The Great Condiment Clean-Out: How to Do It and Make It Last

published Jun 15, 2017
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(Image credit: Maria)

From the mundane ketchup and mustard to an array of salad dressings to the toppings that give your cooking regional flare, those jars and squeeze bottles on the shelves of your refrigerator door seem to multiply on their own. “Most people have at least 15 to 20 condiments in their fridge,” says Toni Hammersley, author of The Complete Book of Clean. To boot: Some of those things are duplicates!

And because you typically only use a bit at a time, they have a much longer “shelf life” (not the actual amount of time you should be eating them, but how long you hold on to them) than your average refrigerator food. “Most people keep condiments for about a year,” says Hammersley. The result: A fridge door packed with half-full containers of condiments at questionable food safety levels.

Here’s how to get a cluttered condiment area under control — and make it last.

1. Address what you’ve got.

No, you don’t have to speak to each condiment, but the best way to figure out what’s edible and whether or not you’ve got doubles is to take every condiment out of your fridge and line them up on the countertop. Look at the sell-by dates and open every jar. Combine duplicates and toss anything that smells/looks dicey or is well past its expiration. Then make a list of anything you need to replace.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

2. Date your condiments.

Starting now, and going forward, write the date you opened the item on the lid of the condiment with a marker. “I toss anything I’ve opened after about three months,” says Hammersley.

3. Group like with like.

Instead of just jamming the jars back into the fridge doors all willy-nilly, arrange them by category — salad dressings all together, sandwich toppings in the same area, and so on. “If you keep things in an organized manner, it’s easier to tell what you have and what’s missing,” Hammersley points out.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

4. Stick to smaller quantities.

It may seem like a bargain, but there’s no advantage to buying a king-sized squeeze bottle of mayo if you live by yourself! You won’t save money if you have to toss food because you couldn’t use it in time.

5. Keep track of seasonal purchases.

Don’t jump the gun on the holiday season and buy a bunch of new caramel sauces and jams before checking to see what’s already in your fridge! “Seasonal purchases are the biggest culprit for condiment clutter — we tend to buy new without tossing the old,” says Hammersley. If you do have (very) old stuff, now is the time to chuck it before you add the new stuff in there.

6. Beware of specialty condiments.

Maybe you pinned a new recipe that you’re pumped to try? And maybe it calls for some new esoteric ingredient that could end up rotting in your fridge for the next two years? To avoid wasting it, challenge yourself to find other recipes that’ll use it up. You’ll not only reduce food waste, but you might also discover your new favorite go-to recipe!

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