Ranch salad dressing has somewhat of a cult following here in the United States. You can find it as an ingredient in various types of recipes or as a flavor variety among various prepared foods and snacks sold in your local grocery store.
Many people feel as if ranch could make almost anything they eat taste better, and thus keep a bottle of it easily accessible to give less-than-stellar food the kick it needs to be top-notch.
If you’re one of these aficionados, you may wonder, does ranch need to be refrigerated? We’ll address that question (and more) below.
Is It Necessary to Refrigerate Ranch Dressing?
The answer about whether it’s necessary to refrigerate ranch dressing comes down to how it’s prepared.
For example, most every commercially-branded and produced ranch dressing option contains preservatives. That’s what allows those ranch dressing choices that you find on the inner aisles of your grocery store to remain there for a long time at room temperature without going bad.
However, it’s important to note that even the contents of those shelf-stable ranch bottles go bad at some point. Of course, there’s an expiration date on the bottle after which, even despite the preservatives, the dressing is no longer safe to consume.
That expiration date is generally 18 months from the time of the ranch dressing’s manufacturing. You can legitimately keep an unopened bottle out at room temperature until that point. However, rules change once you open that bottle.
You will often note a “refrigerate after opening” type of warning if you look at the label on the front or back of the bottle or paper or plastic wrapper surrounding its cap. Exposure to the air impacts how the preservatives do their job– thus why there’s a refrigeration recommendation on the dressing’s labeling.
Once opened, a good rule of thumb is that you should consume it or throw it away after six months. However, some food scientists who have studied how long foods last have suggested that commercially available ranch dressing can last as long as nine months once opened in the refrigerator.
Of course, we’ve only discussed commercially available ranch dressing that can be found on your grocer’s inner, shelf-stable aisles. There are other options, such as the refrigerated varieties sold in your grocery store’s produce department and those self-produced by a restaurant or that you make by following a recipe in your home.
Some, if not all, of those ranch dressings might not have preservatives in them, and are already refrigerated or produced using cold ingredients. You may wonder how long those last, too.
Homemade and Store-Bought Refrigerated Ranch Dressing
If you purchase refrigerated ranch dressing in your grocer’s produce section, it will likely contain labeling letting you know whether or not it contains preservatives. It can be hit or miss depending on the company and the niche its product fills within the market.
Many options in this section of the store, for example, are made of a dairy product other than buttermilk, are non-dairy, or gluten-free, all of which may affect how long the bottle holds up when refrigerated.
A good rule of thumb if you don’t see any advice listed on the product packaging telling you otherwise is that these already-refrigerated ranch dressing should be consumed within three or four weeks after opening. This same rule applies to any ranch dressing you whip up from scratch at home.
Now that you’re clear on how long ranch dressing lasts once opened or made, let’s delve into how quickly after opening and using it you should re-refrigerate it.
How Long Is It Safe To Leave Ranch Dressing Out After Opening?
If you’re curious how quickly you can get by leaving an open ranch dressing bottle out before needing to re-refrigerate it, it too comes to its manufacturing.
You can generally leave a shelf-stable commercial bottle of ranch dressing out for up to 24 hours after consuming it without placing it in the refrigerator. In this scenario, you should be able to use it again and never experience any adverse side effects like food poisoning.
If you are curious why that’s safe to do with bottled ranch dressing and not other products, it has to do with the former’s high acidity content. It slows down bacterial growth significantly, thus minimizing your chances of getting sick from food poisoning despite leaving it out for such a long time.
However, one detail you will want to prepare yourself for if you leave your recently opened fresh bottle of ranch dressing out for nearly 24 hours is how its consistency might change. This is particularly the case if you leave it in a hot, sunny environment instead of a cool, dark one.
Its ingredients may start to separate, leading your ranch dressing to take on a thinner, watery consistency instead of the thick creamy one you expect or prefer.
Also, leaving a previously opened and refrigerated commercial bottle of ranch sauce out for 24 hours is not advisable. You should only leave it out at most two hours after consumption. Otherwise, it will spoil, since exposure to the air and refrigeration changes the preservatives’ properties and affects their ability to kill food poisoning-causing bacteria.
And let’s not forget about already-refrigerated commercially available or homemade ranch dressings.
The shift in temperature of a previously refrigerated item is never ideal. So, you should avoid leaving any ranch sold in the cold section of your grocer’s produce section out after use– even if you look at the ingredients list and notice it mentions having preservatives in it.
As for homemade ranch, you will likely be making or have made it with buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt as its base. All of those dairy sources give ranch dressing the creaminess that you crave and can easily spoil within a short time without being refrigerated.
It’s always important to consume what you want and replace the container in the refrigerator soon thereafter.
Signs That Ranch Dressing Has Gone Bad
Before you use ranch dressing, it’s always a good practice to check and make sure it hasn’t gone bad. The way the dressing looks and smells will tell you a lot about whether the ranch sauce is still safe to consume.
Ranch dressing has a combination of an acidic and milky flavor. If you open it and it smells different, then bacterial growth has likely set in. It’s best just to throw it out.
The same goes for the taste. If you forget to smell the ranch first and go right to tasting it and something seems off, quickly discard the dressing and any food you might have already covered.
It’s important to look at your ranch dressing’s appearance too. Look at the coloring before you consume it. Ranch sauce is typically an off-white color with specs of herbs, such as parsley and peppercorns.
Preservatives help maintain coloration, although the dressing nearest the neck of the bottle that is most often exposed to air, can take on a more beige than off-white hue. While some discoloration is typical and should still render the ranch safe to eat, you will also want to look for mold growth.
Mold growth can occur because the ranch is best stored in dark environments. So, if you notice unexpected black specs or a cloudy, furry growth inside a bottle, you shouldn’t take your chances. Throw it out!
Determining if Your Ranch Needs To Be Refrigerated
Ranch dressing is a delicious condiment to add to fries, wings, salads, pizza, and many other foods to amplify their taste. One small misstep in choosing what to do with your ranch after making or opening it can leave you with not too fond feelings about this guilty pleasure, though.
If you follow the steps above, then you will hopefully minimize your risk of consuming unsafe ranch dressing. This will allow you to continue to experience a loving relationship with this yummy condiment for the foreseeable future.