Be honest—when was the last time you checked the expiration date on the hot sauce or mustard in your fridge door? I know my last round of checking and chucking was at least a year ago when I needed to make room for holiday cooking.
Some things in the fridge have obvious signs of expiration—veggies that shrivel, milk that turns sour—but I usually ignore the jars and bottles of sauces, condiments, and dressings. The fridge does a wonderful job of keeping many of these items edible well past their expiration dates so it might be hard to tell if that jar you “just opened” six months ago needs to be tossed.
The holidays are here again. Maybe I’ll get lots of delicious edible gifts to fill my fridge door and I’ll need to stock my fridge with food for get-togethers. Either way, it’s time to make room in my fridge. Here are the 10 items that I’ll be checking for freshness and potentially tossing.
1. Jams and Jellies
We’re a household of jam aficionados—classic Bonne Maman strawberry, a homemade plum preserve I made last summer, a smoked peach jam we love for cocktails—the problem is that we rarely eat through a jar quickly.
Unopened jams and jellies last a good long while in the pantry, but once opened should be eaten within six months of refrigeration. The culprit is usually the toast crumbs embedded in the jars that cause mold and bacteria growth.
2. Maple Syrup
Many thanks to maple syrup’s sugar for making it both tasty and slow to expire. While pure maple syrup doesn’t have an expiration date, it can spoil from contaminants like water or crumbs. Imitation syrups also have a long shelf life, but many manufacturers recommend discarding them after a year of opening the container.
Another hotly debated “does it really ever expire” condiment is mustard. Open mustard should be stored in the fridge to extend its shelf life. Once opened most manufacturers recommend keeping unrefrigerated mustard around for one to two months versus 12 to 18 months in the fridge.
America’s favorite condiment, ketchup never seems to go bad before a bottle is finished. The truth is that ketchup can degrade in quality after six months in the fridge, according to the FDA. It’s best to consume it within nine months of opening.
5. Salad Dressings
With such a wide variety of salad dressings—creamy mayo-based dressings, vinaigrettes, homemade, and store-bought—you might think there would be a larger range of best-by dates. The range is actually quite short. It’s just one to two months for creamy dressings regardless of whether they are homemade or store-bought. Vinaigrettes have a slightly longer shelf life thanks to the amount of vinegar in them, about three months.
6. Hot Sauce
There is some debate about whether you need to store hot sauce in the fridge. Refrigerating most kinds extends their shelf life from six months in the pantry to over a year in the fridge. Ingredients matter—vinegar-based hot sauces last longer than those with fruit as an ingredient. Check the manufacturer’s best-by date and toss any sauce that is discolored or has visible mold.
7. Drink Mixers
That bottle of Bloody Mary mixer from last New Year’s Day has got to go! Drink mixes for margaritas and Bloody Marys should be used within one week of opening (two at the max), but other drink ingredients, like cocktail cherries and simple syrup can be safely stored in the fridge for up to six months.
You might think of pickles as a forever-preserved food, but even they have a shelf life. Fresh pickles (think Grillo’s or homemade quick pickles) should be eaten within three months of opening. Canned pickles like those on the grocery store shelf or homemade can last up to a year in the fridge as long as they are stored well—covered and without other food contaminants in the jar. Be sure to examine the brine and pickles for mold before digging in.
In my house, I’m the only olive eater which means getting through a jar of olives might take me up to a year. Lucky for me, this is totally fine. Jarred olives stored in the brine last from 12 to 18 months. Olive bar olives—also known as dry olives—have a much shorter shelf life of five days.
This one surprised me! Maybe because my family eats through a jar too quickly for it to spoil. Mayo is an egg-based condiment that only lasts about two months once opened. Seems a good enough reason to whip up a chicken salad to me.