When To Toss Your Old Ketchup And Mayo

I recently got a new refrigerator, and everyone knows what that means: the biennial excavating of the ancient condiments. How old is this salsa? How did I end up with three bottles of ketchup? And so on. Today, though, I learned that my standards have been woefully lax when deciding which condiments to keep around and which to toss.

Consumer Reports made a handy pre-summer list of how long you can safely keep certain items after they’re opened.

  • Ketchup, cocktail or chili sauce: 6 months;
  • Chutney: 1 to 2 months;
  • Horseradish: 3 to 4 months;
  • Mustard: 12 months;
  • Pickles and olives: 2 weeks;
  • Mayonnaise and salad dressing: Up to 2 months;
  • Barbecue sauce: 4 months;
  • Worchestershire sauce: 12 months;
  • Jams and jellies: 6 months.

Some of these deadlines seem short to me, or maybe that’s an indication that I need to eat more salads and use my dressing up faster. But then, the source these dates come from, FoodKeeper, is put out by the Food Marketing Institute…a trade group of grocery retailers and wholesalers. They may just have our safety at heart, but keeping your pickles around for three weeks isn’t going to kill you.

How long to keep ketchup and other common condiments [Consumer Reports]
FoodKeeper [FMI]


Edit Your Comment

  1. CubeRat says:

    Pickles & olives only 2 weeks…..is this for non-refrigerated pickles & olives? Honestly, the whole list of times is silly.

    • chucklesjh says:

      Yeah, who the hell eats a jar of pickles or olives in 2 weeks? This is why I like this site: http://www.stilltasty.com/fooditems/index/17821

    • energynotsaved says:


      Pickles are, well, pickled. The concept of pickling is to preserve the food for long periods of time. While some things may go bad (mayo, perhaps), I’m just not seeing any real support for this type of dating. Me thinks they want to sell more….

      • RvLeshrac says:

        Properly homemade canned (jars) pickles are good for a theoretically infinite period of time. Commercial pickles are not, however, because they’re generally filled with additional sugar and other crap that serves as a breeding ground, and source, for bacteria.

    • chefboyardee says:

      We have pickles from two years ago, commercial mayo that’s over a year old, and bbq sauce that’s at least a year old, if not more (I make my own condiments/sauces and keep these around as lazy day backups). I would not hesitate to eat any of them.

      “Food safety” guidelines are generally overruled by common sense, such as “pickles are pickled” (as others are saying).

    • acknight says:

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s more related to pickles staying crisp – after a few weeks they definitely lose some of that. Unsafe to eat? Bull.

    • kobresia says:

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the list was put together by manufacturers of condiments.

  2. failurate says:

    The pickles and olives number seems extremely short, especially for pickles… they are pickled! One of the worlds oldest means to preserve food for a super long ass time.

  3. PSUSkier says:

    Meh, I regularly consume food outside of the normal recommended “it’s OK for you” window (sometimes by about double depending on the food) and have never succumbed to any ill effects. If you check the food for any signs of something off, and there are none, I’m of the feeling that there is nothing wrong with consuming the item. After all, why bother wasting food if there is no real reason to do so?

  4. Mike says:

    Two weeks maybe for canned black olives once opened (actually they usually get funky in our house after a week). Green olives in a jar can last for months. And pickles? I think I’ve had year old pickles. I’m still alive.

  5. dulcinea47 says:

    TWO WEEKS for pickles and olives? HAHAHAHA what a load of rubbish.

    Anything heavily vinegar based lasts way longer than that.

  6. zantafio says:

    Honey: 3000 years

  7. sponica says:

    pickles might lose their crispness…but let’s be real. THEY’RE PICKLED!

    Anything with oil, vinegar, or is highly acidic I rarely ever throw away.

  8. Important Business Man (Formerly Will Print T-shirts For Food) says:

    What about molasses?

  9. mikedt says:

    Well if I base it on my parents usage, condiments are good for a decade.

  10. Straspey says:

    Actual dialogue, verbatim, from the original Broadway play, “The Odd Couple” by Neil Simon:

    Scene: Card game with the guys at Oscar’s messy apartment…

    Oscar: “I got brown sandwiches and green sandwiches. Which one do you want?’

