Odds are, your kitchen is filled with ways to enhance the flavor of boring pantry food. But did you know that you don’t have to store most condiments in the refrigerator, even after you open them? See what goes where.
Supermarket shelves are filled with ways to enhance the flavor of food. Don’t let a drop of ranch dressing (or sriracha or salsa) go to waste. Use this guide to learn where to store some of your favorite condiments (plus ones you’ve been meaning to try) and how long they keep.
Shelf-Stable or Not?
Most condiments are processed to be shelf stable. This means they can sit for long periods of time on shelves without spoiling. You can store most shelf-stable condiments safely at room temperature, even after you open them. Brands tell you to refrigerate their products because they stay fresh longer that way. Still, every food eventually expires, so check the expiration date on the package.
Refrigerate Right Away
Any condiment that contains dairy, like sour cream and some prepared salad dressings, goes straight into the fridge (on the shelf, not the door). Other dressings and cheese products, like some of the grated cheese you sprinkle on pasta, are shelf stable. Use this rule of thumb: If it’s refrigerated in the grocery store, refrigerate it when you get home.
Refrigerate After Opening
If you buy ranch dressing, blue cheese, or salsa off the shelf, it’s fine in your pantry until you open it (as long as it’s before the “Use By” date). This also goes for chutneys, horseradish, chimichurri, pesto, mayonnaise, aioli, remoulade, tartar sauce, jams, jellies, relishes, and the ginger and wasabi that come with sushi.
Shelf vs. Door
Shelf-stable condiments, like stone ground mustard, red wine vinegar, strawberry preserves, and wing sauce, don’t need to be as cold as other perishable foods like milk, eggs, and meat, so they can hang out on your refrigerator door. Make sure your fridge is set to 40 F or below.
Honey is acidic and has very little moisture. This makes it a poor environment for bacteria to survive (this is a good thing!). Since bacteria growth isn’t an issue, you don’t need to refrigerate honey. Nor should you. Cold causes honey to become solid, and you’d have to warm it up to use it. Cold can also cause honey to crystallize. This doesn’t apply to honey mustard, which is more mustard than honey. Honey should be used within 2 years.
What’s OK for the Pantry?
Listen up, French fry fans: You don’t have to refrigerate ketchup at home, even after you open it, for up to 2 months. But there’s no reason not to put it in the ‘fridge: It’ll stay fresh longer that way. The same applies to hot sauce, barbecue sauce, cocktail sauce, buffalo sauce, mustards, sweet chili sauce, sambal, sriracha, Worcestershire sauce, steak sauce, and all kinds of vinegars.
What About Condiment Packets?
Those leftover ketchup and mustard packets at the bottom of your take-out bag don’t need to be refrigerated. Once you open them, though, use them up or throw them away. Salad dressing packets are good in the fridge for a few days.
Just because you can store barbecue sauce in your pantry, that doesn’t mean it can live there forever. If you can’t commit the shelf life and storage instructions of every condiment to memory — and really, who can? — read each label for specific storage times. Or download the U.S. government’s FoodKeeper app for easy reference.
Proper Pantry Storage
Every kitchen has a different storage system. Whether you store food in a pantry or cabinets, it should be cool, dark, and dry — between 50 and 70 F. Keep food away from your stovetop, oven, dishwasher, water heater, clothes dryer, and hot pipes.
First In, First Out
Just like with other foods, you’ll want to organize condiments in order of purchase, so you use them in time. For example, store the new yellow mustard behind the one that still has a few squeezes left so you grab the old one first. (Less waste makes your dollar go further.) Or write the date of purchase on jars and bottles to help keep track.
To Freeze or Not to Freeze
You can freeze any condiment except ones made with dairy products. You might sacrifice a little flavor when you thaw it out, but it will extend the life of any condiment. Make sure your freezer is set to zero F or below.
When Good Condiments Go Bad
Any condiment that has spoiled will smell different, taste odd, look wrong, or have mold or a cloudy film on top. Never eat anything that has spoiled, no matter how badly you need that relish for your hot dog. When in doubt, toss it out.
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