Can Food Coloring Go Bad: Understanding Shelf Life


There are many aspects of food, including taste and how it looks. Food presentation is the most crucial way to determine its true worth. It can entice our taste buds and make us relish its true aroma and flavor. Per a saying, cooking and preparing a dish is an art, and presentation is like a magical spell. It may help turn ordinary food into something extraordinary. You can think of a colorful birthday cake. Our eyes are the first sensory organs that want us to taste, and this cycle of food admiration moves ahead. Through this blog, we want to address one crucial question. Can food coloring go bad? Or does it last forever?

The food coloring agent may have an expiration date. The whole concept is mind-boggling, and food safety concerns begin to float in the air. To understand it better, one must know everything about its composition. Food coloring agents may come in different forms, like liquid, powdered, or gel. They can be an amalgamation of synthetic and natural compounds put together to give a new feel to the dish. All compounds, synthetic or natural, can have different chemical properties. These properties may affect their longevity. 

Are you ready to explore the colorful world that inspires us to present a particular food item? Through this blog, we will try to shed light on:

  • More about food coloring
  • What is its relevance?
  • Does food coloring go bad (what are its signs, and for how long does it last)

What is Food Coloring?

  • We generally use food colorant or dye to give a particular dish eye-soothing pleasure. There are different stages in experiencing and tasting a food item. Its aroma and visuals are essential before it hits our taste buds. Food coloring, in an ordinary sense, is the art of adding artificial or natural colors to food or drink.
  • We use it in commercial food production and sometimes with in-home cooking. This enhances the visual appearance of food.
  • With the help of natural and synthetic compounds, you can use food coloring. It comes in different forms like gel, paste, powder, and liquid.
  • There are two ways to derive food colors. Natural food coloring can be obtained from plants, minerals, and other natural sources, while synthetic food coloring can be derived from artificial chemicals.

1. Agency Reliable for the Safety of Food Color

In the USA, the FDA is the government authority that regulates food additives. The agency ensures the efficacy, safety, and labeling of food additives.

2. Types of Natural Food Coloring Agents

  • Various sources found in nature can be derived as natural food coloring agents. Some are fruits, vegetables, herbs, minerals, and other natural resources.
  • You can pick red, blue, and purple from fruits, such as blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries.
  • You can pick yellow, red, and orange colors from foods. Sources include carrots, tomatoes, and pumpkins.

Also read: Beyond Cooking: Exploring The Macadamia Oil Benefits.

3. Artificial Food Coloring Agents

This is one of the most prominent ways to enhance your food experience levels. We can use some synthetic dyes, as mentioned below. By adding these dyes food will gain viability, vibrant colors, and stability. Let us see some artificial food coloring agents.

Azo Dyes

  • Allura Red AC is used in candies, beverages, and other products.
  • Sunset Yellow FCF is used in baked goods, cereals, etc.

Xanthene Dyes

  • Erythrosine FD&C Red No. 3: They are used in candies.

Note: Regulatory bodies, such as the FDA and the (EFSA), test food coloring. They also approve it.

*FDA- US Food and Drug Administration.

EFSA- European Food Safety Authority.

Relevance of Food Coloring

How food looks is critical to its production, marketing, and consumption.

Relevance of Food Coloring

1. Enhanced Presentation Style

  • Food coloring enhances the attractiveness, making it more mouthwatering and tempting.
  • Different vibrant colors used in food items can enhance a person’s first impression. People associate vibrant colors better and end up buying them because they may be eye-pleasing.

2. Better Flavor Resemblance

Consumers can associate colors with food products. For example, red is for strawberry or cherry. They can make an association, which can impact the demand for the product.

3. Improved Quality Perception

Color plays a huge role in quality perception. Bright colors are often linked to freshness and quality, and they usually boost sales of a food product.

4. Enhanced Sensory Appeal

While we consume a food item, our sensory organs determine its taste, aroma, and texture. Color is vital in the presentation. It enhances the eating experience.

5. Brand Recognition

Colors play a huge role in building a product’s brand identity. Consistent use of similar colors on a food item can create its brand identity. Consumers can get a recall value while seeing the product on a store’s shelf.

Can Food Coloring Go Bad

Yes, food coloring can go wrong. It will depend on some factors, which we will discuss here.

1. Types of Food Coloring Used

  • Using synthetic dyes in food products tends to increase their shelf life. This is because they are chemically stable.
  • Food coloring derived from natural resources is susceptible to spoilage. Natural resources can be fruit, vegetables, or herbs. They generally have shorter shelf lives, ranging within months.
Can Food Coloring Go Bad

2. Forms of Food Coloring Used

FormsShelf Life
PowderThey have the most extended shelf life of all. The powder form of food coloring lacks moisture, which can be the reason for spoilage.
GelIt can have a shelf life as long as 2-3 years.
LiquidIt cannot sustain longer. They are vulnerable to microbial growth. Typically, it lasts between 1-3 years. 
Forms of Food Coloring Used

3. Different Storage Conditions

We need to take care of three significant things while storing food color.


We can store them in dark or opaque boxes. Exposure to light can degrade the natural coloring.


While storing food colors, keep the temperature cool. High temperatures can cause fading and permanent damage.


Experts recommend storing the food color in an airtight container.

Signs of Food Color Going Bad

Let us look at some signs which determine the spoilage of food color.

Color ChangeIf food color fades or changes, it can be a sign that it has gone wrong.
Odor of foodThe sour smell can determine the spoilage of food.
MoldThe visible growth of mold can determine its spoilage.
Signs of Food Coloring Going Bad

Extending The Shelf Life of Food Coloring

  • You need to take care of storage. Use an airtight container to store food colors.
  • In some cases, refrigerating can extend the shelf life of food colors.
  • It would help if you avoided contamination while storing food colors. Using clean utensils.

Side Effects of Food Coloring

Food coloring is generally considered safe for humans. Authorities like the FDA scrutinize it. However, it can show signs of side effects in some individuals. Let us see some side effects of food coloring.

Side Effects of Food Coloring

1. Allergic Reactions

  • Food coloring can cause problems for sensitive people. Allergic reactions are the most common form of side effects.
  • Some symptoms are itching, hives, and swelling.

2. Gastrointestinal Discomfort

  • Some individuals can experience issues with their guts. As a recommendation, if any side effects show up, stop using it. You can also consult with your doctor.
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort includes stomach pain, nausea, etc.

3. Problems in Children

  • Some studies found a link between artificial food color and hyperactivity in children.
  • We can see warnings on some labels. Red 40 dyes may cause hyperactivity in children.

4. Headaches and Skin Issues

  • Headaches are again expected. Sensitive individuals can perceive it.
  • In some cases, food coloring can cause skin issues. Body rashes or eczema can be expected in sensitive individuals.


We started this enthralling journey to learn “Can food coloring go bad.” The answer to it is yes. You can use natural or artificial coloring agents to color food. The self-life of food products with natural coloring agents is low compared to synthetic colors. It also depends on the forms of food coloring used. It comes in categories like gel, powdered, and liquid form. Out of these, liquid coloring agents have the least shelf life. Food coloring’s side effects can be allergies or stomach aches.

Mansi Balodi
Mansi Balodi
My life is always on a run but I try to find time for myself to let my wisdom and knowledge help and guide you. In my blogs, I will try to demystify the complexities of topics and will connect with you with ease of understanding. So let's explore the treasure of the world with words.

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