If you’re like millions (or billions?) of javaphiles on planet Earth, you start your morning off with a smooth, invigorating cup of coffee. It almost doesn’t feel right to leave the house without it – sort of like forgetting a key accessory that doesn’t cover an intimate area but the lack of which still makes you feel somehow naked and exposed.
So, off you go, just like clockwork, grinding your beans, readying your French press or coffee maker, and while you’re tapping your toes waiting for the delightful brew to be ready, your eyes get bored and stumble on the packaging. You’re reading the beautiful history of this coffee on the label, admiring the colours, and cruising the different pictures, awards, and notes when suddenly “GASP!”, you notice that the coffee is – can this be right? - EXPIRED?!?!
Frustration and panic set in. Is the coffee that’s only seconds away from being bad? Should I dump the cup? Should I brave potentially getting sick and still drink it? Will I die? Should I stuff the bag into the fridge right now? WHAT DO I DO?
Never fear! In this article, we answer the question, “How long does ground coffee last?”. We will explore all the angles of how to deal with coffee when expired (opened and unopened), freshly brewed in excess, and tips on how to tell when it has gone bad.
What to do about coffee gone bad?
I’m fairly certain that one hundred percent of the human race has experienced the unpleasant sensory attack from rotting food. We’ve heard so much over the years about the importance of keeping to the expiry date labels and now, equally as much about how the labels are misleading and we are wastefully throwing away billions of tonnes of perfectly good food every year because of mass paranoia.
So, how do we know whether coffee has truly gone bad? Do we trust the label on the bag or tin? Or do we follow our noses?
The answer, very simply, is that we must trust our noses. Unless you have lost your sense of smell, your nose is your biggest tool to determine the freshness of your coffee. As with any perishable product, if it smells rancid, it’s as good as bad.
The other tools we have are our eyes and our taste buds. But before we talk about those, let’s get a little more understanding on what food labels mean.
Labels at a glance
What does it mean to have a shelf life? For a long time now, the FDA and other consumer protection agencies have mandated that manufacturers include a label on each perishable product that would have any sort of contact with the human body, whether on skin, by mouth, or by other routes.
All products degrade over time, which reduces their bioavailability, potency, and (put simply), their usefulness to the human body. With food, there are other living organisms that are waiting for their turn to eat. By-products from these organisms as they metabolize the food product and cause it to rot can present as toxic to humans. Therefore, preventing people from consuming rotten products has been incredibly important in preventing food-borne illnesses.
There are times when the labels fail, such as when there is a significant contamination (commonly seen with leafy greens and bacteria such as Listeria or E. coli). When an outbreak happens, products are recalled. Although people still contract these illnesses, overall, paired with increasingly hygienic food preparation practices, this system has helped the public to stay healthy.
Something that isn’t perhaps immediately obvious is that there are actually three different types of labels. Likely, you’ve encountered all three without knowing it. Normally, the layperson will assume all of them must mean the same thing as their formats look fairly identical. I know I’ve glazed over them myself, just quickly checking whether the date is bad or not. However, each label actually means something quite different.
SELL BY: This label is aimed at retailers so that they know what date to either sell the product by or remove it from their shelves.
When it’s getting close to this date, you’ll often see markdowns on these products. This is the store’s attempt to sell the stock before they have to dispose of it themselves.
USE BY: Use by dates will indicate the last date on which the food product is safe to consume.
This is intended for the consumer (aka you!). This is the absolute last date that the manufacturer can guarantee that the contents are still “fresh”. This is the date after which you should be more cautious about the integrity of what’s inside.
BEST BEFORE: This is similar to the Use By date, except that it refers to the quality of a product rather than its safety.
Interesting fact: depending on the product, these dates can actually refer to the guarantee on the integrity of the PACKAGING (aka the last possible day since its manufacture that the packaging has shown to be able to perform its function, such as holding a vacuum seal) rather than the condition of what’s inside. This is especially true of non-perishable items that technically “can’t” expire. In this case, the worry is that if the packaging fails, this item can become tainted or contaminated, which can alter the function of the product.
But I digress.
