Answer Man

Just how long is that packet of ketchup good for?

How to use the nutrition facts label to make healthier food choices

Do you know how to read the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods and beverages? Here's a quick overview of how find calories, serving size, and nutrients information to make healthful choices when comparing foods in the grocery store.
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Do you know how to read the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods and beverages? Here's a quick overview of how find calories, serving size, and nutrients information to make healthful choices when comparing foods in the grocery store.

Q: When going through the fast-food lanes, I sometimes am given handfuls of condiments and other times hardly any, so I usually keep some in my car and some at home just in case. (It’s just hard to eat tacos without the sauce!) So how long do those packets of ketchup, mayo, taco sauce, etc. last before they should be thrown out?

Kathy Scott

A: Thank goodness somebody finally has asked this question, because I must have packets dating back to when Dog n Suds was still serving up cold, frosty ones across from Belleville West, er, Lindenwood University. Sure, I usually brush older ones aside in favor of more recent arrivals but I have kept them nonetheless because one never knows when one will desperately need a packet of General Tso’s mustard sauce. So here’s the information that may help you cull the bad Heinz ketchup from the perfectly fine Smucker’s grape jelly:

Like everything, almost all the stuff in those packets will lose flavor over time, so they all have expiration dates, according to Atlas Obscura. Unfortunately, those dates are printed on the large boxes in which those packets come in, and it’s a sure bet you either didn’t notice or ask about those dates. Even if you did, you’d remember it about as long as the last chalupa you had. To help you out, the folks at the Outdoor Herbivore Blog contacted the people who stuff these packets and asked them about their “best by” dates for various types of condiments. It then crunched all the numbers and offered guidelines for when you should start cleaning out your glove compartment.

In general, the stuff isn’t going to go bad quickly because the packets are tightly sealed to keep out light, air and humidity. However, almost all have “best by” dates, which means while they probably won’t make you sick after that, the flavor will be increasingly less than optimal the longer you keep them. Also, if the packet contains a dairy product or if the packaging is made of paper, the faster the product will deteriorate. Of course, if the package appears damaged or the stuff tastes or smells funny, chuck it immediately

That said, here are the best estimates for how long to keep packets of various condiments: One year for mayo, relish, BBQ sauce, tartar sauce, horseradish sauce, maple syrup, salad dressings and ketchup. One to two years for olive oil, Parmesan cheese, taco sauce, mustard and soy sauce. Two to three years for jelly in plastic tubs. Three to four years for Tabasco sauce, pepper and vinegar. And just as they found it in an ancient Egyptian tomb, honey along with salt and sugar can be kept indefinitely.

Of course, if you’re like me, you probably don’t keep track of when you acquire each packet, so your fridge shelf may wind up as a storage place for a mishmash of vintages. So I leave you with what may be the most valuable advice of all: When in doubt, throw it out. After all, they were free.

Today’s trivia

When Chet “Mr. Guitar” Atkins was a youngster, what would he use to replace his broken ukelele strings?

Answer to Sunday’s trivia: Probably a little-known fact: Before he became a legendary military general, 26-year-old George S. Patton finished fifth in the modern pentathlon while representing the United States at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. Perhaps ironically, it was the shooting event that hurt him. In true Patton style, he chose to use his military .38 revolver rather than the lighter .22 favored by most of his competitors. As a result, the .38 blew larger holes in the target, so it was often believed that one of his shots was ruled as a miss when it actually passed through a previous hole. But in “Patton: A Genius for War,” author Carlo D’este wrote that Patton did miss the target, saying that Patton was likely tired from his long ocean voyage and did not have adequate time to practice. Patton reportedly also was an expert fencer, rewriting the Army’s manuals on swordsmanship by focusing on the attack. Defense (e.g., the parry), he said, was just wasted energy.

Roger Schlueter: 618-239-2465, @RogerAnswer

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