Is it OK to drink expired pure leaf tea?

Tea is one of the most popular beverages in the world, prized for its delicious flavor, health benefits, and versatility. Many tea drinkers have a preferred brand, like Pure Leaf tea, and stock up when it’s on sale to always have it on hand. But is it safe to drink Pure Leaf tea after the expiration date has passed?

What is Pure Leaf Tea?

Pure Leaf is a brand of bottled iced tea made by the PepsiCo company. It comes in a variety of flavors like peach, raspberry, lemon, and unsweetened black tea. The tea is brewed from real tea leaves and filtered water, with no artificial flavors or preservatives. Some versions contain additional natural flavors or sweeteners.

Pure Leaf bottles have a “best by” date stamped on the bottom or near the nutrition facts label. This is the manufacturer’s estimation of how long the unopened tea will retain peak flavor and quality. The date does not necessarily mean the tea is unsafe to consume after that time.

Can Expired Tea Make You Sick?

There are a few factors that determine whether expired Pure Leaf tea could potentially make you sick:

  • Type of tea – Unsweetened varieties are less prone to spoilage than sweetened drinks.
  • Storage conditions – Heat and sunlight accelerate deterioration.
  • Bottle seal – An unbroken airtight seal prevents contamination.
  • Preservatives – Some bottled tea contains preservatives for longer shelf life.

Because Pure Leaf tea does not contain preservatives, storage conditions are the main factor. An unopened bottle stored in a cool, dark pantry is likely fine for quite some time after the best by date. However, expired tea stored in hot garages or in direct sunlight for months could potentially pose a risk.

Foodborne Illness

The two main concerns with drinking expired tea are foodborne pathogenic bacteria and molds/fungi. Tea leaves and water do not inherently contain harmful microbes, but they can be introduced after brewing through cross-contamination or exposure to unclean water or equipment. Some common pathogens that can contaminate bottled tea include:

  • Salmonella
  • Listeria
  • E. coli
  • Clostridium botulinum

These bacteria multiply rapidly in the moist, nutrient-rich environment of bottled tea. Refrigeration helps slow growth, but over time the bacteria can reach dangerous levels that could cause illness when ingested. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and cramps.

Molds and other fungi also thrive in bottled beverages and produce spores that can cause allergic reactions or respiratory issues if inhaled. Visible spots, fuzz, slime, or strange odors are signs fungi may be present.

Taste and Nutrition

Aside from foodborne illness risk, expired tea often deteriorates in quality and nutritional value:

  • Taste – Flavors fade and can develop stale, cardboard, or unpleasant tastes. Sugar and other additives break down over time.
  • Antioxidants – Polyphenols and catechins like EGCG provide the health benefits of tea, but they degrade during long storage.
  • Vitamin C – Degrades rapidly and is often added to bottled tea. Levels may be significantly lower in expired tea.
  • Color and Cloudiness – Tea can oxidize and take on an unappetizing brownish tint. Particles from degraded leaves make it look cloudy.

Even if not unsafe, drinking expired tea is less enjoyable and nutritious. The flavors are a shell of their former self. Just a few months past its prime, the tea simply won’t taste as refreshing and vibrant as a fresh bottle.

How Long Does Brewed Tea Last?

The shelf life of brewed tea depends on the storage container, temperature, and ingredients:

Brewed Tea Type Refrigerator Counter
Plain tea stored in air-tight container Up to 5 days Up to 8 hours
Sweetened tea Up to 2-3 days Up to 4 hours
Tea with milk, lemon, or herbs Up to 2 days Up to 2 hours

As you can see, brewed tea lasts longer in the refrigerator by a wide margin. The cool temperature slows microbe growth. Airtight lids or seals prevent contamination and oxidation. Sweeteners, dairy products, and other add-ins provide nutrients that allow bacteria to proliferate faster.

