Many condiment bottles contain three words “Refrigerate After Opening.” But how many of them do you need to store in your fridge? Let’s break it down, and maybe save you some much-needed fridge space in the process.
Ketchup: Usually Okay at Room Temperature
Ketchup is one of the most commonly used condiments in North America. You’ll find it sitting on the tables of diners and restaurants everywhere. But is it okay for you to do the same at home?
Of course! One of the key reasons Ketchup can sit out at room temperature is due to its low acidity from the tomatoes and vinegar, which doesn’t promote the growth of bacteria.
However, if you don’t use ketchup often (like, your bottle lasts for more than a month or so), it might be best to throw that bottle in the fridge. The flavor, appearance, and texture will begin to degrade much quicker at room temperature.
Also, if you make your own ketchup or use specialty types that contain less vinegar and salt, you might want to keep it in the fridge.
Mustard: Most Types Are Fine at Room Temperature
Mustard falls under the same category as ketchup, lasting for up to a month without any signs of degradation. The acid levels contained in mustard are low enough that bacteria doesn’t have a chance to multiply inside of it.
If you don’t consume mustard regularly, though, consider sticking it in the fridge to keep it looking and tasting its best.
This is true for mustards that don’t include any fruit or other ingredients, by the way. Those, you should keep in the fridge.
Mayonnaise: It’s Tricky, but Probably Refrigerate It
Mayonnaise is one of these condiments that, for the longest time, has been regarded as a must refrigerate when it comes to storage after opening. Traditionally, the advice has been that if mayo stays above 50 or so degrees Fahrenheit for more than a few hours, you should trash it.
However, according to Foodsafety.org, commercially produced mayonnaise contains enough acid and preservatives to prevent bacteria growth while storing it at room temperature for up to a month. As they put it:
Quality, not safety, is the reason the labels on these products suggest that they be refrigerated after opening.
If you make fresh mayo, have a jar around for over a month, or use a knife/spoon that might contain other food particles on it, then sticking your mayonnaise in the fridge is best to keep this condiment safely preserved and tasting how it’s supposed to taste.
Honey: Leave It Out
Honey, because it contains anti-microbial properties, doesn’t need to be refrigerated. Although honey does tend to crystallize over time (which you can fix by sitting it in a warm water bath for a few minutes), it shouldn’t ever grow bacteria or go moldy. Also, cold honey gets hard and difficult to spread.
If you have a jar of honey, the best practice is to use a clean, uncontaminated knife or spoon, as other food particles could potentially promote bacteria growth.
Peanut Butter: Leave It Out
Peanut butter and other nut butter are naturally high in oil, while microorganisms require water in foods for them to grow. This lets you safely store your peanut butter (commercial or natural) in the cupboard for two to three months. Also, because peanut butter is a high oil food, sticking it in the cold fridge makes it a nightmare when trying to spread on a fresh piece of bread.
Again, if you use contaminated utensils to get the peanut butter out, you risk the promotion of bacteria growth inside your jar. So, make sure any crumbs on your knife are cleaned off while creating that perfect PB&J sandwich.
Jam, Jelly, and Preserves: Refrigerate
Jam and jelly contain a low amount of water and high amounts of sugar. Jam and jelly also contain an average pH of around 3-3.4. These two things suggest that keeping them outside the fridge would be okay.
However, most experts still recommend keeping the jams, jellies, and preserves in the fridge. It isn’t strictly necessary for preventing bacteria from growing, but that depends on no cross-contamination from utensils you use for other things.
Butter: Leave It Out if You Use It Regularly
Cold butter has its uses (like for many baking recipes), but it’s terrible for daily use. It’s brittle and difficult to spread. The good news is that if you use butter regularly, there’s no need to keep it in the fridge. Room temperature is just fine.
If you bulk large blocks of butter, consider keeping as only as much out at room temperature as you’d use within a week or so. And you’re probably better off keeping it covered in a nice butter dish.
Hot Sauce: Leave It Out
Hot sauce is another condiment that’s capable of withstanding life on the dinner table or inside of a cupboard after opening the cap, thanks in part to the high levels of vinegar used to produce these fiery sauces.
While you can keep hot sauce out on the table, it’s best to keep your hot sauce in a cool dark place, like a cupboard or pantry. This prevents the sauce from oxidizing and turning pale in color quicker, which may affect the overall taste as well. If you’re able to finish a bottle within a month, this shouldn’t be a problem for you. Otherwise, you can stick the bottle in the pantry (or even the fridge) to preserve it even longer, up to six months.
Salad Dressings: Refrigerate
While it may be obvious to put that bottle of cream-based salad dressing in the fridge, you should be putting ones that contain herbs, citrus juice, or shallots in there as well. Dressings that contain any vegetable matter can go rancid if left out for too long.
A lot of salad dressings contain vinegar and mustard, two things that we previously mentioned don’t need refrigerating, but just because your dressing has some vinegar doesn’t mean it won’t spoil. Always check the ingredients list before leaving a bottle in the pantry, or err on the side of caution and leave all bottles safely in the fridge. This helps your salad dressing last a lot longer and prevents degradation of the sauce’s structure.
Soy, Worcestershire, and Fish Sauce: Leave Them Out
Fermented sauces like these are high in salt, have a low water content, and don’t need refrigeration. Even after opening, they’re safe to leave out of the fridge for up to a year.
Most of the time when a product mentioned above that doesn’t necessarily need to be refrigerated contains the words “Refrigerate After Opening,” it’s usually to ensure a product’s quality and not necessarily safety. If you don’t use condiments often and want to maintain their quality, by all means, keep them in the fridge.