Does Hot Sauce Need to Be Refrigerated?
Short answer: yes and no.
You may see the words refrigerate after opening on your favorite bottles of hot sauce.
Why does my hot sauce need to be refrigerated? Like many commercially packaged food products, hot sauce has an expiration date. In many cases this is typically one year from the date of production. Many restaurants have open bottles of condiments sitting at the dining table such as ketchup, mustard, and you guessed; hot sauce. If the restaurants are allowed to have hot sauce sitting on the table, then it must be fine. Right? And largely, it is.
Most hot sauce is shelf stable at room temperature because of its vinegar content. Hot sauces produced by fermentation may not contain as much vinegar. Fermented hot sauce may contain no vinegar at all, as it is still shelf stable because of the same basic principle of pH. We will discuss the similarities and differences between fermented hot sauces and vinegar-based hot sauces in a later post.
Hot sauce as a food product falls into the categorization of “acidified food” meaning it contains low or non-acid ingredients that have been combined with high acid ingredients, such as vinegar, to create an acidified food. Because of its high acid content, vinegar can be stored at room temperature. It likely will not go bad for many years.
Combining low acid foods with high acid foods brings the pH below the threshold where microbes can grow. Some of these organisms, such as yeast, can cause the food to spoil and go rotten. More importantly, this low pH environment inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria such as botulinum that can cause serious illness or even death.
This high pH environment plays a large part in why hot sauce does not need to be refrigerated after opened. So why is it recommended to refrigerate after opening?
Why should hot sauce be refrigerated after opening?
Refrigeration plays a key role in the preservation of fresh foods by keeping the temperature low. Low temperatures keep bacteria from growing, which keeps the food from rotting. These bacteria are not likely to grow in the high acid environment of hot sauce. So what reasons are there for refrigerating your hot sauce?
Refrigerating hot sauce will extend its potential life by many months, by helping maintain its fresh flavor and color. When hot sauce bottles sit on the table for months, the colors can degrade where they are no longer so fresh and bright in appearance. The flavors may also change and not be quite as strong. When you open a bottle, it exposes the sauce to air and the microbes it contains, (which is not likely to do much harm). Sauce might stick to the inside of the cap or rim of the bottle and dry out, which could then be a potential hosting place for bacterial growth. Keeping the cap and the rim of the bottle clean can help prevent this from happening.
If you are like me and your favorites get consumed within a week, none of this will make a difference. Your sauces will still be fresh and tasty.
When should I refrigerate hot sauce? Is it okay to leave hot sauce on the table?
When you don’t plan on consuming that bottle of hot sauce in a short period of time, you should put it in the refrigerator. Refrigeration helps keep the flavor and color fresh for each time you consume it. If you decide to keep it on the table and have it ready to eat with your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, then you shouldn’t worry much about it making it you sick. As long as the producer has paid close attention to measuring the pH of each batch and done their due diligence in safe production practices, then you’re golden.
Enjoy your Awesome Hot Sauce!