Signs Your Tea Has Spoiled

Here are some telltale signs your Pure Leaf tea has gone bad and should be discarded:

  • bottle seal is broken, loose, or bulging
  • expiry date passed over 6+ months ago
  • off odors like sour, moldy, rotten
  • strange colors or appearance
  • fizzing, bubbling, or fermentation
  • visible mold/fuzz or sediment
  • tastes stale, metallic, or unpleasant

Trust your senses – if expired tea smells or tastes “off” in any way, don’t take chances. Toxic molds and bacteria may be thriving, even if you can’t see them. Remember that sweetened varieties spoil faster. When in doubt, throw it out.

Extending Pure Leaf’s Shelf Life

You can extend the shelf life of unopened Pure Leaf past the printed best by date with proper storage:

  • Keep bottles in a cool, dry pantry away from heat and sunlight
  • Refrigerate after opening to slow spoilage
  • Store bottles upright to keep the seal intact
  • Finish opened tea within 5-7 days
  • Freeze leftover tea in airtight containers for 4-6 months

Bottled tea can retain quality and flavor for quite some time if stored cool and consumed promptly after opening. Refrigeration preserves taste for about 5-7 days post-opening. Freezing is an option if you won’t finish the tea quickly.

Does Pure Leaf Go Bad Once Opened?

Once opened, Pure Leaf tea will begin to slowly degrade in quality. Chemical changes cause nutritional loss and affect taste. However, refrigeration greatly slows this spoilage process. An opened bottle properly stored in the fridge should last 5-7 days past the best by date before significant deterioration occurs. If it smells and tastes fine, it should be safe to consume within this timeframe.

Can Expired Tea Make You Sick?

Drinking expired tea that’s been stored improperly could potentially make you sick, due to harmful bacterial growth or allergen mold spores. However, Pure Leaf tea and other shelf-stable bottled tea are considered non-perishable foods by the FDA.

This means that while it may lose quality over time, it’s formulated to resist dangerous microbial contamination. Pure Leaf’s bottle seal and lack of preservatives increase spoilage risk after opening, but the tea contains no inherent ingredients that could cause foodborne illness on their own.

So drinking recently expired Pure Leaf that’s been continuously refrigerated and still smells/tastes normal is very unlikely to make you sick. But take precautions by inspecting closely and being extra vigilant if you have a sensitive stomach or weakened immune system.

Who Is at Highest Risk?

Certain groups are at increased risk for foodborne illness and should be especially cautious with expired tea:

  • Pregnant women – illness can harm the fetus
  • Young children – underdeveloped immune systems
  • Older adults – weakened immune function
  • Those with chronic illnesses – compromised immune defenses
  • Anyone on antibiotics – beneficial gut bacteria destroyed

If you fall into a high risk group, avoid drinking expired Pure Leaf no matter how well it was stored. The consequences simply may not be worth the small chance of getting sick.

How to Tell if Pure Leaf Tea Has Gone Bad

Watch for these signs that your Pure Leaf tea has spoiled and should not be consumed:


  • Discoloration or darkened hue
  • Cloudiness, sediment at bottom
  • Mold/fuzz visible
  • Bubbles or fizzing inside bottle


  • Sour, off smells
  • Unusual medicinal smell
  • Very dull or lack of aroma


  • Bitter, vinegary, acidic
  • Cardboard, musty, stale flavors
  • Metallic or soapy taste

Trust your nose – if it smells funky, it’s gone funky. Toss out any Pure Leaf bottles that are clearly past their prime.

How Long Does Brewed Pure Leaf Tea Last?

Once brewed, Pure Leaf tea has a limited shelf life. Proper refrigeration is critical to maximize freshness:

  • Plain Pure Leaf Tea – 5-7 days
  • Sweetened Pure Leaf Tea – 3-5 days
  • Pure Leaf with lemon/herbs – 1-2 days

The tea leaves, sweeteners, and acidity in lemon or herbs allow rapid bacteria growth once diluted in water. So drink refrigerated brewed tea quickly within a few days and don’t let it sit out over an hour at room temperature.

