Does Ketchup Go Bad?

Ketchup is one of the condiments that 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 exactly? And there’s also 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, when it comes to storage, is very similar to other condiments such as mustard or BBQ sauce.

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. Unopened ketchup doesn’t require refrigeration, but of course, storing it in the fridge will cause it no harm.

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 will it take you to finish the bottle. If you expect to finish it within a few weeks, it can sit at room temperature. It should retain its freshness for that period. 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 it’s finished, refrigerate it. Many bottles of ketchup, like Heinz’s ketchup, simply inform that you should refrigerate the condiment 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 don’t transfer any contaminants that might cause the ketchup to go bad inside the container.

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 and salt. Plus the tomato paste or concentrate in it is acidic, which also helps with keeping the product in good shape for long.

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, for how long it will retain freshness depends on whether you store it at room temperature or chilled in the fridge. At room temperature, the quality will be maintained for about a month, while in the refrigerator it can sit for up to a year.

As you can see, the difference is quite pronounced. That’s why most people always refrigerate ketchup after opening, no matter how long it will take them to finish the bottle.

Obviously, those two given periods are rough estimates too. Often the ketchup retains freshness for even longer, but please be rational about it. If it sits open in the fridge for like two years, it’s time for it to go, even if it seems to be okay.

Ketchup (unopened)Best by + 6 – 12 months 
Ketchup (opened)1 month1 year

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 fine is a fairly simple task.

The first thing you need to do is to look for any discolorations, mold or any organic growths inside the bottle. If you spot anything unusual, discard the condiment.

The sniff test is the second thing to do. If it developed an off, funny, or simply bad odor, throw it out.

If both looks and smell seem to be perfectly fine, it’s most likely okay to use. At this point, you can give a small amount a taste and based on the outcome decide what to do with the condiment. If it tastes okay, feel free to use it.

Of course, before giving the ketchup the quick exam I outlined above, take into account other circumstances. If you stored it after opening at room temperature for like 3 months, it’s safer to toss it out. Same thing if it’s been in the fridge for over two years. In short, better safe than sorry.