    Murray: “What’s the green?”

    Oscar: ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs either very new cheese or very old meat.”

    • Cat says:

      “It might be cake. It could be meat. It’s Meatcake!” ~G. Carlin

    • winstonthorne says:

      Brian (from Family Guy, reacting to a smell): “Either really good cheese or really bad meat.”

      • Applekid ‚îÄ‚îÄ‚î¨ Ôªø„Éé( „Çú-„Çú„Éé) says:

        Bud: There’s always Mom’s aluminum foil wrapped mystery pack.

        Anthrax: FOOD! (runs to the fridge, takes the pack, and excitedly takes it to the table)

        Bud: Oh wow, they’re gonna eat the mystery pack. Even Dad won’t eat the mystery pack! These guys are cool.

  11. Cat says:

    FoodKeeper, is put out by the Food Marketing Institute…a trade group of grocery retailers and wholesalers. They may just have our safety at heart.

    Or more likely, just selling more groceries.

    • crispyduck13 says:


    • NotATool says:

      “They may just have our safety at heart” – agreed, incorrect conclusion. Rather, the Food Marketing Institute is all about, ahem, MARKETING FOOD. That means they exist to get you to buy more food!

      • videoman says:

        True, I do think they’re marketing the food, but I have a feeling that there were some corporate lawyers involved in an effort to minimize the liability aspect of someone getting sick from eating spoiled food.

  12. TheRealDeal says:

    So what you’re saying is that I need to throw all of my condiments out. It’s ok, I need a new bottle of Sriracha anyway.

  13. crispyduck13 says:

    “Pickles and olives: 2 weeks”

    I’m sorry but that is complete and utter bullshit. I guess Consumer reports missed the detail that pickles are a preserved food. High acid + high salt + low temperature = long (refrigerator) shelf life.

    I’ve got a jar in there I probably bought 6 months ago, still taste great and I’m not sick or dead.

  14. dolemite says:

    My wife is famous around the house for keeping stuff past it’s due date. I’m pretty much the last line of defense against mold and mildew in the fridge.

    Recently, she was putting mayo on things. I stated, I don’t remember us buying mayo recently, so I checked the date. 2010! I said “this mayo is 2 years old.” I figured she’d say “What!!”. Instead, she said: “it’s fine.” Well, we’d already been eating it and no one got sick, but I tossed it after that.

    • BarbiCat says:

      I am more amazed that you have a jar of mayo in your house that lasted 2 years. Maybe I make a butt-load of sandwiches, but I just went through a jar of mayo in a month.

      • dolemite says:

        Growing up, my mom packed my lunch. That’s elementary school through HS, every day. Sandwiches almost every day for like 1/2 of my life. I told the wife I’m pretty much done with sandwiches for this lifetime. I can tolerate them periodically.

  15. Blueskylaw says:

    Toss everything shortly after you open it – This message brought to you by your local grocers association, a disinterested party that has nothing to gain by giving you this advice.

  16. corridor7f says:

    This is a timeline for an extremely cautious consumer and deep-pocketed distributor, methinks.

    This reminds me of silly people bringing coolers to the supermarket to put all their cold things into because it may go bad in the hour it takes them to get it home.. c’mon.

    If I get an upset stomach or anything, I’ll consider the contents of my fridge, but I’ve been consuming condiments for years now that are WAY past the expiry time on this list.

    • tralfaz says:

      Well, in AZ in the summer, any frozen item you buy will be soft by the time you get from the store to your freezer.

    • VA_White says:

      Agreed. Arizona people have coolers at the grocery for a reason. When you live someplace that requires a stove-glove to open the car door, you need a cooler to tote your cold things home. Melted ice cream is not good.

    • pamelad says:

      Another Arizona resident here … it is necessary in the summer to bring an insulated bag. Even with the car A/C on, your frozen goods will start to thaw and your refrigerated veggies will be near room temperature by the time you get home (because your car got hot in the parking lot while you were shopping). I see lots of insulated bags similar to mine. But I don’t remember seeing anybody toting a cooler into a grocery store. Now that would be a little silly.

