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Which Condiments Need to Be Refrigerated?

Bottles and containers inside a fridge

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 the acidity from the tomatoes and vinegar as well as the salt. Both of which reduce bacterial growth.

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 is very similar to ketchup, lasting for up to a month without any signs of degradation. The acidity levels in mustard are high 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 advice is largely restricted to traditional mustards, however. If you have mustard that is heavily sweetened, has cream in it, or includes whole bits of fruit or vegetables, it’s wise to refrigerate it.

Mayonnaise: It’s Tricky, But Probably Refrigerate It

mayonnaise in bowl and spoon on kitchen table
Africa Studio/Shutterstock

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.

This food safety rule stems from the fact that traditional homemade mayonnaise spoils very quickly. There’s a good reason people always assume it was the potato salad at the potluck that got them sick! Most potato salad recipes have a mayonnaise base and they aren’t safe to leave out on a hot day.

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 has 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. Honey found in ancient burial tombs, although completely crystallized, was found to still be safe to consume.

Hunnibi Honey Dispenser

Drizzle the honey out the bottom of this clever dispenser and never worry about a sticky honey bottle again.

If you have a jar of honey, the best practice is to use a clean knife or spoon each time you use the jar. The honey might be able to survive a few millennia in the jar, but not if you fill it with bread crumbs. And if you want a really clean drip-free way to put honey on your toast, drizzle it over pancakes, or put a drop in your tea, this clever honey dispenser works great.

Peanut Butter: Leave It Out

Peanut butter and other nut butter are naturally high in oil with almost no water content. As such, microorganisms find it difficult to grow in nut butter. This lets you safely store your peanut butter (commercial or natural) in the cupboard for two to three months.

Not only is it shelf-stable but sticking it in the cold fridge makes it a nightmare when trying to spread on a fresh piece of bread as the cold oil clumps together.

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. And for around a month, assuming you don’t contaminate the jar, you can keep jam, jelly, and preserves outside the fridge.

Bonne Maman Preserve Sampler Set

Unless you're trying out delicious little sampler jars like these, you should pop the jar in the fridge to keep your jam, jelly, and preserves fresh and safe.

However, most experts still recommend keeping the jams, jellies, and preserves in the fridge right from the start. It isn’t strictly necessary for preventing bacteria from growing on a jar you’ll use up almost immediately but most of us don’t use a whole jar of jelly that fast and there’s really no reason not to play it safe and refrigerate it.

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.

KooK Ceramic Butter Dish

This classic looking ceramic dish is perfect for keeping your butter covered while leaving it out at room temperature.

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 the salad dressing from beginning to break down into a much less palatable version.

If you make any homemade dressings, they should be refrigerated immediately as a fresh homemade dressing has no additional preservatives.

As a side note, while many types of dressing are shelf-stable until opened, you should store them at home the way you found them in the store. If the dressing was on a non-refrigerated shelf you can put it on a shelf in your pantry until you open it. If the dress was in a cooler case at the store, however, you should take it home and put it directly into the fridge as it isn’t intended for room-temperature storage.

Soy, Worcestershire, and Fish Sauce: Leave Them Out

Soy sauce is poured into a spoon over the saucepan
Karpenkov Denis/Shutterstock

Fermented sauces like these are so high in salt content they’re nearly impervious to spoiling. You don’t need to refrigerate them and they should maintain a stable flavor profile for up to a year.

Even after that, they are typically safe to eat (though they may taste stale or off). Fortunately, such sauces are so cheap there’s no reason to keep an old stale bottle around.

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. But, if you don’t use condiments often and want to maintain their quality, by all means, keep them in the fridge.

Brady Gavin Brady Gavin
Brady Gavin is a professional writer here at LifeSavvy and its sister site How-to Geek. He's always had a passion for writing, technology, and computers since a young age. When he's not writing feverishly in a cafe, you can find him with his toes in the sand, soaking up the sun at the beach. Read Full Bio »
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