/ Food & Drink

How do you manage your condiments?

From soy sauce and piccalilli to ketchup and beyond, how are you storing your condiments? How do you know when it’s time to get rid of them?

28/02/2020: Which? News update

Thanks to your comments, poll responses and the polls we ran on social media, we’ve discovered a lot of confusion, misinformation and bad habits when it comes to storing condiments.

Some could even be putting health at risk.

Take a look at the full Which? News story here

07/02/2020: How do you manage your condiments?

Are you a soy sauce fan? Or do you find it hard to resist putting ketchup on every meal?ย  You’re not alone.

According to Mintel research, 97% of UK adults regularly use condiments and dressings, with ketchup topping the popularity list (72% of adults use it, rising to 83% in the 16-24 age bracket).

More unusual ones such as fermented condiments are on the ascendant, too.

UK diners are clearly keen to finesse their meals with condiments and table sauces โ€“ from every day perennial favourites to dish-specific sauces such as mint sauce and redcurrant jelly.

But how many of us are aware of how we are supposed to store these popular bottled goods?

Could it be that we’re keeping our sauces, pickles and relishes for far too long and in conditions that could see them going off quicker than they ought to?

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Maybe you find that the bottles tend to cluster in the deepest recesses of your kitchen cupboards โ€“ or at the back of a fridge shelf, undiscovered for months until a specific occasion to use them arises (cranberry sauce, anyone?).

Whatever the situation, we suspect thereโ€™s some condiment confusion out there and weโ€™re planning to get to the bottom of it.

Weโ€™re taking a look at a number of popular condiments and the guidance around their storage and how long they last:

Do you worry about whether using old condiments and sauces might make you ill?
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In general, where do you store your sauces and condiments once you've opened them?
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How long do you keep your open, unfinished sauces and condiments once you've opened them?
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How do you decide on when to get rid of an old sauce or condiment?
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Tell us more

We would love to know your thoughts and experiences.

Do you ever look at the labels for condiments & table sauces? Do you abide by them?ย 

How long do you keep them for once they’re opened? Does how long you keep it vary with the type of condiment, or where you store it?ย 

Are there some condiments you treat as being ‘everlasting’?ย 

Do you have fewer worries about how condiments might affect your health (e.g. food poisoning) than you would for other types of food?ย ย 

If you donโ€™t use โ€˜use byโ€™ dates, which indicator do you use to know it’s time to chuck a product out? Is it when it doesn’t smell right or even has mould/bloom growing on it?

Some of the condiments we’re especially interested in include: ketchup, brown sauce, mayo, Worcester sauce, salad cream, pepper sauce, soy sauce, mustard (English and wholegrain), piccalili, balsamic vinegar, pickles, mint sauce, mango chutney, redcurrant jelly, and tartare sauce.

And remember โ€“ no judgement here!


This convo is making me want to go home and sort my fridge and cupboards out!

I have to confess to opening things, putting them in the fridge and if they are not regularly used promptly forgetting about them. Cranberry sauce is particularly good at hiding at the back of the fridge. I blame a high top shelf and short legs!

I have noticed that the best before date of Lee and Perrins worcester sauce rubs off very easily. I am not sure I have ever had a bottle that I could read the date after using it a couple of times.

Kevin says:
7 January 2020

It’s almost impossible to find Best before/by dates on some products, and as Abby says, print on glass does not typically withstand routine use of the product.

There should be a white panel on the label with the date, and ingredients should also be in a properly contrasting font, and not subject to the whims of some self-deluded packaging ‘designer’ who doesn’t understand what the labelling is for, or more likely does understand, and is avoiding the intent of legislation.

Mint sauce contains sugar and vinegar that are both preservatives. That should give them quite a long shelf life shouldn’t it?

Kevin, because my husband is allergic to milk, I have to read the labels of absolutely everything. You would not believe how many products have gone straight back on the shelf because they are not legible.

Definitely Martha, I also have to check carbs and sugars so I don’t take a lot of notice of the info on the front of the packet. When nutritional info is set out in a table it is easy to read. What I do find hard to read sometimes are products listed in bold. Very often they barely stand out when a product has a lot of ingredients. Many products now have info in multiple languages crammed onto the packaging, so ingredients and nutrition are crammed into a paragraph somewhere.

I would also like all hidden ingredients to be listed. I recently found out I had a problem with inulin that is frequently not listed especially in oat milk. Inulin seems to be the latest fad added to our food as it can apparently be used to replace sugar, fat and flour.

I wrote to the Food Standards Agency asking them to consider making it compulsory to list inulin as an ingredient, but they didn’t bother to reply except for the standard automatic acknowledgement.

