I have often wondered if salad dressing really needs to be refrigerated. There are many salad dressings out there making it difficult to choose just one to use on your salads, which can make the fridge become a bit cluttered at times. Like me, you might wonder which ones really need to be refrigerated so you can free up some shelf space.
All open salad dressings should be refrigerated. If it is homemade and contains fresh ingredients like garlic, mayonnaise, or eggs, it should be consumed quickly. If it was commercially packaged and contains preservatives, it will last up to a few months and possibly past its “Best By” date.
Refrigeration slows down the decay process for fresh ingredients, so it is important to store open dressing bottles in the refrigerator. There are a few exceptions to the rule, but you must be careful and use discretion if you decide to store dressing outside of the refrigerator. Continue reading to learn about the exceptions and signs of spoilage.
How Long Does Salad Dressing Last Unrefrigerated?
The “Best By” date on the label of the salad dressing should be used to determine if the dressing is still safe to eat. The date is more of a guideline rather than a hard rule that must be followed precisely.
Sometimes, the date may be listed with the phrase “Best Used By” or “Sell By.” If you use the dressing after this date, it may have decreased in quality but should still be safe to eat.
Unopened store-bought salad dressing should last up to six months past the date on the label. Remember that any change in taste, color, or smell could mean that bacteria are growing and the dressing is no longer safe to eat.
Store-bought dressing that has been opened should be refrigerated. You can leave it out for a few hours while you’re using it, but you should promptly return it to the refrigerator once you are finished. Leaving it on the shelf after opening it could potentially be a health risk.
Dry mixes should last a few months after the expiration date. The flavor quality may change over time. If it tastes bad or the odor or appearance has changed, it is probably best not to eat it.
What Types Do or Don’t Need to Be Refrigerated?
There are three types of salad dressings you can use:
- Bottled dressings that are ready to use immediately
- Dry mixes that require water or oil to make it when you want to use it
- Homemade dressings that are best if used immediately after making
Each of these has different storage requirements to keep them fresh.
Bottled salad dressings are either sold unrefrigerated on the shelf in the aisles or refrigerated near the produce section of your local grocery store. The dressings that are unrefrigerated contain preservatives that allow them to be kept at room temperature. The dressings that are kept cold in the store typically have few or no preservatives.
Once unrefrigerated bottled dressings are opened, they should be kept in the refrigerator. Once the packaging seal is broken and the bottle is open, it’s possible for bacteria to begin growing. If the bottle is sealed, it can be stored at room temperature until you are ready to open it.
Vegetables like garlic and onions can be stored in the pantry and will keep for up to a couple of months if they are kept dry. When these ingredients are cut up and put into salad dressing, however, they can begin to grow mold because of the present moisture. Bacteria will grow quickly if the temperature is above 40°F, so refrigeration will slow down the process.
Salad dressings that are refrigerated in the store should always be refrigerated. If you purchase a cold dressing, you should return it to the refrigerator shortly after purchasing it. These dressings contain very few preservatives that will cause them to quickly spoil if they warm up to room temperature.
Dry Mix Dressings
Dressings made from dry mixes usually require water, oil, or dairy to make them. The leftover powder does not need to be refrigerated after opening. However, you need to make sure it is properly sealed so that moisture does not get in the package. Placing the remaining powder in the refrigerator may allow moisture in the package which can lead to the growth of mold.
You should only make as much dressing as you need, but if you have leftover mixed dressing, that should be stored in the refrigerator.
Can Homemade Salad Dressing Be Left Out?
It’s safer to store all salad dressings in the refrigerator, but your homemade dressing may not require refrigeration if it doesn’t contain ingredients that will spoil. A simple dressing that only contains olive oil and vinegar should keep fresh in the pantry or cabinet. Placing this simple dressing in the refrigerator may cause it to solidify. You should never store it near heat sources like the stove. If stored properly, a simple dressing should be able to last up to twelve months in a cool, dry place.
Dressings that are made with perishable ingredients should be refrigerated. If you use any kind of dairy, egg, fruit, or vegetable, it will spoil if not refrigerated. You should only keep these in the refrigerator for a few days. They don’t contain preservatives so they will not be able to stay fresh.
If you are uncertain about whether or not you should refrigerate your homemade salad dressing, go based on the “Best By” dates on the labels of the ingredients you used. If the oil has a long shelf life but you added a condiment like mayonnaise, it is best to follow the date on the mayonnaise package.
Remember that fresh ingredients will spoil faster. Adding vegetables or egg will immediately lower the shelf life. Always consume homemade dressing soon after you prepare it.
How to Tell If Salad Dressing Has Gone Bad?
Any change in color, taste, or smell is a sign that the salad dressing has gone bad. If mold or a foul smell is present, throw out the dressing.
If oil-based dressings have separated, that is normal. You only need to mix it up by shaking the bottle. However, if the dressing smells bad, you should discard it.
If a dairy-based dressing is separating, it might be best to throw it away. That usually means the quality has decreased and it won’t taste good, although it shouldn’t be harmful to eat.
Always check the date if you are unsure about the quality and freshness of a salad dressing. If the bottle is within the “Best By” date and the bottle isn’t damaged, it should still be fresh. If the seal was broken or tampered with when you purchased the dressing, then the dressing might expire before the date on the label. Return the product if you are able to do so. Otherwise, you should throw it away.
You should keep most of your salad dressing in the refrigerator. If it is only oil and vinegar, it might be okay in the pantry depending on what kind of oil it is. The dry mix doesn’t have to be kept in the refrigerator.
Spoiled salad dressing will have a change in taste, color, and odor. It can also have the presence of mold. Use the date on the label to help you determine if the dressing is still okay to eat. Sometimes a change of color doesn’t mean the dressing has spoiled. If you’re not sure, you should throw it out so you don’t risk eating harmful bacteria.
For more, check out What Condiments Do Not Need to Be Refrigerated After Opening?