Do you stow extra condiment packets from fast food restaurants? In particular, we keep a sandwich bag stocked in our cupboard of Taco Bell Fire Sauce. These packets are useful to take backpacking or to spread on your home-made burrito when you run out of refrigerated salsa. I’ve seen other people stashing a little bit of everything – mayo, ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, relish, honey, parmesan cheese, salad dressing, sugar, salt/pepper, plastic cups of jelly.
If you examine the condiment, most do not have an expiration date. Packets are shipped by the thousand in bulk and a recommended manufacture “Expiration Date” is displayed on the container. The date on the shipping box is usually not an official expiration date, but a “Best By” date to ensure peak quality – and in most cases, you can consume products after this date as long as they are stored properly.
What is the shelf life of condiment packets?
There is no official guideline from the USDA or FDA for condiments – or any food for that matter. With the exception of infant formula and some baby foods, product dating is not generally required by Federal regulations (source: fsis.usda.gov).
Sealed foil packaged condiments provide an impermeable barrier from light, air and moisture. This allows the product to last from years – if not decades.
- Before consuming the condiment, inspect the packaging. If it appears puffy or is damaged, toss it; When you open the packet, inspect it; If it has an odd color, texture, flavor or odor, toss it.
- Condiments containing fats (mayo, butter) go rancid more quickly.
- Paper based packets can spoil faster. Salt does not go bad. Cane sugar does not go bad. Ground Pepper loses flavor after 3 – 4 years as the oils dry out, but is still fine to consume.
- Vinegar is safe to consume indefinitely due to the acetic acid content, but the packaged salad vinegars will lose peak flavor in as little as 1 year.
- Honey does not spoil because of the high sugar and low moisture content. Make sure the honey is actual bee honey and not corn syrup.
- The plastic tubs of jelly with the top peel may last 2 – 3 years. Plastic creamers and margarine cups expire quickly and must be refrigerated.
We referenced a handful of resources – including the manufacturer’s recommended “Best By” dates and compiled this data for some of the most common condiments.
|Condiment||For Optimal Flavor|
|BBQ Sauce||1 year|
|Tartar Sauce||1 year|
|Horseradish Sauce||1 year|
|Maple Syrup||1 year|
|Nut Butters – Almond, Peanut, Cashew||1 year|
|Salad Dressing||1 year|
|Olive Oil||1 – 2 years|
|Parmesan Cheese||1 – 2 years|
|Taco sauce||1 – 2 years|
|Mustard||1 – 2 years|
|Soy Sauce||1 – 2 years|
|Tabasco sauce||3 – 4 years|
|Pepper||3 – 4 years|
|Vinegar||3 – 4 years|
|Artificial Sweeteners||Eat at your own risk!|
Find something missing? The website StillTasty offers a accurate look-up tool for bottled condiments.
Finally, don’t forget to enjoy some real food packed with substance and plant-based spices. You may find you don’t want (or need) all those condiment packets covering up the taste!