Does Salad Dressing Go Bad?

If you’re in a hurry and need to whip up a salad, a ready-to-use salad dressing is super convenient. And almost everyone has a collection of half-open bottles scattered around the fridge. But does salad dressing go bad?

If you don’t necessarily want to eat Ranch, or Italian dressing every night of the week, you don’t have to. Store-bought salad dressings usually have a long enough shelf life for you to finish the bottle. And if you bought too many bottles, the unopened ones keep for years.

All in all, if you have any questions or concerns about storage, shelf life, and going bad of salad dressings, this article is for you.

Varieties of Ranch Dressing
Image used under Creative Commons from Mike Mozart

How To Store Salad Dressing

Store-bought salad dressings come in two different forms. The simpler one is the dry mix that usually requires only water and/or oil to prepare the dressing. Ready-to-use dressings are another form, convenient to have on hand and ready to go whenever you need it. Most of the ready-to-go dressings are sold unrefrigerated, but sometimes you can find ones that are stored in the refrigerated area. The latter ones are usually lower on preservatives, or even free of them, thus they require keeping at low temperature.

Let’s start with dry mixes. They don’t require much in terms of storage. Just make sure the packet sits in a cool and dry area. If you’re like me, you store these in the spice drawer. If you open the package and don’t use the whole thing at once, seal it tightly if possible. That keeps moisture and airflow at bay, so the mix retains some flavor for longer. A dry mix works pretty much the same way spices such as cinnamon or chili powder do.

For bottled salad dressings sold unrefrigerated storage guidelines are quite simple. As long as the bottle remains unopened, you can store it in the pantry or kitchen. Just make sure it doesn’t sit in sunlight or near any heat sources. That’s because these can affect the quality of the ingredients. Once you open the bottle, always keep it sealed tightly and in the fridge when not in use.

When it comes to salad dressings sold refrigerated, the rules are even more straightforward. Such dressings should always sit in the fridge sealed tightly.

If you made your favorite dressing from scratch and have some leftovers, these belong to the fridge too.

If you ever thought about freezing ready dressings, pretty much all producers advise against it. The quality of the condiment changes, and it won’t be nearly as good after thawing. But you can freeze meat or fish marinated in the dressing with great success.

Last but not least, let’s talk briefly about food hygiene. Remember always to use clean utensils when scooping the dressing, and from time to time to clean the neck of the bottle with a dry paper towel. Following these practices will make sure the dressing lasts as long as it should and will minimize the risk of microbial growth.

Torta burger with onion rings and ranch dressingImage used under Creative Commons from Ruth Hartnup

How Long Does Salad Dressing Last

Once again let’s start with dry mixes. Each packet comes with a best-by date on the label. And while the powder won’t go bad after that date, over time, the quality will degrade, and some of the flavors will be lost. So it’s best to use them within a few months of that date. Opening the bag doesn’t really change much, provided that you keep it sealed tightly after.

When it comes to dressings sold unrefrigerated, they too come with a best-by date. And as long as the bottle remains unopened, you can easily store such dressing past that date, even for a few weeks. Again it’s a matter of quality, the mix won’t go bad soon after the date on the label, but its quality and freshness will gradually degrade over time. Once you open the bottle, its contents usually keep well for about 3 to 6 months. But make sure to check the label for details, as this is a general guideline, not necessarily specific to what you have in hand.

Salad dressings sold refrigerated last much shorter than the shelf-stable ones. Usually a few weeks, maybe up to two months. They come with a use-by or sell-by date, and that date is a pretty good indicator of how long the mix stays fine. Of course, it should keep well for a week or maybe two after that date, but don’t expect miracles. Opening the bottle usually doesn’t change that much in terms of shelf life. Or in other words, you can still keep the opened mix up to the date on the label or a bit past. But again, that’s a general guideline, and you should check the producer’s recommendation for a more precise period.

If you whipped up your own mix, it usually lasts between 3 and 5 days, depending on the ingredients used. The more volatile the components, the shorter that period. If you made a dressing using the dry mix, it should retain good quality for about a week.

PantryFridge
Salad dressing dry mixBest-by + 3 – 6 months
Salad dressing (sold unrefrigerated, unopened)Best-by + 1 – 2 months
Salad dressing (sold unrefrigerated, opened)3 – 6 months
Salad dressing (sold refrigerated)Use-by + 1 – 2 weeks
Homemade salad dressing3 – 5 days

Please note that all the periods above are very general. Always check the dates and other storage recommendation on the label of your dressing.

How To Tell If Salad Dressing Has Gone Bad

Let’s start with dry mixes. Generally, unless water gets to the packet, the ingredients most likely won’t go bad in a way they’re unsafe to eat. But, much like spices, they will gradually lose potency. The best way to know if the mix is still worth anything is to prepare the dressing and taste it. If it tastes okay, feel free to use it. Otherwise, discard it and use one that’s fresh.

For ready-to-use dressings, there are quite a few things to look out for. First off it’s the presence of mold or an off aroma. If either is the case, throw out the dressing. Same thing if it’s an oil-based dressing and smells rancid.

Now let’s briefly talk about separation. If it’s an oil-based mix like Italian dressing and the like, separation of oil is perfectly normal. Just shake the hell out of the bottle before serving, and it should be mixed evenly. But if it’s a dairy-based salad dressing, like Ranch, separation is a sign of quality degradation. So the dressing isn’t necessarily bad, but it probably won’t taste that great. Check the label to make sure if the manufacturer recommends to toss it out or just give it a stir.

If the dressing looks good, smells okay, and you don’t already store it for much longer than recommended, it’s time to give it a taste. Decide what to do with it based on how it tastes. If something about it isn’t quite right, it’s better to err on the side of caution and discard it. Otherwise, it sounds like you have a perfectly okay salad dressing on hand.