In this brief article, we will be answering the question, “does milk chocolate go bad?”, and will discuss the factors that affect chocolates’ shelf-life, how to assess whether chocolate has gone bad, and how to store chocolate properly.
Generally speaking, milk chocolate can go bad and spoil, especially if it is not stored properly.
This creamy delight has quite a stable shelf-life and can retain its peak quality for as long as a year or two if kept unopened at room temperature or in the fridge. However, once the wrapper is opened or torn, milk chocolate remains edible for about eight to ten months. 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).
Moreover, store-bought, branded chocolate infused with artificial preservatives will expire sooner than high-end varieties.
Does Chocolate Go Bad?
As mentioned, chocolate can go bad, but doesn’t necessarily go bad, if stored correctly.
Because of its fat content, chocolate does theoretically spoil; however, cocoa butter (fat of cacao bean) is extremely shelf-stable. So if stored properly in a cool, dry place, milk and white chocolate can retain its quality and flavor for 16 months, while plain chocolate for 24 months (2).
What Causes Chocolate To Go Bad?
Five main factors present the real threat of chocolate going bad (2). These are:
- improper storage conditions (moist, humid, high temperatures)
- fat bloom (separation of cocoa butter from the other ingredients)
- sugar bloom (white, grainy, and dusty coating on the surface of chocolate)
- use of expired or overheated milk during production
- infusion with ingredients or flavors that can expire
- temperature fluctuations during storage
- storage of inadequately wrapped chocolate near strong smelling chemicals
- incidence of sun light
How Long Does Chocolate Last?
Generally speaking, chocolate tastes best before its expiration date, and maybe even a little after that, but it can be safely consumed for a lot longer if stored in a cool, dry place. However, there may be slight changes in texture and appearance.
If the packaging is unopened and ideally stored in the refrigerator, chocolate can retain its quality for months past the expiration date.
Also, remember that the higher the milk content, the sooner the expiration date. Here’s how long different types of chocolate other than milk chocolate can last:
- White chocolate: made purely with dairy and cocoa butter, white chocolate 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). lasts just a little bit longer than bittersweet or dark chocolate. If unopened, white chocolate can last for 16six months in the pantry and longer if refrigerated. Once opened, it can last for up to four months.
- Semi-sweet, baking, or bittersweet chocolate: made using less dairy gives this variety a slightly longer shelf life. At room temperature or refrigerated, it will last for about two years.
- Dark chocolate: Because of the higher amount of protective bioactive compounds of cocoa liquor, it has a longer shelf life (1). Unopened dark chocolate can last for about two years, pieces will last a year.
- Belgian chocolate: 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..
- this variety will last for only a week or two at room temperature. If frozen, it can last for up to two months.
- Chocolate chips: unopened chocolate chips remain good for about two to four months, depending on the type of chocolate (dark chocolate chips last longer). Refrigerated ones can last for six to eight months, and frozen ones for two to three years.
- Handmade chocolates: 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, therefore these varieties are the most sensitive, but when correctly stored can last up to 3 months (3). and only last for about a week or two. Plus, they shouldn’t be refrigerated or frozen.
How Can You Tell If Chocolate Has Gone Bad?
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 (1).
First off, the expiration date on a chocolate’s packaging simply indicates the time after which its quality will begin to decline. But if it appears, smells, and tastes okay even after this date, you can consume it safely.
Other than this, here are a few signs to establish whether chocolate has gone bad:
- Cracks or dots on the chocolate might indicate that it is slightly stale.
- White spots, discoloration, or moldy chocolate must be thrown out.
- Fat bloom mainly alters the chocolate’s appearance, but sugar bloom can cause an off-taste along with a grainy texture. Although it’s safe to eat, it might not be very appetizing.
- Odor of rancidity
How Should You Store Chocolate?
Always store chocolate at a consistently cool temperature (Under 18 °C). Repeated exposure to hot and cold environments results in condensation and the formation of mold and leads to a fast fat bloom.
It’s best to store chocolate in a cool, dark place and preferably out of the fridge unless it is extremely hot or humid.
Already opened chocolate must be wrapped tightly in plastic or aluminum foil and placed in an airtight container to prevent it from absorbing any environmental odors and decrease fat oxidation due to the presence of oxygen. This will also help fight oxidation and exposure to moisture.
If you have a lot of chocolate, place it inside an airtight container or ziplock bag and freeze it. Refrigerate it first for 24 hours to prevent rapid crystallization and bloom from occuring in the freezer. Once frozen, you can consume it safely within eight months depending on what chocolate it is and if the bag remains sealed.
In this brief article, we answered the question, “does milk chocolate go bad?”, and discussed the factors that affect chocolate’s shelf-life, how to assess whether chocolate has gone bad, and how to store chocolate properly.
If you have any questions or comments please let us know.
- Kilcast, David, and Persis Subramaniam. Food shelf life stability. CRC Press, 2001.
- Man, CM Dominic, and Adrian A. Jones, eds. Shelf life evaluation of foods. Glasgow: Blackie Academic & Professional, 1994.
- Dias, João, Nuno Alvarenga, and Isabel Sousa. Shelf-life of reduced-fat white chocolate fillings using iota-carrageenan. Emirates j food agri, 2017.