When to worry
Ordinarily, coffee is very good for you as it contains multiple health benefits such as being anti-inflammatory, antifungal, anti-oxidative, anti-cancer, as well as fighting against certain diseases and improving mood, stamina, energy levels, and brain function. Over time, coffee will be less and less effective in these areas as the active components deplete/degenerate. The coffee will still be completely edible and safe to consume, but the health benefits will not be the same as when it was fresh. The same is true with prescription medications. Time depletes their effectiveness; it doesn’t increase their toxicity/danger.
With that said, if coffee has become contaminated, this is a whole other issue and, in this case, your cup of coffee can absolutely harm you. No big deal though, it is fairly easy to avoid this problem. Your three main DIY tests as to whether or not coffee has gone bad are the look, smell, and taste tests (in that order).
The LOOK Test
LOOK at the package/contents. Check for signs of discoloration, clumping, mold. Clumping is not necessarily a bad thing but indicates moisture changes within the packaging. This is a warning for you to be extra vigilant for mold. If you see anything in the package that doesn’t look like it belongs, DO NOT CONSUME IT. This is any sort of fuzz or growth (gray, white, pink, or other colors).
In most cases, once you can see mold, it means the entire package is contaminated due to the way fungi grow (under the surface until there is nowhere else to go but out in the open) and therefore just spooning out the visible, moldy growth will not remove the danger associated with molds.
There are studies that show the presence of mycotoxins in about 20-40 percent of all coffee (references: 1, 2). Mycotoxins are chemicals produced by mold that grows on crops that have to be stored for long periods of time, such as coffee beans. The effects of these toxins can range from neural/cell death (resulting in brain fog) to being straight-up carcinogenic. There are some brands that are vigilant about quality control, for instance: Natural Force Organic, Mold Free Clean Coffee.
The SMELL Test
Get in the habit of SMELLING the grinds/beans daily. This will help you to identify whether the coffee is going bad, and sooner. If it still smells like coffee and doesn’t have any major changes such as increased acidity or just smelling “off”, then it is still likely good. If it smells rancid, throw it away immediately. If the smell is weak, the coffee is still drinkable but will most likely have less flavor as it has aged.
The TASTE Test
Taste. If the beans have passed tests 1 and 2, then the taste test will be your final frontier to knowing whether it has gone bad. This should be relatively safe as any major warning signs should have shown up in the first two tests.
How to keep my coffee fresher longer
There are a few factors that will affect how quickly your coffee degrades.
Exposure to heat and sunlight
- UV light is known to break down DNA as well as the connections between atoms/molecules.
- When you introduce heat, you’re essentially cooking the coffee which causes/ accelerates chemical reactions within the bean/grind that will further reduce its nutrient content.
- Should be stored in an opaque (dark), non-porous container with a lid such as a tin or dark-tainted glass container. Here is what I use to store my coffee, infinity glass jars are the best solution.
Exposure to moisture
- Your coffee may always contain dormant microorganisms.
- Moisture (especially when paired with heat) is like a superfood source and will allow bacteria and molds to grow.
- Each can release toxins that are bad for you to consume.
- Always use a dry spoon when transferring coffee from its container.
- Don’t let wet fingers or rags hit the inside or upper rim of the container.
- If you live in a very humid area, consider purchasing a dehumidifier or keeping coffee in a dry place.
Surface area (ground vs whole beans)
- The more of the coffee bean that is exposed, the quicker it will dry out and lose its flavor.
- Buy whole beans whenever possible: most supermarkets will have a grinder in the coffee aisle that you can use to grind up the beans after choosing your package.
Otherwise, invest in a grinder so that you can grind your beans fresh at home, cup by cup.
- The presence of atmospheric air allows for chemical reactions to take place (i.e., food nutrients to break down over time).
If your coffee is sealed:
- Whole beans last 6-9 months in pantry alone (2-3 years in freezer)
- Ground coffee lasts 3-5 months in pantry (1-2 years in freezer).
- Ground coffee will degrade at the same pace whether in your pantry or your freezer.
