ketchup shelf life

Ketchup Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Ketchup is a table condiment every household needs to have, as regular use won’t raise a concern about its shelf life.

But, if you have one that’s been in the fridge for months, you might start wondering: Does ketchup go bad? How long can you keep ketchup in the fridge? What about the ketchup that was left out of the refrigerator?

No worries, we’re here to help you. Keep reading to learn more about ketchup’s shelf life, storage conditions, and common signs of ketchup going bad. We will discuss both store-bought and homemade ketchup. So, read on!

How To Store Ketchup

Ketchup is made from tomato, vinegar, salt, syrup, and other ingredients. Vinegar makes it acidic and acts as a natural preservative.

With the rising concern for a healthier diet, healthier ketchup varieties are widely available, such as ketchup with no added salt, no added sugar, or organic ketchup.

No matter which variety, storing ketchup is as easy as storing other sauce and condiments, such as mustard or hot sauce. Store-bought ketchup such as Heinz is shelf-stable and can be kept at room temperature.

Make sure the spot is cool and dry, away from heat and lights. Your pantry is the ideal storage place, but a kitchen cupboard or cabinet is a good option as well.

When it comes to homemade ketchup, refrigeration is highly recommended. Let the sauce cool off before transferring into a container or jar.

This is, however, unnecessary if the sauce is properly canned. Home-canned ketchup is shelf-stable and can stand well at room temperature. 

Does ketchup need to be refrigerated?

Even though ketchup has been around for years, refrigeration after opening remains a controversial topic.

The short answer is you can keep ketchup in both conditions, outside or inside the fridge. The critical consideration is how long you’ll finish off the sauce.

If you can’t enjoy a meal without a drizzle of ketchup, keeping it on a dinner table is both practical and safe. You’ll probably finish it in a few weeks.

However, if ketchup is not really your everyday condiment, refrigeration is your best option. Low temperature is useful in preserving the flavor for an extended period.

Whatever your stance, what’s more important is practicing food hygiene. Seal back the container after each use. Next to that, with homemade ketchup or jarred ketchup, only use a clean spoon or cutlery to scoop out the sauce.

Avoid double-dipping or using your finger. Never put back remaining dipping sauce; once out, there’s no turning back. That’s not only gross but also a gateway for microbial contamination.

How To Tell If Ketchup Goes Bad

Determining ketchup going off is not a difficult task. You can rely on your senses to pass the judgment. Make sure to check visual signs, smell, and taste thoroughly.

First thing first, let’s start off by examining the container. Make sure the container is undamaged. Any damages on the packaging mean no guarantee that the sauce is still safe to eat.

Next, if you spot suspicious changes in texture, discoloration, or maybe molds, that’s a clear sign of spoilage.

If visual appearance looks perfectly good, take a whiff. If ketchup smells off, that’s another sign to discard any leftover.

When everything seems fine, give it a little taste to determine. While the ketchup may not spoil, it may degrade in terms of quality. At some point, if the taste is subpar, it’s not worth keeping.

How Long Does Ketchup Last?

Ketchup is one of those products that last for a considerable amount of time. This period is indicated by a “best by” or “best before” date printed on the package.

In most foods – including ketchup – a “best by” date is an estimate from the producer that a particular product retains its prime quality when properly stored and handled. Hence, it is highly recommended to consume it before this date.

However, ketchup may stay edible beyond its “best by” date. But, you may expect a slight change in flavor or taste. Unopened bottles of ketchup can last for half a year to a year after its recommended date. Check for spoilage signs before use and discard the ketchup if you’re in doubt.

Once opened, ketchup retains its freshness for around one month when kept at room temperature. But, with continuous refrigeration, ketchup stays fresh for around 6 months.

Homemade ketchup has a limited shelf life. It largely depends on the recipe, quality of the fresh ingredients, and preparation method. When kept chilled, homemade ketchup can last up to one month. Consider canning the ketchup to prolong its shelf life up to a year.

Ketchup (unopened)Best by date + 6 to 12 months
Ketchup (opened)1 month6 months
Homemade ketchup1 month
Homemade ketchup (canned)9 to 12 months

The periods above are general estimates for the best quality. The actual shelf life is determined by the ingredients, preparation methods, and storage conditions.

If your ketchup has gone bad, you can try using tomato paste or tomato sauce as a ketchup substitute.


Does ketchup go bad if left out?

The USDA’s FSIS and Cornell University via FoodKeeper confirm that storing ketchup at room temperature after opening won’t damage this tomato-based condiment. Such a product is shelf-stable. Refrigeration is recommended for longer storage. Thus, the freshness retains until the last drop.

Does ketchup go bad in packets?

Yes, you can check for similar guidelines above to see if ketchup has gone off. If you know the packet is bloating, that’s enough to say that the ketchup is spoiled.

Why do restaurants not refrigerate ketchup?

Ketchup keeps well at room temperature. Its turnover in a restaurant or a diner can be pretty quick. Hence, refrigeration is likely unnecessary.

Can you freeze ketchup?

You might think that freezing ketchup is a great idea to extend its shelf life. While it’s true that technically ketchup can be frozen, it is not recommended due to the irreversible change in texture after thawing. After all, its shelf life is already long.

For homemade ketchup, try home canning. With the proper application of the canning procedure, your homemade ketchup will last up to a year. It is undoubtedly an excellent gift for your lovely ones! Follow home canning procedures from the USDA here.

Why does my ketchup have bubbles?

Bubbles result from spontaneous fermentation when ketchup is exposed to heat. Be careful when opening the container as it may squirt or splatter the sauce.

Final Thoughts

Ketchup is undoubtedly America’s favorite condiment. Sadly, as with other sauce and condiments, ketchup also deteriorates in quality as time goes by.

Going bad is the next to anticipate. Off-smell, unpleasant taste, discoloration, and molds are common traits of spoilage.

Unopened tubes or bottles can safely stand in the pantry or cupboard. After opening, you can keep it both inside or outside the fridge. Refrigeration is advised if you use it once in a while to preserve its quality.

Homemade ketchup has a shorter life. Home canning is your option to prolong its shelf life and make it shelf-stable.

Up Next: The Best Substitutes for Tomato Sauce

ketchup goes bad

*Photo by AndreySt/depositphotos

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