I picked up a jar of Bolani Sweet Jalapeno condiment the other day. Instead of the usual expiration warning found on condiments I noticed the label said no refrigeration necessary and that it “keeps for multiple years” with natural preservatives. It has only Bell Pepper, Jalapeno, Pepper, Vinegar, Sugar and Spice. Impressive. My jar is almost empty after just a few days but it still got me thinking about food security again.
The fact is only baby food and infant formula are required by federal law to have expiration dates. Spoiled food is of course a risk but expiration date stamps seems to appear everywhere now in America. This is echoed by sites like Slashfood when they report ketchup will go bad in just one month! It then suggests that high levels of sugar, often found in ketchup, can help preserve a food. Well, which is it? Something doesn’t smell right.
The obvious first counter-point is that sugar does not preserve food; mold and yeast thrive on sugar. Second, restaurants leave their ketchup out for more than a month. How can the usual hamburger and fry shop offer room temperature condiment without starting riots in the streets? Further explanation comes from Answers.com
My name is mike and i have worked for the FDA for 10 years. Rarely do we have someone die from expired ketchup. Normally we get around 50-100 cases of severe food poisoning a year from this food, but only 2 deaths have been linked to expired ketchup, specifically Heinz, over the past 5 years. Both cases were also linked to tomatoes grown in central California. The best way to prevent this is to throw away any food that expires within the same month being used. However, since the acidic properties of tomatoes that have gone bad work directly against the colon, a half cup of vinegar is highly effective in combating any sickness from the expired food product.
The acidity in tomatoes and vinegar are the preservatives. It perhaps can be said that high levels of salt, alcohol and oil were used traditionally to keep food from going bad. In some cultures the condiment was actually meant as the preservative for the food to which it was added. Condiments basically need no refrigeration; yet it still feels like a surprise to see a condiment label in America with so few ingredients also boast it will not spoil.
The bottom line seems to be that refrigeration of condiments is thought to be useful for flavor, not health, but health is an easier pitch. A look at other countries and cultures that do not depend on refrigeration (temperature control) reveals a lot about our own perceptions of security.
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Update: Slashfood expired in 2011.
AOL Axes Slashfood, Its Six-Year-Old Food Blog