Freezer or no freezer
- Cooling things down does seem to help slow down chemical processes that naturally occur in, and degrade, food over time.
- Cooling things down does seem to help extend the lifespan of coffee – but only in the case of unopened/sealed coffee and especially if the coffee is still in bean form.
- Your options: Go whole bean or get through your fresh package of grounds quickly.
The best way to keep your coffee fresher for longer is to always practice proper storage and handling. You will significantly increase the freshness of your coffee simply by storing it away from sunlight, and by practicing safe handling of the dry beans/grounds (no wet spoons here, please). It will also keep fresher (and more of its original flavor) in whole bean form. Some will store coffee in the freezer which is a good option if you are a light to moderate coffee drinker and find yourself taking ages to get through one package of coffee. For more frequent drinkers, storage in a cool, dark place will be sufficient.
I use infinity glass containers to store my coffee and keep it as fresh as possible. Check them out here on Amazon if you want to setup the most optimal storage solution to keep your beans or grounds fresh for a long time.
Here are my infinity glass containers storing my precious coffee and keeping it fresh 🙂
Pro Tip: if you store your beans in the freezer, there will be no need to defrost them prior to grinding them up. Out-of-package beans are dried and contain little to no moisture and therefore won’t freeze.
This handy table from EATBYDATE.com below outlines the approximate perishable dates of coffee in various forms:
Past Printed Date
Past Printed Date
Ground coffee lasts for
Whole Bean coffee lasts for
Instant coffee lasts for
Ground coffee lasts for
Whole Bean coffee lasts for
Instant coffee lasts for
Some sources have stated that ground coffee only lasts for a couple of hours once opened, or just one month after beans are roasted. Once the package is open, grounds can be stale after two days. The important thing to note here is that everyone has their own preferences and that cases can vary widely by individual. The above numbers should serve you fairly well if you’re in it mostly for the caffeine boost and don’t have high standards of taste or high sensitivity to taste changes. Your biggest takeaway from all of it should be that your nose knows best, regardless of case. Trust your senses.
What is the shelf life of coffee? / how long is ground coffee good for after opening?
Shelf life depends on a number of factors. Generally speaking, an open or unopened vacuum-sealed pack of either ground coffee or coffee beans will age at the same pace. As long as you store them in a dry place and in an opaque container, they will last anywhere from 3 to 9 months (with grounds on the earlier end and whole beans on the latter end). If you have a brand-spanking new, sealed bag of coffee, pop it in your freezer to store it. The lifespan of the coffee will increase to 1-3 years (again, ground coffee on the earlier side, whole bean on the latter).
The only one who seems to benefit from being stored in a freezer once open is coffee in whole bean form. Its lifespan can increase from just 6 months to 2 years – that’s a long time!
Instant coffee is basically space food. As long as you keep it stored in a dry place, it will last you ‘til infinity and beyond!
How long does ground coffee last unopened?
Ground coffee, whether opened or unopened, sealed or unsealed, will last 3-5 months past the expiration date/once opened. Putting it in the freezer won’t extend its lifespan either. This is because the grains are so small that they are just so much more vulnerable to the factors that degrade coffee. They lose moisture and react to heat and sunlight quicker. They are essentially coffee without its clothes on. Best to buy whole beans and keep them at hand in the freezer, then grind up only as many beans s you need to make your cup of coffee right before you brew it.
Vacuum sealed (aka vacuum-packed) instant coffee is special in this category. Unopened, it can last 20 years or longer.
How long does coffee last in the fridge?
If you can get through a new pack of coffee within 2 months of purchasing it, putting it in the fridge is usually unnecessary. It may, however, preserve the taste, flavor, and strength of your coffee better. On the flipside, if you’re only a casual drinker or just want to store coffee as an option for guests, not putting it in the fridge but actually freezing it (whole beans only) will significantly increase its lifespan.
Pro Tip: Label the date you opened the coffee for the first time or ground it somewhere on the bag or container you end up storing it in. If you store it out on the counter or in your pantry, it should be good for at least 3 months from this date.
How long does coffee last in the freezer?