I’m guilty of this, buying a jar of something to use once and then hiding it at the back of the fridge. This Christmas I was good though and refused to buy a few things knowing it would end up sitting in the fridge and will go off.

Alfa โ€“ Inulin is often present in ingredients, so would not be listed as an ingredient, much in the same way that gluten is present in flour. Products containing gluten are labelled to alert customers and the same should be done with inulin, which can cause anaphylactic shock in some people. I had not heard of a problem with inulin until you mentioned it before.

It’s very unhelpful to those who suffer from food intolerance and allergies to have tiny print and the rest of us deserve to be able to read the ingredients easily.

@martha-roberts I thought for a minute your vigilant comment was in response to me not being able to see what’s in the back of the fridge! ๐Ÿ˜€

@danholden I was feeling pleased with myself this week for getting as far as looking up a recipe for cranberry sauce cupcakes and buying a new thing of self raising flour as I realised mine was well beyond it’s best before date!

I still need to actually bake them though! ๐Ÿ˜€

All our open jars and bottles are kept in the fridge except soy sauce and Lee & Perrins.

We tend to use most of our condiments before they need throwing away, the exceptions being salad dressings especially Caesar dressing that seems to go off very quickly.

Very unlikely, but if I discovered something 5 years out of date, it would probably get binned, but otherwise whether it is edible or not is first decided by how it looks. Then if it smells ok, give it a taste. I can’t remember the last time I saw mould on anything.

Darrel Wells says:
7 January 2020

To be fair nothing really stays around that long with my lot Martha for me to worry about dates , but I do keep a good chutney well past it’s date.

Sarah says:
7 January 2020

I rarely throw condiments away unless theyโ€™ve clearly gone off.

BBQ Sauce 18 months old goes runny so bโ€™bye to that thank goodness as I hate it!

Iโ€™ve got Thai spices and pastes from a Motherโ€™s Day meal I cooked – still using them!

Most things are oil and/or vinegar based so hardly go off at all really.

Iโ€™ve fed the kids pesto with the mould scraped off, bread with the mold cut off and cheese with the mold sliced off.

No one died ๐Ÿ˜€

I never look at the date, but go on smell/colour and occasionally taste. I agree the date tends to come off the bottle or jar very easily. I went to use a Daddies brown sauce while at my parents over Christmas and it had turned into very runny liquid, but there was no use by date so I have no idea when it was bought!

Tabasco sauce does not have to be kept in the fridge, but will change from red to brown unless kept dark. I presume that is why the bottles are sold in boxes.

Carl says:
7 January 2020

I’ve never been a fan of keeping condiments in the fridge. The cupboard is fine. As to whether they’ve gone off, have a look. Most of the standard ones don’t stay there that long. Worcestershire sauce never goes off! ๐Ÿ˜

Iโ€™m afraid that I basically never throw salt and pepper away, and only throw things like soya sauce when they look so dusty that I might end up poisoned ๐Ÿคข

I don’t think we need to worry about dates on salt. I have a giant pepper mill that I was given about five years ago, and being kept in a cool dry place it does not seem to have deteriorated.

Jo Barden says:
7 January 2020

Ketchup, brown sauce , mayo definitely stored in fridge , other lesser used condiments such as soy sauce, mustard go in cupboard. Must admit have never checked sell by date ….but if they smell off or look crusty I chuck them .

I don’t know about other brands, but there is no suggestion that HP sauce should be kept in the fridge.

I do not buy ketchup, but we did discuss this in an earlier Convo: https://conversation.which.co.uk/food-drink/storing-tomato-ketchup-fridge-cupboard/

I have to say the image with convo with mayo in the cupboard is making me dry heave a bit!

It’s my cupboard and I took it out of the fridge deliberately for a group photo ๐Ÿ˜‰

We don’t have many condiments in use and those that are turn over quite frequently. We tend to get the smaller sizes so they get used quickly and if there is any waste through disposal it is limited. Our regular condiments are tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, HP sauce, mint sauce, and mango chutney. Occasionally we get other chutneys and sauces but do not keep them long. We decided to try M&S Brown Sauce following a recommendation from Malcolm r but we haven’t started it yet and it might already have gone past its use by date.

I mourn the passing of Brands No.1 and OK brown sauces. I expect you could paint the fence with them.

Nicky George says:
7 January 2020

I am old. I learnt to crack eggs into a cup before I used them in case they were off or embryonic. I taste things to see if they are off things with dairy or eggs in like Milk or mayo, sniff things like meat, fish and vinegar based things. I do not think most condiments can ‘go off’ they may lose or increase in flavour or bitterness If they are covered in a lilac fuzz this can be scraped away. Smell/taste is the sense that never lets you down.

