Is it okay to use expired liquid smoke?

Using expired liquid smoke is generally not recommended. Liquid smoke is a flavoring agent made from distilled smoke and often contains preservatives to prolong its shelf life. Once opened, liquid smoke should be used within 1 year. After this time, the quality and safety can deteriorate.

Quick Answers

Here are quick answers to common questions about using expired liquid smoke:

  • Is it safe to use expired liquid smoke? No, it’s best to avoid using expired liquid smoke as it may contain harmful bacteria or chemicals.
  • How can you tell if liquid smoke is expired? Check the expiration or best by date on the bottle. If it has passed, the liquid smoke is expired.
  • What happens if you use expired liquid smoke? The flavor and quality will deteriorate. It may also cause unpleasant tastes or odors in food. Using very old liquid smoke can potentially cause foodborne illness.
  • Can expired liquid smoke make you sick? Yes, expired liquid smoke can potentially contain harmful bacteria like mold, salmonella, and listeria that can make you ill.
  • Should you throw out expired liquid smoke? Yes, you should discard and replace any bottle of liquid smoke that is past its expiration date.

Examining Liquid Smoke Expiration

Liquid smoke is a convenient way to add a smoky flavor to meats, cheeses, and other foods. It’s made by condensing and capturing the smoke created from burning wood chips. The resulting liquid contains water, natural wood smoke flavorings, and often preservatives like vinegar or lemon to help extend shelf life.

Like many condiments and sauces, liquid smoke comes with a printed expiration or “best by” date on the bottle. This date gives guidance on how long the manufacturer guarantees the product will retain optimum quality and flavor if stored properly. The expiration date is usually set at 1-2 years from when liquid smoke is bottled.

However, liquid smoke can start degrading in quality and safety once opened. Exposure to oxygen and repeated use allows bacteria or mold to start growing. For best safety and quality, opened liquid smoke should be used within 1 year of opening.

How to Tell if Liquid Smoke is Expired

To identify if your liquid smoke is expired and needs replacing, follow these tips:

  • Check the printed expiration date – Locate the “use by” or “best by” date on the bottle. If this date has passed, the liquid smoke should be discarded.
  • Inspect the color – Unexpired liquid smoke is typically a very dark brown. Expired liquid may look faded, gray, or have sediment.
  • Smell the aroma – Liquid smoke that has gone bad can lose its robust smoky smell, taking on a flat or sour odor instead.
  • Monitor when opened – Note when you first opened the bottle. Liquid smoke should not be used more than 1 year after opening.
  • Watch for mold – Discard immediately if you see any mold or film growing in the bottle.

If your liquid smoke shows any of these signs of expiration, it’s best to play it safe and replace it with a fresh bottle. Don’t take risks with old liquid smoke.

Dangers of Using Expired Liquid Smoke

Out of date liquid smoke isn’t just a waste – it can potentially be downright dangerous to use in cooking. Here are some of the risks:

Foodborne Illness

One of the biggest dangers of using expired liquid smoke is the potential for foodborne illness. Over time, harmful bacteria like listeria, salmonella, and mold can grow in the bottle, especially if contaminated from repeated use. Consuming these bacteria can cause serious gastrointestinal issues ranging from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea to hospitalization in high-risk groups.

Off-Flavors and Odors

Another issue with old liquid smoke is a change in the expected flavor. As liquid smoke ages and degrades, it can take on metallic, bitter, or rancid flavors instead of the usual rich smoky taste. Using expired liquid smoke can negatively impact the aroma and taste of rubs, meats, and any other foods it’s added to.

Diminished Preservative Function

Liquid smoke contains anti-microbial preservatives like vinegar that help prevent bacterial growth when fresh. Over time, the preservative qualities expire and are no longer effective at keeping food safe. Using old liquid smoke eliminates this layer of protection.

Health Hazards from Chemical Changes

The distillation process to make liquid smoke produces compounds like acids, furans, and phenols that can be irritants or contaminants in large amounts. As liquid smoke ages, these chemicals can convert to other forms through oxidation. Heating during cooking accelerates this. The altered compounds may have more detrimental health effects.

How to Store Liquid Smoke

To get the longest usability and shelf life out of liquid smoke, be sure to store it correctly:

  • Keep the bottle sealed tightly and dry after each use.
  • Store in a cool, dark place like a pantry. Avoid direct heat or sunlight.
  • Refrigeration can extend shelf life slightly but isn’t required.
  • Write the opening date on the bottle when first used.
  • Don’t mix old and new product – use the oldest bottle first.
  • Transfer to a smaller container if not using frequently to limit air exposure.

However, no matter how well you store an opened bottle, liquid smoke should still be replaced 1 year after opening for optimal safety and quality.

