Crackers’ Lifespan: Do Crackers Go Bad?

Sometimes the humblest foods are the ones we depend on in times of trouble. Consider the humble cracker. In everyday life, crackers are a snack, an accompaniment to soups and stews, or sometimes topped with meat or cheese.

plain crackers on plate next to packaging

But did you know crackers have a long and somewhat distinguished history as survival rations, even in military service? It’s true.

But if we are going to depend on crackers for the same purpose we must know how long they last. But on that note, do crackers even go bad?

Yes, crackers can and will go bad in time. Depending on the type of cracker and storage conditions, crackers might last as little as a few weeks to several years. Crackers stored in high temperatures and humidity will last less.

Cracker TypeShelf Life
Hardtack25+ years
Corn Crackers9 months
Rice Crackers9 – 12 months
Wheat Crackers9 – 12 months
Crispbread10 months
Multigrain Crackers10 months
Rye Crackers9 – 12 months
Oatmeal Crackers9 – 12 months

Chances are you have an old box of crackers kicking around in your pantry or in your survival stash right now. How long have they been there? Are they still good? Could you really eat them if you had to?

In this article, we’ll explore the shelf life of crackers and also discuss which ones to choose and how to store them properly so they last as long as possible.

Keep reading to learn all about the shelf life of crackers.

What are Crackers Made From?

At their most basic, crackers are made from a simple combination of flour, water, and salt. The ingredients are mixed together, rolled out into thin sheets, and then baked until crispy.

However, there are many variations of crackers that contain additional ingredients. The ingredients, and the method of preparation, do affect shelf life.

The simplest crackers are typically plain salted crackers, which consist of flour, water, and salt.

These crackers have a longer shelf life because they do not contain any perishable ingredients or additives, and most commercial varieties can last up to 1 year or even beyond if sealed and stored properly in a cool, dry place.

Other still basic but more complicated cracker recipes may include some additional ingredients, such as butter or oil, which can add flavor and texture.

For example, butter crackers are made by adding butter to the dough mixture, which gives them a rich, buttery flavor; common for snack crackers.

Cracker recipes that have many additional ingredients for flavor, such as herbs, spices, seeds, or nuts, are tasty and have more calories, but tend to have a shorter shelf life depending on the ingredient.

For example, cheese crackers contain a layer of cheese spread or powdered cheese, which is perishable and can cause the crackers to spoil faster.

Likewise, crackers with nuts or seeds also have a shorter shelf life because the oils in these ingredients can go rancid over time. Keep all this in mind when choosing crackers for your survival stash!

When Do Crackers Go Stale?

Crackers can go stale when they are exposed to air and moisture. The starch molecules in the flour absorb moisture from the air, causing the crackers to lose their crispiness, and become softer and chewy.

This process is accelerated in humid environments or when the crackers aren’t stored properly.

Crackers can also go stale if they are way past their expiration date even when sealed and stored correctly. However, just because a cracker is stale does not mean it is truly spoiled, or unsafe to eat! More on that real soon, stay with me.

How Long Can You Leave Crackers Out Before They Go Bad?

This totally depends on the cracker, but once you have removed a cracker from the sealed package, the clock is definitely ticking.

Some crackers will be stale in as little as a few hours; some may last for days. Some super-hard, dense crackers might not go “stale” for weeks!

A bigger concern over staleness, which is mostly a matter of palatability, is actually spoilage which appears most often as mold on crackers. Mold is a sign that bacteria and/or fungi have taken up residence on the cracker, making them unsafe to consume.

How Long Are Crackers Good After Their Expiration Date?

Before we answer that question, we need to clear up something about the “expiration” date on most commercially produced foods: An expiration date is usually a “best by” or “use by” date that indicates the manufacturer’s recommendation for when the product is at its peak freshness and quality.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that the product is unsafe to eat after that date! But rather that the taste, texture, and nutritional value of the food may start to decline.

When it comes to crackers, they can stay safe to eat for many months or even years after the “best by” date if they are sealed and have been stored in a cool, dark place.

As previously mentioned, crackers typically have a long shelf life due to their low water content and general lack of perishable ingredients. Therefore, while crackers may still be edible after their “expiration” date, they may not be as fresh or enjoyable to consume.