Can You Freeze Pure Leaf Tea?

Freezing is an excellent way to extend the shelf life of Pure Leaf past the printed expiration date. Here are some freezing tips:

  • Check bottle seal integrity before freezing. Discard if loose or bulging.
  • Leave ample headspace in bottle for expansion.
  • Bottles may become cloudy or softened during freezing.
  • Thaw in fridge before opening to prevent leakage.
  • Use within 1 week after thawing.

Frozen Pure Leaf remains safe indefinitely, but may slowly deteriorate in quality after 4-6 months. Portion into smaller containers for quicker thawing if you won’t use a full bottle before deterioration occurs. Freezing can buy you an extra several months to enjoy Pure Leaf past its best by date.

Does Freezing Affect Taste?

Freezing tea does subtly affect the flavor profile once thawed:

  • More muted, subdued flavor
  • Notes of oxidation may be present
  • Sweeteners have slightly different taste

But if stored properly in an airtight container, frozen Pure Leaf tea still tastes relatively fresh. The changes are subtle enough that most people don’t notice a significant loss of quality after thawing. So don’t be afraid to freeze extra bottles to prevent waste past the printed date.

Should You Stock Up on Pure Leaf Tea When It’s On Sale?

Drinking tea has many reported health benefits, so it’s understandable to want to stock up on your favorite brand when the price drops. Is it a good idea to buy a bunch of Pure Leaf tea on sale if you won’t use it for months?

There are a few factors to consider:

  • Shelf life – Up to 9-12 months past printed date if unopened.
  • Storage – Pantry must be cool, dry, and dark.
  • Turnover rate – Only buy what you can use before quality decline.
  • Freezer space – Purchase only what you can reasonably freeze.

In general, it’s fine to buy extra Pure Leaf on sale as long as you have storage conditions to maintain quality and a plan to either freeze or use up the tea while it’s still fresh. Just don’t overbuy tea that will degrade before you get to it!

Should You Freeze Unopened Bottles?

Freezing unopened Pure Leaf right after buying it is actually not recommended. Here’s why:

  • Shortens shelf life – Quality deteriorates faster after thawing.
  • Uses up freezer space unnecessarily.
  • Bottles may crack or warp.
  • Unopened bottles already last 9+ months if stored properly.

It’s best to simply store unopened bottles in a cool dark pantry, then freeze only what you can’t reasonably use up in time. Don’t freeze your whole tea stockpile if you have good storage conditions.

Pure Leaf Frequently Asked Questions

Does Pure Leaf tea need to be refrigerated?

Refrigeration extends the shelf life after opening, but is not required for unopened bottles. For best quality, store unopened tea in a cool, dark pantry and refrigerate immediately after opening.

Can Pure Leaf tea make you sick?

Properly stored, Pure Leaf tea is very unlikely to cause illness due to foodborne pathogens or toxins. However, tea containing mold from poor storage could potentially cause health issues in those with mold allergies.

Do the antioxidants in tea expire?

Yes, the polyphenol antioxidants in tea slowly degrade over time, especially when exposed to heat, light, or air. Tea stored for over 6 months will have significantly lower antioxidant content.

Why does my tea taste stale or flat?

Stale, cardboard-like flavors are a sign that tea has oxidized and degraded. Tea packaged in lightproof containers will better retain its natural flavor.

The Bottom Line

Drinking recently expired Pure Leaf tea that has been continuously refrigerated and still smells and tastes normal is very unlikely to cause illness. However, tea stored improperly for prolonged periods may potentially become unsafe due to microbial growth.

Watch out for any odd odors, colors, textures, or flavors. When in doubt, remember it’s better to be safe than sorry. But the bottom line is that you can probably enjoy Pure Leaf tea several months past its best by date if it was stored in reasonable conditions.

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