  17. toben7l says:

    pickles are the antithesis of spoilage – kept in an airtight jar in the fridge, i’ve had big jars from BJ’s last 6-9 months. hopefully they’re talking about deli-bought, bagged pickles.
    mustard? i’ve had it last over two years and still be viable. same as ketchup. jams and jellies hold up well over 6 months for the same reason honey does – they’re full of sugar, and bacteria doesn’t really like sucrose much (not counting yeast, but that’s where air tight containers and cold storage, 33-40 degrees fahrenheit, come in to play). horseradish? same as pickles – way too acidic for common bugs to want to grow in. i think this list is more of a “buy more stuff” type than a real “watching out for you” type. don’t forget, this is the same industry that has convinced people to buy an item specifically so it can be thrown in the garbage (baking soda).

    • failurate says:

      Horse radish might not spoil, but it definitely loses it’s kick a few months after opening.

  18. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    I might agree with the jams and jellies recommendations, especially if you have someone like my husband using them, as he has never grasped the concept of using a clean knife or spoon to obtain said items.

    The rest of it? I’ll be damned if I’ll throw out 1/2 jar of mayo after 2 months. If I use a clean spoon, keep it tightly sealed and cold, it won’t go bad in the fridge in 2 months.

    I use the look, smell, taste method to determine stuff like this is still good.

  19. DrLumen says:

    I agree that the deadlines are mostly crap.

    We do try to use the stuff before the sell date expires though. If something can last 2 years or more on a store shelf it will last at least a couple of months in the fridge.

    I figure if there is still some left by the sell by date then we are buying too much or probably don’t need to buy it anymore. Take that Food Marketing Institute!

  20. Alan_Schezar says:

    Not a helpful list. CR should list WHY some condiments have longer shelf life than others. Why is Mustard 12 months and Ketchup only 6? Is it the salt content? Sugar ratio? Oils?

    This info would also help people determine how long to keep their salad dressings. For example, I’m sure Ranch dressing doesn’t last as long as Italian dressing. There are also different kinds of mustards as well..

  21. kobresia says:

    Only 2 months for mayo? Are you kidding?

    I had a giant Costco tank o’ mayo that a roommate just *had* to get, but I had that jar for 8 years after the roommate moved out. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it, it didn’t go rancid, didn’t mold, didn’t otherwise start smelling or tasting foul, and possibly even started tasting better as it aged. An even larger Costco tank o’ sweet relish (same roommate, same silly notion that we “needed” giant containers of condiments) is over 12 years old at this point, and it’s also still just fine. I might manage to finish it within the next year or two.

    I don’t think I have any condiment in my fridge that is newer than about 2 years old, except the mustard.

  22. NickJames says:

    My bottle of Hunts has lasted over a year and my Miracle Whip almost 2.

  23. communeist says:

    The list of dates is NOT from the Food Marketing Institute, it is from the FDA. The article at Consumer Reports says to go to the FoodKeeper site to “check other foods.”

    “You might want to check the expiration date of your sauces and toppings before your first picnic this season. Here’s how long the Food Safety and Inspection Service [http://www.fsis.usda.gov/ask_karen/] says you can safely refrigerate certain things after they’ve been opened. (You can check other foods by using the Food Keeper feature on the Food Marketing Institute website.)”

    • toben7l says:

      And even without proof, i can be 100% sure that there are dealings going on to make FDA regulations more beneficial for corporate bank accounts. If it smells like rotten shrimp, it’s probably rotten shrimp.

      • communeist says:

        I would just like Consumerist to accurately report what they’re reporting. Regardless of what collusion is going on behind the scenes or how ludicrous these recommendations are, this is sloppy writing and/or editing. It makes me wonder about other information on this site.

  24. scoosdad says:

    Laura, hate to break it to you but it’s Worcestershire, not Worchestershire. You might want to pass that on to your ‘smarter cousins’ at Consumer Reports also.

    We have a saying where I live: “Get the “h” out of Worcester!”.

  25. zippy says:

    Pickles 2 weeks, but jams and jellies 6 months? Don’t they have those backwards?