The only way to know, really know, is to try them yourself. A good time to do this is when you are rotating out old stocks of crackers.

Is it Safe to Eat Expired Crackers?

Generally yes, so long as they are not showing any signs of real spoilage. If you crackers are just stale, e.g. chewy and flat-tasting, they are likely still edible and safe.

But if you notice any off odors or taste, or if they have visible mold, discard them. You should also throw out any crackers that are obviously discolored.

What’s the Best Way to Tell if Crackers are Bad?

There is no surefire method, as even “bad” foods might look and smell completely normal. However, this is highly unlikely with crackers.

But when assessing crackers for edibility, be alert for bad smells and tastes, obvious odd colors and mold, or excessive crumbliness.

Also be aware for any signs of ongoing or prior pest infestation, insect or rodent: look for droppings, bite marks, or holes in the packaging. If you spot any of these signs, discard the crackers immediately.

What are the Longest-Lasting Crackers You Can Get?

Bottom line: Hardtack!

Hardtack is a type of hard, dry cracker, or biscuit if you like, made from flour, water, and salt. It has been used as a long-life survival ration for several centuries due to its durability and long shelf life, and it is still made to this very day.

Hardtack was particularly “popular” among sailors and soldiers as a nearly non-perishable food source that could withstand long voyages or marches.

Hardtack is made by mixing flour and water into a dough and then baking it at a low temperature for several hours until it becomes very hard and totally dry.

It is this lack of moisture in the biscuit makes it resistant to spoilage and mold growth, which is why it can last for many, many years if stored in dry, cool conditions.

But it has some major drawbacks: Hardtack is incredibly hard, and impenetrably dense, often to the point of making it impossible to bite or chew.

For this reason it is typically soaked or boiled in water or other liquids to soften it up and make it more palatable. As raw, bulk calories that can go the distance, hardtack remains a viable if unappealing option.

What’s the Best Way to Store Crackers Long-Term?

The very best way to keep crackers fresh and unspoiled for the long haul is by making sure they are factory sealed, stored in airtight containers and kept in a cool, dark place. This helps to maximize shelf-life and prevent spoilage.

But do keep in mind that the recipe of the crackers, and the method of preparation, will greatly contribute to shelf-life: your basic, hard salt-and-flour crackers can always be expected to last much longer than other crackers with more perishable ingredients such as cheese or butter.

1 thought on “Crackers’ Lifespan: Do Crackers Go Bad?”

  1. Survivormann99

    Many people make a mistake and try to make hardtack today using cracker dimensions based on Civil War hardtack. If you try to eat hardtack made in the dimensions it was originally issued soldiers, you will likely be a given a parking space with your name on it at your dentist’s office.

    That’s why soldiers often used the blunt end of their bayonets to break up the hardtack crackers in the bottom of their tin cups, and added bacon grease to it. Doing so made something called “cush.” I understand that it is quite tasty, although your cardiologist might not approve.

    Soldiers called hardtack “molar breakers.” There is an easy way to avoid damage to the teeth: Don’t make it in the original dimensions.

    I have had excellent luck by baking the hardtack dough much thinner, say, a quarter of an inch thick, at most. By cutting the strips 1″ to 1 1/2″ wide, these strips are very brittle and snap easily when eaten. In my opinion, it will be extremely unusual for anyone to suffer damaged teeth from these hardtack strips. When I offered my son some of the hardtack to try, he said, “Dad, it tastes like bagel chips.”

    Alas, I cannot advise you what temperature to set the oven or for how long, so you will have to experiment. With the dough being thinner to begin with, the dough will bake much faster than it would were it baked in the original dimensions.

    There are plenty of sites with hardtack recipes. Avoid the urge to use anything other than flour and water to make your hardtack. Adding most things will greatly reduce the shelf life, and the actual result won’t be hardtack. Adding even salt will cause it to absorb more moisture later. You can always add salt when you actually eat the hardtack, and adding salt does improve the taste just as it does with other types of crackers.

    Remember that you do not have to eat the hardtack chips by themselves. Broken up, it can be added to soups, stews, and such, just like saltine crackers in order to add calories to a meal. It’s an extender.

    You might want to avoid the bacon grease, however!

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