Can cider vinegar go bad? (+3 key factors)

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, can cider vinegar go bad? We will discuss if cider vinegar goes bad and the factors that encourage the spoilage of cider vinegar. We will also discuss ways to store cider vinegar properly and some of its uses. 

Can cider vinegar go bad?

Cider vinegar can go bad. Even though the process is slow and rare, some factors can cause it to happen. One of the contributing factors is the intrusion of contaminants and microorganisms.

Cider vinegar is slow to spoil because it is highly acidic. pH that lies between 2 and 3 means that the environment is too acidic to let bacteria thrive. Therefore, acidic substances do not let bacteria harbor and last longer than they would otherwise. 

Moreover, cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties. It wards off bacteria when consumed and also when stored in a bottle. (1, 2)

As time passes, the visual appearance and taste of cider vinegars might undergo some alterations. Fortunately, most of these changes are benign as long as the vinegar has been appropriately stored. 

It’s important to note that the “Best By” date does not indicate a safety deadline; instead, it reflects the manufacturer’s estimation of the duration during which the vinegar is expected to maintain its optimal quality. (3)

Why and how will cider vinegar go bad?

Once opened, vinegars, like other food products, are susceptible to oxidation. This oxidation process triggers a range of chemical and enzymatic reactions that lead to changes in the vinegar. 

Consequently, oxygen is the primary factor contributing to the decline in vinegar quality. 

During storage or while on the retail shelf, there may be noticeable alterations in appearance and color, including issues like turbidity and precipitation. These changes have the potential to diminish the overall quality of the product. (4)

What are the health implications of consuming contaminated vinegar?

In some cases, vinegar, especially when produced from fruits obtained directly by consumers from their personal orchards, may contain higher concentrations of toxins originating from these fruits. 

These toxins possess the capability to cause harm to vital organs and systems like the liver, kidneys, and immune system. 

Additionally, they can negatively impact the gastrointestinal system by disrupting the function of the intestinal barrier and disturbing the balance of intestinal microbiota. It is important to be aware of these potential risks associated with homemade fruit-based vinegars. (1)

How to store cider vinegar?

For optimal shelf life, it is advised to store cider vinegar, as well as other types such as balsamic or red wine vinegar, in a dark area that is protected from heat sources and light. 

To minimize flavor loss and evaporation, it is recommended to keep the vinegar in a dry location at room temperature. Exposure to direct sunlight and excessive heat should be avoided, as they can expedite the degradation of the vinegar, leading to a decline in quality over time. (3, 4)

Can you refrigerate cider vinegar?

You can store opened cider vinegar safely without refrigeration. Cider vinegar typically does not have an expiration date unless it has been contaminated. 

The natural acidity of the vinegar acts as a preservative, eliminating the necessity for refrigeration. Refrigerating it may cause condensation to form inside the bottle, which could potentially dilute the vinegar. (5)

What is the shelf life of cider vinegar?

While the changes that take place in vinegar are typically harmless, it is recommended to use the vinegar within 2-3 years from the purchase date.

Cider vinegar maintains its optimal quality for a minimum of 5 years and remains safe to consume even beyond that period. However, after this time, its flavor may begin to deteriorate, as the mentioned date refers to the peak quality period only. (3)

Other FAQs about Vinegar that you may be interested in.

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  1. Z.D. Heperkan et al, Unexpectedly high patulin contamination and co-occurrence of ochratoxin A in homemade vinegar, Food Control 148, 2023.
  2. Adriana Dabija et. al. Study concerning the quality of apple vinegar obtained through classical method. Journal of Agroalimentary Processes and Technologies  20(4), 2014.
  3. Marlene Geiger, Vinegar Shelf Life and Safety, Iowa State University, Answer Line, 2021
  4. Minjeong Kang, Jung-Heun Ha, Youngseung Lee, Physicochemical properties, antioxidant activities and sensory characteristics of commercial gape vinegars during long-term storage, Food Sci. Technol, Campinas, 40(4): 909-916, 2020.
  5. M.C. Garcia-Parrilla, M.J. Torija, A. Mas, A.B. Cerezo, A.M. Troncoso, Vinegars and Other Fermented Condiments, Fermented Foods in Health and Disease Prevention, 577-591, 2017.