Tacos are one of the most popular Mexican-inspired foods, with crunchy hard shells or soft tortillas wrapped around spiced meat, beans, cheese, and veggies. But like any food, taco shells don’t last forever. Knowing the shelf life of different types of taco shells and how to store them properly will help you reduce food waste and keep your tacos fresher longer.
In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about how long taco shells last, from the shelf life of unopened and opened packages to signs of spoilage. I’ll also provide tips on maximizing the freshness of both hard and soft taco shells through proper storage methods.
An Introduction to Taco Shells
The foundation of any great taco is the shell that holds all those delicious fillings. Here’s a quick look at the two main types of taco shells and their ingredients:
Hard taco shells are made from corn tortillas that have been fried into the familiar U-shaped rigid shell. The main ingredients are corn, oil, and possibly wheat flour.
Soft taco shells or tortillas can be made from either corn or wheat flour. They contain the same main ingredients but are steamed and heated to make a soft, pliable round shape.
Both hard and soft taco shells contain natural oils from corn and wheat that can go rancid over time. Knowing how long they last depends on the specific ingredients, packaging, and how you store them.
Do Taco Shells Expire?
Yes, like most foods, both hard and soft taco shells have a limited shelf life and will expire eventually.
Foods expire because of the natural breakdown of fats, proteins, and starches over time. Exposure to heat, air, light, and moisture speeds up this process.
With taco shells, the main factors that lead to spoilage are:
- Oxidation of the oils, causing rancid flavors
- Loss of moisture leading to staleness
- Growth of mold once exposed to air
Proper storage is key to maximizing the shelf life of taco shells and keeping them fresh for as long as possible. Their shelf life also depends on whether they are unopened or opened.
How Long Do Unopened Taco Shells Last?
When stored properly, unopened packages of taco shells generally last:
- Hard taco shells: 2 to 3 months past any “best by” or expiration date printed on the packaging.
- Soft taco shells: About 1 week past the expiration date before significant staleness occurs.
Always check the “best by” or “use by” date on the packaging and store them according to guidelines before opening. This helps maximize the shelf life.
For example, an unopened package of hard shells may have a best by date of June 1st. If stored properly, those shells should last acceptably until September 1st.
Meanwhile, soft shells only last about a week past that printed date before becoming too dried out to use.
How Long Do Opened Taco Shells Last?
Once opened, taco shells have a much shorter shelf life. Exposure to air and moisture immediately starts the staling process.
Here are the approximate shelf lives:
- Hard taco shells: 1 to 2 weeks after opening. Transfer to an airtight container for storage.
- Soft taco shells: Only 3 to 5 days after opening. Make sure to seal the package tightly.
No matter what type of taco shell, don’t try to push opened packages past those time frames. Discard any shells that show signs of staleness or spoilage.
Proper Storage Methods for Hard and Soft Taco Shells
To get the longest shelf life out of taco shells, proper storage is essential. Here are some tips:
Storage of Unopened Packages
- Store unopened packages of both hard and soft taco shells in a cool, dry pantry away from direct light and heat sources. Avoid warm cabinets near ovens or appliances.
- Avoid humidity by not storing them in bathrooms or near dishwashers. Excess moisture causes early staling.
- Check expiration or “best by” dates and use the older packages first.
Storage After Opening
- For hard shells, transfer leftover shells to an airtight container or resealable food storage bag. Push out excess air.
- Place soft taco shells/tortillas in a sealed container lined with a dry paper towel to absorb excess moisture. Keep tightly sealed.
- Refrigerate both soft and hard shells for maximum freshness.
- Consider freezing for longer storage. Taco shells can last 2 to 3 months in the freezer before significant moisture loss. Thaw completely at room temperature before using.
Proper storage methods give you the best chance of enjoying fresh, crunchy taco shells before they go stale.
How to Know When Taco Shells Are Bad
Despite the best storage methods, taco shells will eventually show signs of spoilage. Here’s what to look for:
- Stale, soggy, or mushy texture – Hard shells lose their crunch and crispness while soft shells become gummy or mushy. This indicates expired ingredients.
- Mold growth – Look for fuzzy mold growing, especially along edges and folds of soft tortillas. Any mold means they should be discarded.
- Rancid smell – If you detect a sour, unpleasant odor, the oils in the shells have likely oxidized and spoiled.
- Loss of crispness in hard shells – Softening with a limp texture shows absorption of moisture and staling.
When in doubt, remember the old saying “When in doubt, throw it out!” Don’t risk eating spoiled taco shells.
Wrapping Up on Maximizing Taco Shell Freshness
Taco night is always more fun with fresh, crisp shells wrapping all those tasty fillings. By following expiration dates, proper storage guidelines, and signs of spoilage, you can enjoy hard and soft taco shells at peak freshness.
The key storage tips to remember are:
- Store unopened packages in a cool, dry pantry before use.
- Refrigerate in airtight containers once opened.
- Freeze for longer storage life.
- Check for mold, staleness, rancid smells, and loss of crispness.
- Discard expired or spoiled shells rather than risk eating.
Knowing how long taco shells last gives you confidence in serving up delicious tacos any night of the week. With the proper storage and handling, you can maximize their shelf life while avoiding waste. Now go enjoy those tacos!
Hi, I’m Ben Holland. I love cooking, traveling, and spending time with my family! Here you’ll find simple and delicious recipes, travel tips, and stories about my adventures with my wife and kids.