Tomato paste is a pantry staple for many home cooks, a real boon for adding depth of flavor to a wide variety of dishes.
Whether you’re making a hearty stew or a classic tomato sauce for your pasta, this thick and savory ingredient is a go-to choice that packs a big punch with just a spoonful or two.
And while tomato paste is beloved for its taste, it’s also prized for its low price and long shelf life. As a shelf-stable product, it can sit in your pantry for months or even years, making it a convenient ingredient to always have on hand.
But if you find yourself with more tomato paste than you need, it’s natural to wonder how long it can last.
How Long Does Tomato Paste Last?
As a shelf-stable food item, unopened tomato paste can be safely stored in a cool and dry place, such as your pantry, for an extended period of time, without the need for refrigeration.
Tomato paste will keep its best quality for 12 to 18 months. However, it will stay safe to eat beyond that date.1Nummer, B., & Jahner, B. (n.d.). Storing Canned Goods. Preserve the Harvest Extension. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://extension.usu.edu/preserve-the-harvest/research/storing-canned-goods Once opened, tomato paste should be stored in the fridge and used up within 5 to 7 days.2USDA (2015, March 24). Shelf-Stable Food Safety. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/shelf-stable-food
If you’re looking to extend the shelf life of your tomato paste, freezing it is a viable option. However, it’s important to note that while frozen tomato paste will always be safe to eat, it will only retain its best quality for a limited time.3(2023, January 18). Are You Storing Food Safely? US Food & Drug Administration. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/are-you-storing-food-safely
Tomato paste frozen at 0°F (-18°C) will keep its best quality for around 2 to 3 months. After this time window, the tomato paste’s aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel will gradually start to degrade, resulting in a less-than-ideal eating experience.
Can Tomato Paste Go Bad?
While tomato paste is generally considered a safe and long-lasting pantry staple, it’s important to exercise caution when it comes to consuming canned or packaged tomato paste. If you notice any signs of damage or spoilage, it’s best to err on the side of caution and throw it out.
Do not eat unopened tomato paste if the tube or can is rusty, badly dented, or damaged and leaking. These are all signs that the can or tube has been compromised, which could lead to bacterial contamination of the tomato paste inside.
If you’re dealing with tomato paste in a glass jar, check the lid before opening it. If the lid is bulging or if you hear a fizzing sound when you open it, this is a sign that the contents of the jar may have been contaminated with bacteria or other harmful microorganisms. Once again, dispose of the jar and any contents and do not consume it.
Discard opened tomato paste if you’ve kept it in the fridge for more than 7 days. While it may look, smell, and taste perfectly fine, remember that the bacteria that sicken us are not detectable to our senses. Discard the tomato paste if you also notice any of the obvious signs of food spoilage, including an off odor, discoloration, or mold.
Why Is There Such a Range of Shelf Life Guidance?
If you’ve already consulted the Internet to find out how long tomato paste will last in your pantry, you may have come across a range of different answers.
For instance, some sources may claim that it will retain its quality for 3 years or more, while others give a more conservative estimate of 18 to 24 months. Our recommendation is even more conservative, at 12 to 18 months.
The truth is, high-acid canned foods like tomato paste are expected to retain their quality for a shorter period of time than low-acid foods. And the shelf life of tomato paste can vary depending on a number of factors, such as how hot it is in your pantry and how long it sat on the shelves of the grocery store before it got to your home.
Per the USDA’s guidelines, which we have based our own recommendation on, high-acid canned foods keep their best quality for 12 to 18 months.4USDA (2019, October 2). Food Product Dating. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/food-product-dating
Why Doesn’t Tomato Paste Have Expiration Dates?
Have you ever noticed that canned foods have a date printed on them, but it’s not a best-by, best-before, or best-if-used-by date?
Federal regulations, an article on the USDA’s website explains, only require canned food manufacturers to label their products with the date of canning. But why not have an expiration date?
According to the same article, the dating on canned food is for quality, and not for safety. While a can, jar, or tube of tomato paste might not taste as good as it once did after a certain period of time, it’s unlikely to pose a risk to your health if consumed beyond it.
Even so, it’s still wise to take precautions and inspect the packaging and contents before chowing down on that tomato paste. This is particularly true if you suspect that it may be a little too old, the packaging is damaged, or the storage conditions were less than ideal.
- 1Nummer, B., & Jahner, B. (n.d.). Storing Canned Goods. Preserve the Harvest Extension. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://extension.usu.edu/preserve-the-harvest/research/storing-canned-goods
- 2USDA (2015, March 24). Shelf-Stable Food Safety. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/shelf-stable-food
- 3(2023, January 18). Are You Storing Food Safely? US Food & Drug Administration. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/are-you-storing-food-safely
- 4USDA (2019, October 2). Food Product Dating. Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved April 29, 2023, from https://www.fsis.usda.gov/food-safety/safe-food-handling-and-preparation/food-safety-basics/food-product-dating