You may think that since kibble is dry food, it can last indefinitely. After all, the dry cereal we eat for breakfast seems to last quite a while in our pantry or even after we open the box. But dry kibble for dogs has many more ingredients than human cereal including oils, chicken, fish, and some moisture to name just a few.
Dry kibble in a sealed bag will usually last 12–18 months max. Each bag of dog food is required by law to have an expiration date stamped on it. So, be sure to check this date. Once you have opened the bag, however, kibble will deteriorate much faster lasting only about 2-6 weeks depending upon how it is stored.
What Causes Dry Kibble to Go Bad?
First of all, a high-quality kibble product will contain meat as the primary ingredient. Examples are chicken and chicken meal; fish and fish meal, beef, turkey, lamb. Manufacturers often add fish or salmon oil. And finally, kibble contains some moisture. All of these ingredients impact freshness.
Storage conditions also make a difference. High temperatures, moisture, too much direct light can create mold to develop. Bags that get punctured or torn may spoil quickly due to exposure to air and the environment.
Once you open the bag, the food is exposed to air which triggers the oxidation process. This will eventually cause the fats to become rancid and could cause the growth of toxic mold or bacteria after several weeks.
How to Keep it Fresh
Rule number one is to always keep the food in the bag! The first thing that many dog owners do, is to open the bag and pour it into a plastic container.
This is bad for two reasons. First, the bag itself has been designed to keep the food fresh. The bag is lined with special food-grade preservatives which give it a long shelf life of 12-18 months. Second, plastic containers may leech harmful chemicals into the food. Also, the oils from the kibble may seep into the plastic and eventually become rancid (think how spaghetti sauce stains plastic storage containers).
You can store the food in airtight plastic, steel, or glass container, but leave it in the bag. Cut the bag open evenly, then fold the top and use a large clip to reseal it. You should avoid storing food outside or in the garage due to extreme temperatures, moisture, and exposure to bugs and pests. It is best to store dog food in a cool dry area that will be protected from the elements.
I used to store dry kibble in a small lined (clean) garbage can in the garage. To make sure it did not get too hot, I hung a thermometer nearby. I think this worked okay. My house has central air conditioning and the garage is well insulated and gets a little bit of cool air from the a/c system. But I was always dragging the bag inside the house during heat waves, which were becoming more frequent. And then one day I spotted a trail of small ants circling the can, so I sprayed everything with vinegar and brought the food inside.
Now, I place the bag of food inside a plastic container with a lid in the corner of my dining room. It is a little unsightly, but I feel much better about having it inside the house. And it is a lot more convenient than going out to the garage twice a day.
How Long Does Kibble Stay Fresh when Left in Your Dog’s Bowl?
My dogs eat like there is no tomorrow. So, I never worry that my dogs will leave food in their bowls. They are definitely members of the canine clean plate society!
But my sister has two smaller dogs who will only eat until they are full and leave the rest for later. They are not overweight. I am that these two little heel nippers are not overweight. I assumed that all dogs were food hounds who would eat until they were stuffed. But not these two. My sister fills their bowls with enough food for the day, and they eat what they need.
Leaving kibble in a bowl all day should be fine if it is dry. If water is added, it can go bad after a few hours. Just be sure to throw it out at the end of the day. It is also a good idea to wash dog bowls in warm soapy water at least once a week. I sometimes run them through the dishwasher to sterilize them.
How to Know if the Food Has Gone Bad
First of all, rancid dog food will smell funny. It may smell a little fishy or stale. If you notice your dog picking at his food, or acting like he does not feel well, it could be the food has gone bad. Check to make sure the food does not have a build-up of moisture or mold or any signs of black bacteria growing
Of course, never use dog food past the expiration date stamped on the bag.
How and Where to Buy Dry Dog Food
Buy kibble in small batches that you know will be eaten within 2 to 3 weeks. Resist the temptation to save money by buying huge bags of food. I purchased a 30 lb. bag once which lasted 6 weeks. But toward the end of the bag, it started to smell a little stale so I threw it out. Now I only buy 15 lb. bags, which last around 3 weeks for two dogs. Sometimes I will just pick up a couple of 5 lb. bags and open one at a time.
I prefer to buy food from the local pet store in my neighborhood. The owner keeps the inventory moving in a climate-controlled building, and the food is always fresh. During the pandemic, I ordered from a larger more distant pet store and the quality seemed okay, but I did not feel as comfortable with the freshness.
I avoid purchasing dog food from large chain stores or online. Even though the bags may be within their expiration date period, I still wonder about their standards and storage conditions.
I buy Fromm Adult Gold dry kibble for my two dogs. Fromm does not sell directly to consumers, and they only sell to small stores that meet their strict storage guidelines. See more about their policy here. I have been giving my dogs Fromm Adult Gold Kibble for 3 years and I have never had a problem with freshness. And my dogs have never had a problem eating it! See more about this in my post Is It OK to Feed Your New Rescue Dog Dry Kibble?
In conclusion, just because it is dry, does not mean that kibble will not spoil. It needs to be used within 3-6 weeks after opening the bag. I suggest erring on the side of caution and try to use it within 3 weeks max.
Keep watch for signs of rancidity, mold, or too much moisture build-up. Store the food in the bag in a cool dry environment and reseal it with a food clip.