chemical changes. Eventually it will show signs of deterioration.

But vinegar stored properly can remain usable for decades, pretty much indefinitely if unopened.

That being said, manufacturers print expiration dates to indicate the timeframe where apple cider vinegar is freshest and should retain full quality:

  • Unopened bottles usually have expiration dates 2-5 years after production
  • After opening, optimal quality lasts about 1-2 years refrigerated or 3-5 years in the pantry

So consider the expiration date more of a guide for peak freshness. Even long past that date, apple cider vinegar is still perfectly safe to consume.

Does pasteurization affect apple cider vinegar’s shelf life?

Pasteurization does make a difference in how long apple cider vinegar lasts.

This heat treatment kills bacteria and enzymes that cause spoilage:

  • Raw, unpasteurized vinegar has more nutrients and probiotics. But it also has a shorter shelf life of about 6 months to a year.
  • Pasteurized versions last much longer – around 5 years once opened.

Most apple cider vinegar is pasteurized to some extent to prolong stability and prevent potential food safety issues.

Unless stated as “unpasteurized” or “raw”, apple cider vinegar has been heat treated to extend the shelf life significantly.

Tips for maximizing apple cider vinegar’s shelf life

Here are some tips to get the longest shelf life out of your apple cider vinegar:

  • Buy pasteurized vinegar – it lasts longer than unpasteurized versions
  • Store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight
  • Keep apple cider vinegar in glass or ceramic containers – avoid plastic bottles and metal lids
  • Refrigerate after opening to extend shelf life
  • Check for mothers (strands or globs) – this is a sign of fermentation
  • Watch for changes in appearance, aroma, or texture

With proper storage methods, organic apple cider vinegar can retain quality and safety for many years – even decades past the printed expiration date in some cases.

The shelf life of apple cider vinegar varies

How long apple cider vinegar lasts depends on several factors:

  • Unopened: Pretty much indefinite shelf life when stored properly
  • Opened, refrigerated: About 1-2 years past printed expiration date
  • Opened, pantry: Approximately 3-5 years once opened
  • Pasteurized: Lasts longer than unpasteurized vinegars
  • Tight container: Limits air exposure to slow deterioration
  • Cool, dark storage: Prevents early spoilage

Because apple cider vinegar is highly acidic, it’s very shelf stable and safe to use long after the printed expiration date. Follow proper storage guidelines to maximize the shelf life opened or unopened.

Frequently asked questions

Why does apple cider vinegar last so long?

Apple cider vinegar has an extremely long shelf life compared to other vinegars for a few reasons:

  • High acidity (low pH around 3) makes it very shelf-stable and resistant to spoilage
  • Pasteurization kills bacteria and enzymes that can cause it to deteriorate
  • Vinegar is self-preserving due to its acetic acid content
  • Keeping air exposure minimal via tight lids or bottles prolongs stability

Does apple cider vinegar need to be refrigerated?

Refrigeration isn’t strictly necessary for apple cider vinegar. Its high acidity prevents microbial growth even at room temperature.

However, refrigerator storage is recommended after opening to maximize the shelf life. It will last around 1-2 years refrigerated.

Can apple cider vinegar go bad?

Yes, apple cider vinegar can eventually go bad over time. Signs of spoiled vinegar include:

  • Cloudiness
  • Strange smell
  • Change in color
  • Grainy texture
  • Mold growth

Airtight storage and refrigeration after opening help prevent apple cider vinegar from spoiling quickly.

Does unpasteurized apple cider vinegar go bad faster?

Yes, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar has a shorter shelf life, generally around 6 months to a year.

Pasteurization helps stabilize apple cider vinegar by destroying bacteria and enzymes that can cause it to deteriorate faster.

Can you get sick from spoiled apple cider vinegar?

Consuming spoiled apple cider vinegar is unlikely to make you sick. The high acidity prevents harmful pathogens from growing.

However, mold growth may occur over a very long period. In that case, it’s best to discard the apple cider vinegar.

But in most cases, even spoiled apple cider vinegar is not dangerous to ingest – it will simply have an off flavor and lack beneficial properties.

The shelf life of apple cider vinegar varies greatly depending on storage conditions.

Properly stored apple cider vinegar can remain fresh and usable for many years past the printed expiration date.

An unopened bottle may last indefinitely, while an opened bottle lasts 1-2 years refrigerated or 3-5 years in the pantry.

For optimal quality and health benefits, use apple cider vinegar within 5 years of opening. But even well past its prime, it is still generally safe to consume.

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