  26. RecordStoreToughGuy_RidesTheWarpOfSpaceIntoTheWombOfNight says:

    You’ve been eating that sandwich for over a week. I think the mayonnaise is starting to turn.

  27. floydfan says:

    Uh oh. I’ve kept open Worcestershire sauce in the cabinet for years. I didn’t even know it needed refrigeration.

    • pk says:

      It doesn’t. I buy lea & perrins and nowhere on the bottle does it state to refrigerate after opening.

  28. Jean-Baptiste Emanuel Zorg says:

    This list must have been put together by someone with a vested interest in making sure people buy more condiments, because it is complete and utter horseshit.

    2 weeks for pickles?! Pickles stay good for up to 2 years after opening, not 2 weeks
    Mayonnaise similarly stays good for much much longer than 2 months after opening

    The others seem reasonable, but given how far off the mark they were with those two, i wouldn’t trust any of the information on that list

    • scoosdad says:

      Exactly. Pickling is the embalming of the vegetable world. Pickles should last for months, maybe years in the fridge, not weeks.

  29. The Twilight Clone says:

    Imagine how many idiots will see this list and clear out the fridge. I have ketchup that “expired” three years ago and it’s fine. BBQ sauce is essentially the same thing, so I don’t know why that would have a shorter shelf life. The rest of the list is hogwash.

    Jesus Christ. I just ate a frozen enchilada yesterday that said “Best By Feb 2010.” It was edible, safe, and pretty tasty.

  30. framitz says:

    Restaurants refill ketchup bottles from the nearly empty ones.
    The thing to look for to determine if it might be spoiling is gas bubbles. When we saw bubbles forming we tossed the bottle.
    The stuff is at room temperature most of the time, so you have to watch it.

  31. legolex says:

    If I find something buried while cleaning the fridge and I know I haven’t even looked at it in months it’s getting pitched. Other than that, I don’t pay attention to dates on the containers.

  32. crazydavythe1st says:

    “I learned that my standards have been woefully lax….”

    That’s the thing – they’re probably fine. If it looks and smells good, you’re probably fine.

    I’m not sure where CR got their information. Mustard can actually last significantly longer than 12 mo without going bad. It’s basically vinegar and mustard seed, so really nothing harmful can grow. Salad dressing really depends on the kind of dressing. Ranch probably will go bad in 2 months. Vinaigrette will take years to truly go bad.

  33. mbz32190 says:

    I’m still working on a jar of peanut butter than “expired” in early 2010….still tastes the same to me

  34. iblamehistory says:

    Throw the mayonnaise out before it even makes it to the bottom of your cart.

    You know how some people are actually genetically predisposed to hate cilantro? They say it tastes like soap and can’t stand even the look of it. Well, I’m gathering myself a legion of people who would rather eat a kitten than look at mayonnaise. And man, I LOVE kittens.

  35. iesika says:

    I’m wondering if the pickle/olive thing is a technicality. Pickles and olives might well only be good for two weeks – if you take them out of the brine/vinegar.

    I’m betting that two-month-salad-dressing is some mayo and/or cheese based thing, not a vinaigrette.

    Something this article doesn’t address that I keep finding out people don’t know – cooking oil goes bad, y’all. And when it’s bad, it’s bad. XP Dried spices start to lose flavor after about a month or two, too. After a certain point, your basil might as well be grass clippings. Smell test is good for both problems.

  36. MECmouse says:

    “the source these dates come from, FoodKeeper, is put out by the Food Marketing Institute…a trade group of grocery retailers and wholesalers.”

    Maybe they just want our money! I’ve kept all those things a lot longer (over a year) and have NEVER gotten sick from it. Sounds like a crock of crap (good for forever)!

    • communeist says:

      The source of these dates is the FDA, not Foodkeeper as I pointed out in a prior post. I don’t agree with the dates regardless, but I would prefer accurate reporting nonetheless.

  37. Alger says:

    Two weeks for pickles? Seriously?

    That’s just wrong.

  38. sue978 says:

    Try this site instead. http://www.stilltasty.com Your ultimate shelf life guide.

  39. benh57 says:

    Seriously this article should just be retracted, Laura.