Sealed bottles and jars can often be kept well beyond the date shown, and without refrigeration. Once they have been opened they should be kept in the fridge if this is recommended.

I don’t have an extensive range of sauces and condiments and what encourages me to use them is shortage of room in the fridge.

I know the bottle itself says it’s best in the fridge, but I keep my ketchup in the cupboard as I don’t like putting cold sauce on hot food. Think I’m in the minority though.

Maybe you are putting too much ketchup on, George.

I do this (keep in cupboard not fridge) too – but only with the “store upside down” bottles. These are marvellous, with a most effective seal formed over the minuscule entrance, preventing aerobic fermentation and oxidation almost entirely. Similar concept to wine boxes (though they never last as long somehow!).

Upside down bottles are designed to waste half the contents.

Ketchup or brown sauce is OK rinsed out with water and added to a sauce or stew, but Heinz mayo ?!?!?
I’ve been bashing the plastic bottle against the side of a bowl for weeks now trying to get the last bit out, but there are probably 3 tablespoons of the stuff still in the bottle. ๐Ÿคฌ I’m thinking of cutting the bottom off cause I hate waste. ๐Ÿค”

The video in this article shows a possible solution, Alfa: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-33344955

I don’t understand how the company has gained patents for a very well established technique, but unless they get on and use it, the patents will expire.

Ha, Ha, I was look for April 1st ….. ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™ƒ ๐Ÿ™‚

. . . resulting in a ‘permanently wet’ surface inside containers that helps the product slip out.

. . . reached a deal with US glue brand . . .

. . . it could encourage shoppers to buy more frequently.

Kevin says:
7 January 2020

Perhaps they’re having problems getting safety approval:

Liquiglide says its coating is “completely harmless” and meets safety standards because it “can be made entirely from food”.

Just like food poisoning toxins then, and some other natural products of digestion I won’t dwell on…

That’s my thought, Kevin, and the BBC article says: “One expert told the BBC some consumers might have safety concerns.”

Alfa โ€“ I kid you not. Silicone car polish isn’t as good but can be used to demonstrate water-repellant glass. Maybe the treated bottles are in use abroad and the UK has still to ketchup.

Oooh…that’s bad ๐Ÿ™‚

To get the last bit out, take the whole lid (sorry, bottom) off – it unscrews.

I’d like to see jars for sticky condiment – mustard, seafood, horseradish, tartare, mint……. I’ve got them all – without a neck where the screw top fits. That makes extracting the last bits almost impossible. In these days of ex-austerity but of sustainability I do not want to throw anything away. Maybe we should have the ability to refill our jars as well….?

Providing a jar with a neck adds strength and reduces the risk of deformation of the lid during handling. I try to avoid buying square jars because they increase waste.

One way of refilling jars is to make your own sauces etc. I’ve just finished the last jar of a batch of spiced tomato pickle that I make a couple of years ago. Apparently homemade mayonnaise is much nicer than the commercial stuff. Mustard powder is still available, so there is no need to buy ready-made mustard. I will try and remember next time I am going to buy a jar of mustard. ๐Ÿ™

Colmans made their fortune from the mustard you waste – it is said. We used to mix mustard powder in an egg cup in olden days and there was invariably a substantial residue.

I store a number of jars in a drawer. If only they also wrote the contents on the lids….

What use by dates do you put on your pickle?

I stored the jars of pickle in the freezer, so no need for ‘use by’ dates. It was easier when I had a large chest freezer.

Tracey says:
7 January 2020

A mixture really – usually by best before date, but some condiments look iffy if stored too long! I have a debate with my other half over the cupboard or fridge storage too. We tend to forget when we open them too, so the bin after 3 weeks etc gets confusing.

Taylor says:
7 January 2020

I’ve never even looked at “Best before” dates on condiments – I usually give it the old sniff test first. I think I’ll go and take a look around my fridge…

Eric says:
7 January 2020

I throw out based on used by dates and what it is. Basically, Lime pickle just gets better with age so dont look at the dates, my gran had a Worcester Sauce so old that it had a cork stopper and it was fine but I am wary of keeping mayonnaise too long.

@martha-roberts โ€“ It’s confusing having similar products with ‘Use by’ dates (which relate to safety), ‘Best by’ dates (an indicator of how long a product can be expected to remain in good condition for) and sometimes an instruction to use products within say for weeks of opening โ€“ often well away from the date stamp. It would be useful if the manufacturers made it clear whether the instruction to use a product within a month after opening is for safety or quality reasons, since either could apply.

