Do Taco Shells Go Bad? How Long Do They Last?

Who can say no to a delicious taco? Perfect for whipping up a quick dinner when you don’t have much time, or for making an altogether more indulgent meal, there’s no need to limit them to Taco Tuesdays!

Any meal is only as strong as the sum of its ingredients though, and the perfect taco is entirely dependent on the quality of the taco shell. It doesn’t matter how great the filling is, if your taco shell is no good your whole meal can be ruined.

Today we’ll answer the question ‘do taco shells go bad’? We’ll explain how you can identify if your shells should be thrown out, and the steps you can take to prolong their freshness.

What is a Taco?

Hard Shell Tacos

Before we get started it’s worth taking a look at exactly what a taco is, as there is a significant difference between the American and Mexican versions.

In the USA, the most common form of taco is the hard-shelled, U-shaped variety. These are made by frying (or sometimes baking) a corn tortilla. These tacos were popularized in the mid-20th century by Taco Bell and can be bought from the store ready to go as part of a taco kit or made at home from regular tortillas.

The original Mexican version of the taco is quite different from those consumed in the US. Rather than a hard shell, authentic Mexican tacos use a soft corn or flour tortilla as the wrapper.

For a more in-depth look at American vs Mexican Tacos, we recommend checking out this article by Wide Open Eats.

In this article we’ll be looking at how long you can expect hard taco shells to last as well as the shelf life of the tortillas used to make soft tacos.

Do Taco Shells Go Bad?

Whilst they have a longer shelf life than many other foods in your kitchen, hard shell tacos do go bad if left for too long before eating.

What happens to taco shells when they go bad depends on how long they have been left, but none of the effects are especially pleasant!

How Can You Tell if Taco Shells Have Gone Bad?

Empty Taco Shells

There are four key changes that happen to taco shells when they start to go bad, impacting the texture, taste, appearance and smell.

Texture. When a taco shell goes starts to go off it will go stale. When this happens you’ll notice that the shell becomes tougher and less crisp than it was previously. It’s important to know that staleness on its own doesn’t mean that you can’t eat the taco – if however your taco is stale with any of the other indicators, throw it out.

Taste. The oil used in the process of frying taco shells may start to go rancid. This gives the shells quite an unpleasant taste that can unfortunately over-power the flavours of the taco filling.

Appearance. If stored in an especially humid environment, taco shells will start to display visible mold. At this point, they must be thrown away as scraping mold off will not get rid of the deep-rooted spores in the food.

Smell. Taco shells that have gone bad may also to give off an unpleasant odor. This is a side-effect of mold or bacteria eating away at the taco and a sure fire sign that you should toss them out.

Can you Revive Stale Taco Shells?

If your taco shells have gone stale, but the expiration date on the packaging has not passed, there is good news – you can revive them!

Simply place them on a baking tray in an oven pre-heated to 350°F and leave them for about 3 minutes to restore their crispiness.

How Long Do Taco Shells Last?

Taco Shells with Filling

When do taco shells go bad? The expiration date printed on the packaging should be your guide. If the package has been opened and stored in the pantry or a kitchen cabinet, it is recommended that you throw tacos out as soon as the expiration date has passed.

You can prolong the amount of time that an opened pack of tacos will last in the pantry by moving any leftover tacos into an air-tight container.

If your tacos are unopened and stored in a cabinet or in the pantry, you should be able to use them a little while longer after the expiration date. Take care to check the shells and ensure they are free of signs that they have gone bad.

You can prolong the usable life of tacos by storing them in the refrigerator or by freezing. Stored unopened or in an air-tight container, hard taco shells can last up to 8 weeks past their printed expiration date in the refrigerator.

In the freezer, hard taco shells can last for up to 6 months past the expiration or ‘best before’ date printed on the packaging.

How to Freeze Taco Shells

When storing taco shells in the freezer, it’s important to remove them from their original packaging to freeze them properly. This will help ensure that they maintain their freshness and taste when defrosted.

We recommend separating the shells into servings containing the amount of tacos that you’ll need each time you make them. Place the taco shell portions in separate freezer bags, or wrap them in aluminum foil – taking care not to break the shells as you do so.

To defrost, take the taco shells out of the freezer the night before you need them and place in the fridge. They will slowly defrost overnight and you can make sure they’re ready to enjoy by taking out of the refrigerator around 30 minutes before you start preparing your meal.

How Long do Soft Tacos Last?

Soft flour tortillas will typically be edible when stored in a kitchen cabinet for about a week when unopened. When opened, they should be thrown out if they are past the expiration date.

When refrigerated, tortillas can last for up 4 weeks beyond their best before date. If you’ve already opened their packaging, they should be stored in an air-tight container to preserve freshness. Stored in the freezer, they can be kept for up to 6 months beyond the expiration date.

To learn more about how long the different types of tortilla last, check out our guide to prolonging tortilla freshness.