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Can Worcestershire Sauce Go Bad?

Worcestershire sauce probably isn’t one of the condiments that you use regularly. You likely use it only when you whip up a salad or some deviled eggs, and that’s about it. So even if these dishes are on your menu regularly, it’s not like you use a whole bottle of this English sauce every month.

It’s much more likely that once you open the bottle, you store it for months or even years. And at a certain point, you start to think if this sauce can go bad or not.

Or perhaps you’re new to this sauce, and you’re searching for how to best store it for the long term. You know that some condiments such as vinegar or soy sauce last very long without refrigeration. But there are also ones that fare much better in the fridge, like mustard. So you want to know which group Worcestershire sauce belongs to.

But before we cover the best way of storing this condiment, let’s first talk about whether or not it spoils and how long does it keep quality.

Worcestershire sauce with celeriac soup
Image used under Creative Commons from jules

Can Worcestershire Sauce Go Bad? How Long Does It Last?

Worcestershire sauce comes with a date on the label, so it must spoil at some point, right? Not necessarily.

Let’s take a look at the list of ingredients first. It lists vinegar and molasses as its main ingredients ([LP][WIKI]), both of which can basically last forever. Like pretty much all sauces it also includes salt and sugar, both known natural preservatives. With such a setup, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the sauce lasts years in okay quality.

So what’s the deal with the date on the label? Well, this condiment, like pretty much any other similar one comes with a best-by date on the label. That’s not an expiration date, but a time frame of how long the producer says the product should retain quality.

Bloody Mary cocktail, also contains Worcestershire sauce
Bloody Mary cocktail, also contains Worcestershire sauce

Can it stay good for longer? Absolutely. And in the case of some products, like many condiments, they keep well for much more, often months and even years. Worcestershire is one of such products, similar to soy sauce.

Does it mean the sauce created by chemists Lea and Perrins (who started the most known Worcestershire sauce brand: Lea & Perrins) lasts forever?

Not really. As long as the bottle remains unopened, the quality and taste of the sauce won’t change much. So even if you open it after 3 years (usually the shelf life of this English sauce [HFS]) of bottling, you should feel little to no difference between it and a fresh one.

Salad with meat on a plate
(credit: Raphael Nogueira)

But once you first open the bottle, things change. The liquid has access to fresh air, and that speeds up the degradation process of the sauce. This process goes very slowly, so it will probably take two to four years until you start noticing a taste difference. In other words, over time the quality of the sauce changes, and after a couple of years, it might not be good enough for your standards.

The speed of the process depends on a couple of factors, such as how and where do you store the bottle and how often you open it. If you take good care of the Worcestershire, a bottle opened 3 or even 5 years ago should still be perfectly fine to use. If the flavor starts lacking, discard the sauce and buy a fresh bottle.

So to answer the question: Worcestershire sauce doesn’t usually spoil in a way meat or dairy does, but its flavor slowly degrades after opening, and at a certain point you should discard it for quality purposes.

Of course, if you notice anything unusual about the sauce, like an altered smell or taste, get rid of it.

Now that you know how to go about the date on the label, it’s time to talk about the storage of the sauce.

Thousand Island dressing: contains mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and vinegar
Thousand Island dressing: contains mayonnaise, olive oil, lemon juice, paprika, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and vinegar

How To Store Worcestershire Sauce? Does It Need to be Refrigerated?

Similarly to other condiments, you should keep bottles of Worcestershire sauce in a dry and cool place. A dark cupboard in the pantry or kitchen works best for that. Don’t let it sit in the sunlight, as it might affect the taste of the sauce. That’s pretty much it when it comes to an unopened bottle.

After opening the bottle, the first thing to remember is to keep the container sealed tight when not in use. When it comes to whether you need to refrigerate the sauce or not, the answer is no. The amount of natural preservatives present in the bottle is so high that the sauce is shelf-stable and doesn’t require refrigeration after opening.

That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t benefit from staying in the fridge. Like many other condiments, it retains quality a bit better when refrigerated. So if you expect to store the sauce for a prolonged period, and have some spare space in the fridge, keep the Worcestershire in there.

If you don’t, don’t sweat it. The sauce won’t go bad if not refrigerated. The worse that could happen it will lose quality a bit faster, and you will need to buy a new bottle a few months sooner than expected.

In a Nutshell

  • Worcestershire sauce lasts pretty much indefinitely when the bottle is unopened
  • Once you open the bottle, the sauce slowly degrades in quality, in a couple of years it won’t be as good as it is today
  • Keep it in a cool place away from sunlight; once opened you can refrigerate it to retain the quality for longer