How To Tell When Garlic Is Bad

With its intense flavor and delicious aroma, fresh garlic is one of those ingredients that you can add to almost any dish to elevate the taste. I know I speak for many when I say you can never have enough garlic in a dish. Plus all the amazing properties garlic has for your health! I always have garlic on hand and add it generously when cooking. But how do you tell when garlic is bad?

You will know it is bad if the cloves discolor from white to yellowish-brown. The garlic cloves will also have brown spots on them. It will have no smell or a sour smell. Garlic that has become soft or mushy is the final sign that it is bad and should be thrown out.

Garlic Heads

Whether fresh and whole, peeled, or pressed and ground, you will be hard-pressed to find a kitchen with no garlic stashed away. To maximize the shelf-life, you must store it correctly.

How Do You Know That Garlic Has Gone Bad?

Like most produce, you can tell bad garlic by its color, texture, and smell. 

As time passes, a bulb of garlic will grow a green sprout in the middle. This green shoots may be eaten or used in cooking, but it does have a strong, bitter taste. 

It is easy to remove: cut the bulb down the middle and slice out the sprout. A garlic head that has grown this sprout has not necessarily gone bad

Whole head with sprouts

After peeling away the skin, you may notice some yellow or brown spots. This is the first sign that the garlic is starting to go bad.

You may be able to salvage some of it by cutting off the brown bits. Garlic that is going bad will also start to discolor. While you can eat it when has turned a yellowish tinge, it may have a bitter taste.

Garlic that is fresh is firm. You will know that it has passed its shelf life if you peel off the skin, and the clove is soft and mushy. If you notice liquid being secreted from the clove once you peel off the skin, then it is way passed its expiry date and should be tossed immediately. 

Garlic is best known for its distinctive and aromatic smell. When it starts to lose its smell, you know it is reaching the end of its shelf life. When the scent turns sour, then it has gone bad and must be disposed of.

READ ON: Does Bacon Go Bad? All You Need to Know

How Long Does Garlic Last?

How long it keeps depends on what state it is in; whether it is whole, peeled, or processed as well as how and where you store it. 

Whole Heads

Stored correctly, a whole garlic bulb that is unpeeled can last for between three to five months.

It is best to store a whole head of garlic in a cool, dark place at room temperature that gets adequate ventilation.

Ideally in a garlic keeper, a wire-mesh basket or a paper bag in the pantry. BUT DO NOT place it in a sealed container or plastic bag. It would be best if you did not store it in the fridge either.

Peeled Cloves

Individual peeled cloves will last about one week if stored correctly. Once peeled, cloves must be stored in an airtight container or Ziplock bag and placed in the fridge. 

Bear in mind that even when kept in a sealed container, peeled garlic will start to lose its pungency within a few days, so be sure to use it within a week. 

Peeled cloves

Processed Garlic

It may seem like a good idea to mince or crush all your garlic at once for future ease of use. However, minced or crushed will also go bad after just a few days

Crushed, minced, or sliced it will last just a few days in the fridge. Even if you mix it in some olive oil before storing it in a jar and putting it into the refrigerator.

Minced garlic

Jarred crushed or minced garlic that you buy from the grocery store has a far longer shelf life but, obviously, has preservatives like citric acid which I don’t recommend. Much easier do it yourself.

Can You Freeze Garlic?

I love having a stash of garlic in the freezer. It means that I always have it on hand to use in my cooking. It also saves me the hassle of peeling and chopping it each time I need to use some.

Freezing it is easy and ther are options; you can pop unpeeled whole heads into the freezer wrapped in aluminum foil and use it as needed. 

Freezing it

You can also peel it and freeze the cloves. For added convenience or as part of your meal prep, you can crush or slice it and then freeze it

If you have made your own minced garlic with olive oil, you can also put it in a freezer bag, label it and freeze it. Or if store it in the fridge consume in a few days to be safe.

Frozen garlic can be stored in the freezer for up to twelve months. However, it is best to use it within four to six months as you will get the best flavor. 

What Will Happen If You Eat Garlic That Has Gone Bad?

Garlic that is starting to go bad is unlikely to cause any harm if eaten. It will have an impact on the taste of the food as it will begin to lose that intense flavor that is known for. 

Garlic with signs of spoilage that has gone bad though can lead to botulism, which is a type of food poisoning

Foodborne botulism is an uncommon yet severe and potentially life-threatening illness. It is caused by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which typically exists in an inactive spore form. These spores can transition into an active state.

Botulism can develop due to specific conditions that allow the bacteria Clostridium botulinum to grow and produce toxin. Improper storage in an anaerobic environment, such as oil, at temperatures between 4°C and 60°C, provides favorable conditions for bacterial growth.

Moisture trapped within garlic cloves and lack of oxygen immersed in oil creates an anaerobic environment, while low acidity and time/temperature abuse further contribute to bacterial growth. When these conditions are met, C. botulinum can produce the potent neurotoxin responsible for botulism. 

For this reason, it must be tossed out as soon as you notice that the texture is soft and mushy and it is covered in brown spots.

Some symptoms of botulism include vomiting, nausea, dizziness or double vision.


What does rancid garlic smell like?

Rancid garlic has a distinct and unpleasant odor that is quite different from the characteristic aroma of fresh garlic. It emits a sour, rotten, or even slightly ammonia-like odor. The smell is often described as foul, offensive, or reminiscent of decay. 

Can you cut bad spots off garlic? 

If you notice bad spots on a clove, it’s generally best to discard the entire clove, including the affected area. The reason is that the presence of bad spots can indicate spoilage or the growth of molds or bacteria. Cutting off the visible bad spot may not be sufficient to eliminate potential contamination, as the spoilage may have already spread deeper into the clove. 

Better safe than sorry 🙂

Can garlic go bad in olive oil? 

When garlic is submerged in olive oil, it creates an oxygen-free environment that can facilitate the growth of bacteria, including Clostridium botulinum. To prevent the risk, it’s crucial to store garlic-infused oil properly in the refrigerator and use it within a few days to minimize bacterial growth and toxin production. 


Few cooks can do without it. There are so many recipes using it! So if you are wondering whether your garlic is bad, pay attention to its color, texture, and smell.

A whole bulb may be salvaged if they have developed a few brown spots. However, if the texture has become soft and mushy, the garlic cannot be consumed and must be discarded.

To maximize the shelf life and flavor, it is imperative that you store it correctly. It is so convenient to have it ready to use in the freezer. Peel, crush or mince garlic and freeze it so that you always have garlic to add to your dishes.

READ ON: Does Bacon Go Bad? All You Need to Know

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