To avoid possible confusion and avoid waste of food it would help to mark bottles and jars prominently with either ‘Refrigerate after opening’ or ‘No need to refrigerate’.

I’m thinking that many makers are covering themselves by saying items must go in the fridge Often it is something we’ve all kept on the shelf for years – Branston Pickle was the latest I noticed. Also important, when will fridge makers catch up and make lots more small shelves because deep shelf space is wasted with all those little bottles. I have a large and small fridge with at least 30 small jars taking up space.
Nowadays I try not to buy regular items that have to be refrigerated, jam for instance. I reckon if jam can’t be kept on the shelf it isn’t good enough to buy – M&S take note!

I expect that manufacturers are being more cautious to avoid possible criticism, but there are some reasons why food may not keep as well as in the past. For health reasons, the sugar content of jams has been reduced and some sauces contain less salt โ€“ both sugar and salt help preserve foods. Preservatives such as sodium benzoate have been removed because of the risk of allergies and because ‘E-numbers’ are disliked by consumers. When I was a kid my parents kept food in an unheated walk-in larder, whereas modern kitchens can be rather warm.

The presumption today is that every household has a refrigerator, but that might not really be valid as many people are living in substandard conditions and cannot afford one or do not have room for one. An externally ventilated food storage cupboard used to be one of the defining factors of satisfactory accommodation and they were a very useful resource for things that needed to be kept cold for a short period but not necessarily chilled.

With kitchens integrated with dining areas, or even with living rooms, now a common feature in both new-builds and adaptations the ambient temperature of kitchens is now routinely well above the 15 degrees C [max] that I grew up with and the unventilated storage cupboards will be roughly the same. Fridges have, in compensation, got much more commodious.

My respect for “Use By” dates depends in what way the food is perishable and how it has been stored.

Raw meat and fresh dairy products generally get eaten before the “Use By” date, or binned. Although, as I am constantly reminding my partner, bacteria doesn’t know today’s date or keep a calendar, and it doesn’t suddenly become virulent after a period of incubation. “Use By” is a nominal date, after which the gradual build up of toxins that has already begun, could start to pose an increasing risk, especially to young children and the elderly.

So we had a long debate in our household about whether it was still safe to cook and eat our Christmas turkey on Boxing Day, due to a power failure, but I’m glad to report we are still alive. I think poor handling and storage in the supply chain is more likely to shift the safe “Use By” date by a couple of days, than a night spent in a cool domestic kitchen. In retrospect, it would have been better to cook it as soon as the power was restored on Christmas night and eat it cold the next day, but every decision in life is a series of risks that need to be balanced.

As to cheeses (already heavily infected with their own particular moulds and bacteria which, like penicillin, helps to preserve then), and salted or smoked meats like Parma ham and salmon (both ancient methods of storing foodstuffs before refrigeration), an expired “Use By” date becomes an “Eat Now” indicator.

I only use “Best Before” dates to indicate something that needs replacing, because it is simply not worth eating anymore. So herbs and spices whose lack of flavour could spoil the effort of making of an Indian dish, or the taste of a gift I was given more than a couple of Christmases ago. A bottle of old olive oil would still get used for frying or in baking. Most other expired foods just need to pass the taste test.

Finallly, it is important to recognize that both “Use By” and “Best Before” date are these are primarily there for food manufacturer and retailers’ stock control, so that the oldest product gets shipped and sold first. That is why they can fade and rub off in consumer’s storage and handling.

It does help to understand which foods could be a risk if kept too long. Meat and meat products are well known examples.

Cheeses differ. Hard cheeses usually have a low water content and probably won’t become unsafe to eat if they don’t go mouldy. On the other hand, soft cheeses have a higher water content and products containing them can become contaminated with harmful bacteria, and Listeria grows at fridge temperature.

As you say, children and elderly people are more at risk. People who routinely take drugs such as proton pump inhibitors to suppress production of gastric acid are also more at risk of food poisoning because acid in the stomach is one of our defences against harmful bugs.

It doesn’t seem sensible to me to have a debate about whether or not to comply with the instructions on food. The usual consequence of eating packaged food that has not been stored as recommended would probably be a dicky tummy, but why risk it?

I agree, John, provided we exclude ‘Best before dates’ that relate to quality rather than food safety. The problem is that many people take risks. Every time we have this sort of Convo, one or more people says it’s OK to eat food as long as it smells OK, which is risky if food is beyond its ‘Use by date’. ๐Ÿ™ The Food Standards Agency has simple, clear advice about these dates and includes this about smelling food:

“Donโ€™t trust the sniff test

Food can look and smell fine even after its use by date, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat. It could still be contaminated.

You cannot see, smell or taste the bacteria that cause food poisoning.”