Does Ketchup Go Bad?

Ketchup often sits in the fridge for months at a time.

Unless you use it all the time, you probably don’t even remember when you opened the bottle that’s in your fridge right now.

And at a certain point, one starts to wonder: does ketchup go bad?

Pretty much everyone knows that this tomato-based condiment lasts a long time, but how long is that exactly?

Plus there’s the issue of whether or not you need to refrigerate ketchup after opening the bottle.

In this article, we go through all of those questions. If you would like to learn a bit more about storage, shelf life, and going bad of ketchup, read on.

Bottles of ketchup
(credit: a2gemma)

How To Store Ketchup

Ketchup is very similar to other condiments, such as mustard or BBQ sauce, when it comes to storage.

You should store an unopened bottle in a cool and dry place. The pantry is the best option, but a kitchen cabinet that’s away from the oven is just as good.

Info

Unopened ketchup doesn’t require refrigeration, but storing it in the fridge won’t cause any harm either.

Once the bottle is opened, make sure you always store it tightly closed.

When it comes to whether or not to refrigerate ketchup after opening, the answer depends on how long it will take you to finish that bottle.

If you expect to finish it within a couple of weeks tops, it can sit on the counter. It should retain its freshness for that long. The restaurants do it all the time, and so can you.

If your ketchup tends to sit in storage for longer than a month before you finish it, refrigerate it.

Info

Many bottles of ketchup, like Heinz’s ketchup, simply inform that you should refrigerate their product for best results.

Last but not least, if your ketchup doesn’t come in a squeeze bottle, always use clean cutlery when scooping it. This way, you won’t transfer any contaminants that might cause the ketchup to spoil.

Bottle of Heinz ketchup
(credit: Pedro Ribeiro)

How Long Does Ketchup Last

Pretty much all bottles of ketchup come with a “best by” or “best before” date on the label. This date informs you for how long, at the very least, the product should retain freshness.

Of course, it’s only a rough estimate.

Ketchup contains a good amount of natural preservatives, such as vinegar, sugar, and salt. Plus the tomato paste or concentrate in it is acidic, which also helps with keeping the product in good shape for a prolonged period.

With such ingredients, an unopened bottle of ketchup easily lasts half a year or even more past the date on the label.

Once you open the ketchup, the time it retains freshness for depends on whether you refrigerate it or not.

At room temperature, the quality will be maintained for about a month, while in the refrigerator it can sit for months, even up to a year.

As you can see, the difference is huge. That’s why most people always refrigerate ketchup after opening, no matter how long it will take them to finish the bottle. The same is true for another ketchup-based condiment – cocktail sauce.

Obviously, those two periods are only rough estimates.

Tip

Ketchup often keeps fresh for even longer, but please be rational about it. If it sits open in the fridge for like a year and a half, it’s time for it to go.

 PantryFridge
Ketchup (unopened)Best by + 6 – 12 months 
Ketchup (opened)1 month6 – 12 months

Please note that all periods above are estimates for the best quality only.

Fries and red squeeze bottle of ketchup
(credit: Miguel Andrade)

How To Tell If Ketchup Is Bad

Determining whether your ketchup is safe to use or not is simple. Check the following:

  • Appearance. Look for any discolorations, mold, or any organic growth on the surface and on the neck of the bottle.
  • Smell. The second thing to do is the sniff test. If your ketchups has developed an off, funny, or sour smell, throw it out.
  • Taste. Give a small amount a taste and decide if it’s okay or not. If it seems perfectly fine, feel free to use it.

Of course, before giving your ketchup the quick exam I outlined above, take other circumstances into account.

If you stored it open at room temperature for like 3 months, it’s safer to toss it out. Same thing if it’s been in the fridge for like two years.

In short, better safe than sorry.