Signs Liquid Smoke Has Gone Bad

Watch for these red flags that indicate your liquid smoke is too old to use:

  • Expired date – The printed expiration date on the bottle has passed.
  • Change in color – Liquid darkens significantly or becomes cloudy.
  • Strong odors – Smells unpleasant, bitter, rancid, or rotten.
  • Mold – Any fuzzy growth, film, or spots in the bottle.
  • Bottle bloating – Bulging or swelling container.
  • Separation – Liquid and sediment separating with floaties.

Liquid smoke that exhibits any of these changes should be safely thrown away. It’s not worth taking risks with spoiled liquid smoke.

What Happens If You Use Expired Liquid Smoke?

From a safety perspective, consuming expired liquid smoke puts you at risk for possible foodborne illness from bacterial contamination. The harmful effects can range from temporary digestive upset to hospitalization for populations like pregnant women, children, elderly, or immunocompromised.

In addition, expired liquid smoke simply won’t taste very good. The expected rich, smoky flavor will be absent. Instead, it may have flat, chemical, bitter, or metallic notes that negatively affect the taste of rubs, meats, and anything else it’s added to. Using old liquid smoke can ruin the palatability of recipes.

Finally, old liquid smoke loses its effectiveness as a preservative. Fresh liquid smoke contains antimicrobial properties that prevent some bacterial growth and spoilage. But once expired, that protection disappears and actually may promote more rapid food spoilage.

Can Expired Liquid Smoke Make You Sick?

Yes, consuming expired liquid smoke that contains pathogenic bacteria could make you sick. The older and more contaminated liquid smoke becomes, the greater the risks. Harmful bacteria that can grow over time in liquid smoke include:

  • Salmonella – Causes salmonellosis infection with diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
  • Listeria – Leads to listeriosis which can have flu-like symptoms and be dangerous for pregnant women.
  • Mold – Certain molds release toxic mycotoxins that cause illness.
  • Bacillus cereus – Causes vomiting and diarrhea.
  • Staphylococcus aureus – Results in gastrointestinal distress from a staph food infection.
  • Clostridium botulinum – Causes potentially fatal botulism poisoning.

The risks of foodborne disease go up the longer liquid smoke is stored past its prime and the more contaminated the bottle becomes from use. Don’t take chances with old liquid smoke!

Should You Throw Out Expired Liquid Smoke?

Yes, you should always discard any bottle of liquid smoke that is past the printed expiration date or more than 1 year after first opening it. The expired product simply isn’t worth taking risks with.

Toss out the old bottle so it’s not confused or accidentally used in the future. Also thoroughly clean any container, utensil, or surfaces the expired liquid smoke touched to prevent cross-contamination.

Restock your supply with a fresh bottle of liquid smoke. Write the date opened on the new bottle and be diligent about tossing it after 1 year. Also take care to wipe clean bottle rims and use clean utensils each time to limit bacterial introduction.

Throwing away expired liquid smoke and restocking fresh product is a small price to pay to protect you and your family’s health.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does unopened liquid smoke last?

Unopened, commercially bottled liquid smoke will typically last 2-3 years from the manufactured date before expiring. Store it sealed in a cool, dry place.

Can you use liquid smoke after the expiration date?

It’s not recommended. Beyond the printed expiration date, liquid smoke can spoil and potentially grow harmful bacteria. Discard any expired liquid smoke.

Is expired liquid smoke toxic?

It’s not inherently toxic or poisonous on its own but can contain dangerous microbial contaminants if left expired too long. Botulism is a rare but serious risk.

How do you fix expired liquid smoke?

There is no way to “fix” liquid smoke that has expired. It must be discarded and replaced with a fresh, unexpired bottle.

Can expired liquid smoke make dogs sick?

Yes, dogs can also get sick from consuming spoiled, bacteria-laden expired liquid smoke. Never feed any human foods with expired liquid smoke to pets.

Key Takeaways

  • Check expiration dates and don’t use liquid smoke more than 1 year after opening.
  • Discard expired liquid smoke instead of taking risks with spoiled product.
  • Expired liquid smoke can harbor dangerous bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
  • Replace old liquid smoke bottles with fresh product for best safety and flavor.
  • Proper storage extends shelf life but can’t make expired liquid smoke safe to consume again.


Liquid smoke undoubtedly adds delicious smoky flavor to foods when fresh. However, after its expiration date or long periods after opening, liquid smoke can start growing harmful bacteria and degrade in safety and quality. Consuming rancid, expired liquid smoke puts you at risk for foodborne illness and unpleasant flavors. Check your bottles for any signs of age like expired dates, odd smells, change in color, etc. When in doubt, throw it out. Discard and replace expired liquid smoke to protect your health and palate.

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