Can chocolate go bad? (+their shelf-life)
In this article, we will answer the question “Can chocolate go bad?”, and how to store chocolate to prevent it from going bad?
Can chocolate go bad?
Yes, chocolate can go bad. Chocolates do not usually have an expiration date, instead, they have a best-before date. After that time the quality of chocolate deteriorates considerably.
Chocolates are usually shelf-stable and will be good to eat for days if the package was left unopened in the pantry and months if the chocolate was refrigerated.
Chocolate, when stored under the correct conditions of temperature and humidity, is a very stable product due to its low moisture content (1.0%-1.9%) and its high fat content (28%-35% including 1.4%-1.6% of polyunsaturated fatty acids). The presence of tocopherols (vitamin E) in cocoa liquor and cocoa powder provides a high degree of protection against oxidative rancidity. Nevertheless, severe degradation may occur – fat bloom, sugar bloom, rancidity and loss of texture can result if proper manufacturing and storage procedures are not followed (1).
Read on if you want to know which chocolate has the highest shelf life and how to tell when to discard chocolate.
The global cocoa beans market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 7.3% from 2019 to 2025 to reach USD 16.32 billion. The chocolate industry, which consumed 43% of all cocoa in 2017, had a retail market value of USD 106.19 billion in 2017 and is expected to grow to USD 189.89 billion by 2026 (2).
Does milk chocolate go bad?
Yes, milk chocolate does eventually go bad. The shelf life of milk chocolate is 1 – 2 years depending on its ingredients. For example, white chocolate, that comprises dairy and cocoa butter has a shorter shelf life and is likely to go bad sooner.
The shelf-life of different types of chocolate
The shelf-life of chocolate depends on the composition of the chocolate. The more the milk, the less shelf-life. This means that dark chocolate will last longer than milk chocolate. After the best before date, there are visible changes in the appearance and detectable changes in the taste of the chocolate.
The shelf lives of different chocolates are given below (3):
|Typical shelf life at temperate conditions||Months|
|Milk chocolate bar||16|
|White chocolate bar||16|
|Milk chocolate-coated peanuts||12|
|Chocolate bars with raisins||12|
|Chocolate shells with soft caramel||12|
|Chocolate shells with praline||12|
White chocolate has a lot of milk and cocoa butter making it susceptible to spoilage, because white chocolate does not have the antioxidant protection of cocoa liquor and so is prone to oxidative rancidity and its shelf life is shorter than that of milk or plain chocolate (1). So white chocolate will last about 6 months in the pantry if unopened. If placed in the fridge, it will last longer. An opened package will be good for about 4 months in the pantry.
Milk chocolate is everyone’s favorite as it has a very silky and rich texture due to all that milk. But the milk is susceptible to spoilage. So, an opened bar of milk chocolate will last 1 year in the pantry and longer if kept in the fridge. If opened, milk chocolate can only stay for 8-10 months in the pantry. However, the shelf life depends on the temperature and moisture conditions, as well as on the packaging
Bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate has about 70% cocoa. Less amount of milk allows it to stay as long as 2 years in the pantry or in the fridge if unopened. Because of the higher amount of protective bioactive compounds of cocoa liquor, it has a longer shelf life (1).
Belgian chocolate differs from regular chocolate on the fermentation of the cocoa and the production process, but there is milk, dark and white belgian chocolate, and last as much as these (1). However, in the case of filled chocolate pralines, the shelf life is limited, of about three months, depending on the storage conditions (4).
If unopened, chocolate chips will be good in the pantry for about 2-4 months. Keeping it in the fridge will extend its shelf life to about 6-8 months, but it depends on the chocolate composition. Dark chocolate chips last longer than white chocolate chips. Frozen chocolate chips will last longer. However, freezing chocolate results in changes in the texture and may negatively affect the flavor. It can lead to sugar bloom. Sugar bloom may also be a function of temperature; as frozen chocolate thaws, condensation is formed on the outside that dissolves the sugar and eventually evaporates, leaving sugar residue behind (5).
