Which Condiments Need Refrigeration?

We’ve found out in previous EatByDate posts that condiments like ketchup and soy sauce are pretty shelf stable, so much so that even once opened they can be left to sit right out on the counter. Let’s now explore a whole list of condiments and see whether they also can remain safely on the counter or, for safety reasons, they should always be stored in the refrigerator.

Which Condiments Need to be Refrigerated?

Some like it hot, some like it cold.

Do Condiments Need Refrigeration?
Let’s take a look at some common condiments and see whether they are OK to sit out on the counter or in the cupboard or if they are much better off if placed into the refrigerator. If there’s an asterisk (*) next to the product answer, then be sure to read the full explanation for that product.

Item Refrigeration Required once Opened? More Info
Barbecue Sauce No For long term storage, beyond a month, refrigeration is recommended.
Butter No* *For long term storage, Yes! See our butter post for information os the short and long term storage of butter.
Cocktail Sauce Yes The ketchup ingredient doesn’t need it, but the horseradish does so store cocktail sauce in the fridge.
Fish Sauce No This product is fermented so the fridge really won’t help.
Hot Sauce No Sauces can vary, so check the label and/or ingredient list, but most hot sauces are just fine on the counter. Most are highly acidic and can last years on the shelf. Who wants cold hot sauce anyways!
Honey No Do not ever put honey in the refrigerator.
Horseradish Yes Whether the the fresh root or ground paste – to keep it hot… keep it cold!
Jam/Jelly Yes* *According to Smuckers, a major manufacturer of jams and such, “for maximum freshness and flavor, we do not recommend using opened products if they have been without refrigeration for more than 48 hours” [1]. So, if you take these guys camping, be sure to pop them in the fridge when back home.
Ketchup No If a bottle takes you forever to finish, beyond a month, then refrigeration is recommended.
Mayonnaise Yes Never leave mayo or other sauces that contain mayonnaise as an ingredient out on the counter for more than 2 hours. Food poisoning may occur as a result of ignoring this rule.
Molasses No This product is extremely shelf stable.
Mustard No Some combination products may require refrigeration once opened – not because of the mustard, but possibly due to an egg, milk or cream ingredient being added to the product. If your mustard lasts longer than two months, then refrigeration is recommended.
Oil No Some of the more delicate oils (like grapeseed, avocado, almond and sesame) will benefit from refrigeration to delay rancidity.
Onions Yes Due to the high water content of onions, shelf life increases greatly if cut or peeled onions are refrigerated. (P.S. The internet rumor that onions become poisonous when refrigerated is completely false.)
Oyster Sauce No This product is fermented so doesn’t need refrigeration. Although, refrigeration is generally recommended for longer term storage once opened.
Peanut Butter No Natural peanut butter can be refrigerated to keep it from separating, which is an advantage but not a necessity.
Pickles No The fridge does keep them crunchier, so may be preferred storage for most people. Also, sweet pickles will remain sweeter if stored in the fridge.
Relish Maybe Relishes can be made of different things in different ways, but most are fermented vegetables that can handle being on the counter for a few days. After that, the fermentation will begin to eat up all the natural sugars. So, for sweet pickle relish refrigeration is recommended to keep the relish both sweet and crunchy.
Salad Dressing Maybe Many Italian dressings or Vinaigrette dressings that are made with oil, vinegar and simple spices like salt and pepper do not need refrigeration. Most all creamy type dressings do need refrigeration. If the dressing was purchased in the refrigerator section of the store, place it into the refrigerator upon arriving home. If it was purchased on the shelf and includes ingredients other than those mentioned above, then it should also be placed into the refrigerator after opening. If in doubt, refrigerate.
Sauerkraut No Short term storage of this fermented product can be on the counter, but it will last longer in the fridge.
Kimchi No This fermented product can last on the counter for at least a week.
Schiracha No This hot sauce is made with all shelf stable ingredients so sits fine on the counter. Do check the label if it is a Schiracha product (such as schiracha mayo), as added ingredients may force refrigeration.
Soy Sauce No Since soy sauce is a fermented product, it is shelf stable.
Syrup No* Due to the low moisture count of syrups, refrigeration is not needed. Regular pancake syrups should never touch the fridge. But, to keep pure maple syrup at its finest and extend its shelf life, *refrigerate pure maple syrup after opening.
Vinegar No Vinegar, a natural preservative, is extremely shelf stable.
Vinegarette Maybe This depends on the other ingredients in the bottle. A simple oil, vinegar, herbs and spices recipe would be fine on the counter while any additions may require refrigeration for longer storage.
Worchester Sauce No This product has been fermenting for years before purchase, the fridge won’t help.

Most foods, whether packaged or fresh, will eventually experience slight changes in color, texture and/or flavor as periods of time pass. This can be a short or long process, depending on the product. Variables like exposure to heat and sunlight will speed this process along.

Things to keep in mind when deciding where to place condiments:

  • How often the product is used.
    If it is used daily, then it’s much more convenient on the counter

  • How long you want, or need, to keep the product.

  • How the product is best enjoyed.
    Some people prefer condiments at room temperature while others prefer them to be cold.

  • Space on the refrigerator door.
    FYI the door is most often used for condiments since most condiments don’t really need the refrigerator. (and because of the constant opening and closing the door is the warmest part of the fridge).

  • Temperature of the room.
    Most of these products enjoy a cool, dark place. Ideally, this means 50° F to 60° F, but never to exceed 75° F. If the kitchen has a pantry, that’s perfect. If the kitchen is too hot; whether due to outside temperatures, an active oven or excessive windows, then the refrigerator may be a better choice for many of these products. This is especially true if they need to be kept around for more than a few days.

  • Squeeze bottles are great for keeping contaminants out of condiments.
    Jars can attract double dipped utensils, especially when just sitting out on the counter. This can lead to food spoilage of another product that made its way into the container of a shelf stable product.

  • Do Condiments Need to be Refrigerated?

    How about Condiment Packets?

    What about those tiny packets of condiments available at fast food joints? They sit out all day, even mayonnaise packets – is that OK?
    As long as they are properly sealed, these packets can continue to sit out for appropriate times beyond their best by date as defined on each of their individual EatByDate pages. Keep in mind that they should still be kept out of direct sunlight and extreme heat. The problem is that the box of condiment packets carry the best if used by date and not the individual condiment packets. So, the restaurants know the dates and place them out for use accordingly, but the consumer that saves the unused take-out packages has nothing to go by – that’s when the “how to tell if xxx (condiment) is going bad” section of EatByDate should be checked.

    Additional Information

    Find out more about some of the most common condiments and their refrigeration needs here: ketchup, butter and soy sauce.

    To find out how long ketchup lasts, see our ketchup page.

    To find out more on the dangers that can be involved when the wrong raw foods touch, see our post on cross contamination.

    To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

    SEARCH Eat By Date