The freezer will only preserve the life of whole beans and instant coffee. Whole beans can last up to 2 years while instant coffee is good forever (provided it doesn’t get wet or contaminated).
How long is coffee good for after brewing?
As a general rule, coffee should be consumed within 4-6 hours of brewing and is best not reheated. Reheating will further degrade the good stuff you want (all the healthy benefits) and can alter the taste. Admittedly, I’ve drank coffee a day old just get in my caffeine fix.
If you’re curious about cold brew, see our article here <LINK> on just what making it involves. Spoiler: it’s not as simple as brewed hot coffee, then cooling it in your fridge.
How long does coffee last in your body?
How long caffeine stays in your system varies widely from person to person and depends on factors such as body size, genetics, and amount of caffeine consumed, to name a few. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the half-life of caffeine in the human body (aka the time it takes for your body to expel one half of the caffeine you consume) can be up to 5 hrs. However, in some people, it can be as little as 1.5 hours or as much as 9 hrs. (3). This is why it is not recommended to drink coffee late at night as it can disrupt your sleep.
Other people who should be cautious with coffee are anyone with a caffeine sensitivity, anyone with allergies to coffee or caffeine products, and those with certain conditions such as high blood pressure, insomnia, and anxiety. The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women should also be cautious with caffeine, limiting their consumption to less than 200mg per day (or 1-2 cups of coffee). There are other experts who disagree. Best to talk to your doctor if you are concerned about coffee or if you need help with withdrawal. Pair any expert advice with your own research, then make the decision that feels right for you.
How do you know if coffee is rancid?
Same way you know milk has gone bad: the smell. This is why we recommend you get to know your coffee by smell every day. If even the smallest change happens, you should be able to tell fairly quickly.
The only exception to this rule is pregnant women. It is certainly not in every case, but some pregnant women’s sense of smell becomes disrupted during pregnancy.
What do you do with expired coffee?
Just one, quick peruse on Pinterest and you’ll find that expired coffee is one of the best products to use for purposes other than drinking it! From becoming an art supply, to enhancing the soil in your garden, to reducing the smell of garbage from your trash can, there are nearly endless ways to repurpose coffee, whether used or unused. That is what makes it one of the most environmentally friendly items in your pantry. Here are a few other uses for used or expired coffee:
- As a DIY beauty product (homemade face scrubs, anyone?)
- A natural paint (more pigment if you grind it to a powder before adding water).
- A natural paint stain (soak in water, then use on raw wood).
- Pest deterrent in your garden (keeps slugs at bay without killing them).
- A garden powerhouse: enriches soil to feed your plants, feeds earthworms who further fertilize your soil.
- Odor neutralizer. Got fishy hands or stinky garbage? Use some grinds while washing your hands or sprinkle over the trash can and the smell should disappear.
- Help reset your sense of smell (stores that sell perfumes offer coffee beans to sniff between fragrances so that your nose can smell each fragrance properly without sensory overload).
Will coffee grounds kill ants?
Coffee grounds will not kill ants, although they do seem to be confused by the coffee smell. One thing to remember about ants is that they will usually go away on their own within 2 weeks. Introducing other chemicals into your home just puts you and your family in more danger. Just accept and share your space with them for that time and it will be healthier and happier for everyone.
When does coffee with milk or creamer expire?
Go by the shelf-life of the most perishable ingredient. In this case, it would be the milk/creamer. If you’ve added it to warm milk, a slight curdling process will have happened which accelerates the rate of expiration of the milk so it’s best to save adding the dairy to right before you drink the coffee. Otherwise, keeping in stored in the fridge will help keep it fresh.
We did our best to give you our most thorough look at the shelf life of coffee and that we answered the question “How long does ground coffee last”. We truly hope you’ve learned some tips on how to store your coffee and feel more confident about judging whether or not the coffee in your home is still good to drink.
How do you keep your coffee (beans, ground, or instant) stored to keep them fresh? In a bag? Unopened in the fridge or freezer? How long does yours usually last? Let us know in the comments below.
(3) Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research. Caffeine for the Sustainment of Mental Task Performance: Formulations for Military Operations. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001.