Handmade chocolates or truffles
It is not recommended to put these delicate truffles in the fridge or freezer. They are to be consumed within hours of purchasing for optimum taste. However, they will last for a week or two in the pantry if unopened. The storage of handmade pralines can present some shelf-life limitations due to the use of sensible ingredients, changes during manipulation and processing and environmental conditions (4).
Cocoa powder is quite a shelf stable product. It will only gradually lose its strength of flavor over time. It will be good for about 1 year in the pantry if left unopened (6). The shelf life of an opened package will depend on the storage conditions. Shelf-life is determined by three factors: quality of the raw material, the drying process itself and the conditions under which the powders are stored (1).
How to tell if the chocolate is bad?
If the chocolate appears discolored or develops white spots and a moldy appearance, discard it immediately as it is not safe for consumption. If the surface turns white or grey, it may be an indication of sugar or fat blooming. It does not mean the chocolate is unsafe. Instead, it is an indication of sugar or fat blooming.
The most common deteriorative change in the chocolate that determines its shelf life is the development of fat bloom, which are changes on the microstructure of the fat polymorphs of cocoa butter. There are five polymorphs, which give texture and body to the product. Depending on storage conditions, these polymorphs can rearrange into other structures and migrate to the surface, changing the sensorial quality of the chocolate. Surface gloss indicates fat bloom. Rancid odor may also occur, as well as changes in texture (1,5)
When it doubt and you are unsure, throw it away, because safety first!
How to store chocolate to prevent spoilage?
Keep the chocolate away from moisture, high temperature, temperature fluctuations, exposure to light or unwanted odors. The temperature fluctuations and humidity will crystallize the sugar resulting in sugar bloom. It ruins the silky texture of the chocolate.
Similarly, exposing the chocolate to high temperatures will result in fat blooms that happen when cocoa butter/fats separate from the sugar and crystallize.
In the fridge
Whenever you are refrigerating your chocolate, make sure it is wrapped up tightly. It is recommended to place it in an air-tight container to prevent the humid environment of the fridge from damaging its quality. It will also protect the chocolate from absorbing undesirable odors from the fridge.
In the freezer
Before freezing the chocolate, refrigerate it first. Temperature shock will damage the quality of your chocolate. Keep the chocolate in a freezer bag when storing it in the freezer.
What happens if I eat expired chocolate?
Eating expired chocolate will not make you sick but it sure will taste very off. If it was refrigerated or frozen, expired chocolate tastes fine after the expiry for varying time periods.
Chocolate is regarded as a microbiologically stable product because of its low water activity. However, extremely xerophilic fungi such as Bettsia alvei, Chrysosporium xerophyllum and Xeromyces bisporus can cause deterioration in chocolate and chocolate confectionery. Storage under high humidity may be partly responsible. The xerophilic yeast Zygosaccharomyces rouxii sometimes causes leaker spoilage in filled chocolates. The water activity in chocolates is not sufficiently low to prevent growth of this yeast, so chocolate fillings must be free of it during chocolate manufacture.
If you eat contaminated chocolate, you can have symptoms related to food spoilage.
Other FAQs about Chocolate that you may be interested in.
In this article, we answered the question “Can chocolate go bad?”, and how to store chocolate to prevent it from going bad?
- Kilcast, David, and Persis Subramaniam. The stability and shelf life of food. CRC Press, 2001.
- Voora, Vivek, Steffany Bermúdez, and Cristina Larrea. Global market report: cocoa. Winnipeg, MB, Canada: International Institute for Sustainable Development, 2019.
- Subramaniam, P. The stability and shelf life of confectionery products. The Stability and Shelf Life of Food. Woodhead Publishing, 2016. 545-573
- Dias, João, et al. Evaluation of the impact of high pressure on the storage of filled traditional chocolates. Inn Food Sci Emerg Technol, 2018, 45, 36-41.
- ANDRAE‐NIGHTINGALE, LIA M., SOO‐YEUN LEE, and Nicki J. Engeseth. Textural changes in chocolate characterized by instrumental and sensory techniques. J Text Stud, 2009, 40, 427-444.
- Foodkeeper. United States Department of Agriculture.