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When should I throw out garlic?

Garlic is a popular ingredient used in many savory dishes. However, garlic can go bad after a period of time. Knowing when to throw out old garlic is important to avoid consuming spoiled garlic that may make you sick. This article provides tips on identifying when garlic has gone bad and when you should discard it.

Identifying Bad Garlic

There are several signs that indicate your garlic has spoiled and should be thrown out:

  • Mold – Visible mold or blue-green spots on the garlic cloves or bulb is a sign of spoilage. Discard any garlic with mold.
  • Shriveled – Garlic cloves that are very soft, shriveled or wrinkled have dried out. Old, dried garlic should be thrown away.
  • Green Sprouts – Sprouts coming out of the garlic cloves or bulb is a sign that the garlic is old. Sprouted garlic should not be eaten.
  • Off Odor – Fresh garlic has a pungent aroma. Discard garlic that smells rancid, sour or rotten.
  • Dry, Papery Skin – The skin surrounding the bulb should be tight and firm. Loose, papery skin indicates the garlic is dried out.

How Long Does Garlic Last?

How quickly garlic goes bad depends on how it is stored:

Storage Method Shelf Life
Stored at room temperature Within a few weeks
Refrigerated About 3-4 months
Frozen 6-8 months

Proper storage can extend the shelf life of garlic. But regardless of storage method, cut garlic and peeled cloves will go bad most quickly.

Storing Garlic

Follow these tips to best store garlic:

  • Store bulbs in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area away from sunlight.
  • Do not store garlic in the refrigerator unless cloves have been peeled. Whole bulbs are best stored at room temperature.
  • Place unpeeled garlic in a small basket, mesh bag or loosely wrapped in paper towels.
  • Keep garlic away from potatoes – the moisture can cause spoilage.
  • Store cut garlic and peeled cloves submerged in olive oil or in an airtight container in the fridge.
  • Freeze peeled cloves in an airtight freezer bag or container for longer shelf life.

When to Toss Garlic

As a general rule of thumb, you should discard garlic if:

  • It has been more than 3-4 months since purchasing fresh bulbs, if stored properly in a cool, dry place.
  • There are visible signs of mold, sprouting, shriveling, drying or other spoilage.
  • The garlic smells rancid, sour or unpleasant instead of pungent.
  • Cloves have large green sprouts in the center.
  • Bulb skins are loose, papery or missing.
  • It has been 6-8 months or longer if stored frozen.

When in doubt, it’s best to play it safe and throw away garlic past its prime. Using spoiled garlic can cause illness.

Safety Tips

Keep these food safety guidelines in mind when storing and prepping garlic:

  • Wash hands before and after handling garlic.
  • Discard any bruised, damaged or moldy garlic bulbs or cloves.
  • Do not keep raw garlic oil at room temperature. Refrigerate and use within 1 week.
  • Peel garlic just before cooking for best flavor and food safety.
  • Cook garlic thoroughly before eating to kill any bacteria present.
  • When freezing garlic, peel cloves first for convenience and safety.

Uses for Old Garlic

If your garlic is past its prime, don’t toss it out just yet. Here are some safe uses for old garlic:

  • Cooking: The strong taste can be mellowed out when cooked. Use in long-cooked soups, stews and stocks.
  • Cleaning: Rub cut surfaces on hands or cutting boards to remove odors. Rinse after.
  • Repelling pests: Place old bulbs or cloves in garden beds as a natural pest deterrent.
  • Crafts: Dehydrate very old garlic to make decorative garlic braids.

Conclusion

Checking garlic regularly and tossing bulbs past their prime can prevent foodborne illness. Signs of age and spoilage include mold, sprouting, wrinkling, and other physical changes. Refrigerate or freeze garlic to extend its shelf life. With proper storage and handling, garlic can keep for months. But when in doubt, err on the side of caution and throw it out.