You can save a lot of money when you buy K-Cups and other coffee capsules in bulk. But because bulk items take a long time to get through, you might find yourself wondering, “Do K-Cups go bad?”
Maybe you’ve come across a box at the back of your pantry that you had forgotten about. Maybe you’ve just come back from a long trip and discovered you left some K-Cups behind. Or maybe you changed your coffee routine for a few months, and now you’ve decided to go back to the K-Cups waiting in your cupboard.
This is when the doubt might creep in.
Do K-Cups go bad? The short answer
No, the little capsules that fuel Keurig and Nespresso coffee machines do not go bad. However, they do have a “best by” date. This is not the same as an expiry date. “Best by” simply means that after that date, the manufacturer will no longer vouch that the item is at its highest quality.
You can keep consuming K-Cups after that date, but chances are the freshness and flavour will slowly begin to decline. The farther you get past that date, the less delightful you can expect your coffee to be. But you’d need very sophisticated taste buds to notice a decline in quality in K-Cups that are three months past their date. In fact, you’re unlikely to notice much difference in the 3-8 month range.
The caveat is with K-Cups that contain milk products. These decline more quickly than ground coffee beans. For example, hot chocolate and chai tea latte K-Cups would be in this category. If that’s what you have, then the three-month window probably makes more sense than the eight-month window.
Having said that, K-Cups never actually expire. Even coffee that has declined in quality is still a long way from becoming a health hazard.
OK, the K-Cup expiration date is really a “best by” date, but how do I find it?
It’s not easy to find the K-Cup’s “best by” date. It’s printed on the side of the tiny capsule itself, but in small white text on a white background. This makes it hard to read without good lighting and perhaps even some magnification.
You can find it more easily on the box that the capsules come in. It’s usually printed in a black rectangle on the side or bottom of the box.
Can expired K-Cups make you sick?
Again, there’s no such thing as expired K-Cups—only K-Cups that are past their “best by” date. And even those are extremely unlikely to make you sick.
Molds and bacteria are the main causes of food-borne illnesses. Because K-Cups are sealed to keep air and moisture out, even old K-Cups are free of these nuisances.
A broken seal changes everything, though. If you suspect that a K-Cup’s seal has been punctured or breached, you should throw it away and find one that hasn’t.
How Keurig keeps K-Cups fresh
Let’s talk a bit more about why K-Cups do not go bad.
The folks at Kicking Horse Coffee explain that light and oxygen are the main killers of coffee. Oxygen is a problem because it helps microorganisms grow. You know how you need oxygen in order to breathe and survive? Well, those molds and bacteria are no different. If you let oxygen in, they have a chance.
Coffee beans also contain fat—between seven and 17 per cent, as mentioned in this study by Karl Speer and Isabelle Kölling-Speer out of TU Dresden. When fat combines with oxygen (this process is known as oxidation and it is accelerated by light), new carbon compounds are created. They smell and taste bad.
To get oxygen out of K-Cups before sealing, Keurig flushes the capsules with nitrogen. Nitrogen is heavier than oxygen and forces the oxygen out of the capsule. It’s colourless, odourless, and totally safe. The air we breathe is 78% nitrogen anyway.
Interestingly, nitrogen-flushing is not considered organic. Certified organic coffee roasters are not allowed to use the method. (We have a post explaining organic vs. non-organic coffee.) So how does that square with Keurig marketing organic K-Cups? I don’t have a definitive answer, but I suspect it’s because Keurig does the nitrogen flush, not the organic-certified roasters themselves. If anyone out there can verify this, please let me know!
Tips for storing your K-Cups
To make your K-Cups last the longest, store them in a manner which keeps light, oxygen and moisture out. If you can find a stainless steel container with a good rubber seal, that’s ideal. Keep it in a cool, dry place, away from sunlight.
Keurig doesn’t recommend storing K-Cups in the refrigerator or freezer, where they can absorb aromas from other items. That will affect the taste.
How may K-Cups is too many?
The number of K-Cups you can store really depends on how quickly you can drink them.
Let’s do some math. Suppose you want to drink all your K-Cups within three months of their “best by” date, so you don’t have to compromise quality. If your coffee habit involves one coffee every day, then you can probably finish off 90 K-Cups in those three months after the “best by” date. And if the “best by” date is still three months away, then you’re perfectly fine with 180 K-Cups in the cupboard. On the other hand, if you have 350 K-Cups in the cupboard, then you’re probably going to be pushing past that eight-month window. Drink faster if you don’t want your K-Cups to go bad.