Unrefrigerated Mayo?

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2014 • all rights reserved

Everyone KNOWS you have to refrigerate mayonnaise . . . but do you?I don’t refrigerate mayonnaise or Miracle Whip. Shocking, but true. And we haven’t died.

I’ve written before about having a tiny refrigerator aboard Barefoot Gal. And so I don’t refrigerate anything that I don’t have to.

Most Americans – and, as far as I know, Canadians – are used to hearing that mayonnaise must be refrigerated or you’ll get a nasty case of food poisoning.

And yes, that’s the FDA’s position.

But many cruisers don’t refrigerate mayonnaise/Miracle Whip, instead using the “clean spoon rule.” Basically, you absolutely never, ever put anything other than a perfectly clean spoon in the jar of mayo. No wiping a knife on a slice of bread then putting it back in the jar for a second dip. No using the spoon you used to first scoop the tuna out of the can. And no using a knife that you just sort of wiped off on a rag. It has to be clean.

An alternative that we prefer is to use squeeze bottles and never, ever touch the opening with anything – fingers, food, rags, anything. I’m talking about manufacturer squeeze bottles, not ones that you transfer the mayo into. The manufacturer squeeze bottles are germ-free to start with, so as long as you don’t introduce bacteria there won’t be any – and commercial mayonnaise and Miracle Whip have a number of preservatives in them, too.

While we don’t refrigerate the mayonnaise container, we still do refrigerate any dishes made with mayonnaise such as potato salad since in those the mayo has come in contact with other foods and is “contaminated.” Well, not really contaminated . . . but mixed with other things which might have bacteria that would grow in the mayo.

Since the “clean spoon” or squeeze bottle rule is contrary to all the government recommendations, you do this at your own risk. And when I had a much larger refrigerator aboard our previous boat, I did refrigerate mayonnaise. But I don’t any more – I just don’t have room. And I know numerous other cruisers that also don’t refrigerate their mayo.

NOTE: If you only occasionally use small amounts of mayonnaise, and don’t want to tempt fate by not refrigerating open containers, you can buy individual packets of mayonnaise and Miracle Whip at many supermarkets and sometimes from fast-food restaurants. They tend to be expensive online, but if you can’t find them elsewhere Amazon does carry them:

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  1. I agree, we also don’t keep mayonnaise, margarine or any sauces in the fridge, and all is well. Interestingly in Thailand margarine is not in the fridge even I’m the supermarket. It is interesting to see the amount of water coming out if the margarine, weight you have paid for.

  2. We like the idea of the squeeze bottle. No room for error.

    Is this also true for the tropics?

    Mark and Cindy
    s/v Cream Puff

  3. Refrigeration space is precious on a boat. I quit refrigerating mayo 5 months ago; no ill effects.

    • We’ve been in the Caribbean for 6 years and don’t refrigerate mayo, or any other condiments for that matter, with no problems. Half a pound of salted butter also lives outside of the fridge (I don’t like dealing with hard butter!)

  4. We stopped too. But we use the squeeze and never contaminate it with other food. That’s the key.

  5. We’ve never refrigerated mayo either.

  6. It’s the onions that will get you, not the mayo….

  7. We don’t refrigerate mayo, mustard, ketchup, or hot sauces. No problems, and consistent with most of the RoW. We don’t refrigerate butter either – that goes in a butter bell unless we are off the boat, in which case we dump the water and refrigerate.

  8. This website has all sorts of individual packets for just about every need. We used them all the time when we were doing kayak camping.

  9. Interesting.

  10. back in 1992 while cruising in the Bahamas and Caribbean, I met a singlehander aboard an Alajuela 38, really nice guy. He had his big jar of Hellman’s out on the counter. Said his mom told him never to do that, but he hadn’t gotten sick yet! I’m not a mayo person, but I learned living aboard that many things don’t really need refrigeration.

  11. The risk of contracting food poisoning on a sailing vessel outweighs the benefits (?) of unrefrigerated mayo… Single servings for sandwiches, small containers (like you see at the gas station or Dollar General) for mayonnaise-based dishes (pasta salad).

    • 6 years in the tropics, and 5 years before that not refrigerating mayo… Not seeing any “risks”. And you frequently see islanders not refrigerating it either.
      Ironically, the only food poisoning was from chicken from a deli…

  12. Claire McCloskey Ford says:

    I have a friend whose mother-in-law never refrigerated her mayo, and this was back in the 50’s and 60’s. Her reasoning was it had so much vinegar that it couldn’t go bad before her boys finished a jar. Thanks for the info because we’re about to take off in a Cutwater 28, (down from a Heritage East 36) and I flat don’t have the room in the fridge.

  13. Charlie Jones S/V Tehani says:

    I started not refrigerating mayo when I lived aboard back in the 80’s. Still don’t on board the boat. I use the squeeze bottles always.

    And I live, and sail, on the Texas coast- may as well be tropics-grin

    Mayo itself (the commercial kind) is a hostile environment to bacteria. So as long as it is not contaminated by the tuna, or chicken, it’s perfectly safe

    I also keep real butter out

  14. I do refrigerate my mayo…Moms voice in my head on the dangers of leaving it out
    but dont refrigerate ketchup, mustard, jam and my asian sauces.

  15. Best source for individual packets of dozens of condiments is Minimus.biz

  16. I found this very helpful. As a college student in the US I don’t have any kind of fridge and I was wondering if I could take MW and leave it out. A lot of other sites don’t offer these real life experiences when they give their opinion on leaving mayo/mw in or out of the fridge. The squeeze bottle is definitely something I try when I run out of what I have.

  17. I grew up not refrigerating mayo or mustard or ketchup. Now everything is in the fridge. Thanks for helping remind me I’m not crazy, as we leave on a long camping trip, soon, with no stores for shopping. Also, btw, love this site!

  18. Just a couple of comments about food safety. Commercial mayo has a pH low enough that bacteria will not grow. However once you mix it with other foods such as meat fish or cooked veggies you set the stage for food poisoning to occur. Keep any foods mayo has been mixed with refrigerated below 40f. Also once you cook rice or pasta or veggies it can support bacterial growth so also keep that refrigerated.

    • That’s why it’s important to keep the mayo uncontaminated! If it’s been mixed with something else, yes, it should be considered as contaminated. Only what is IN the container and has only had a clean utinsel touch it should be kept outside the refrigerator.

  19. My Mother never had the mayo in the fridge when I was growing up. But if a mistake was made and it went in, then it had to stay in the fridge until it was used up.

  20. thanks for the article! I have a few friends that don’t refrigerate the mayo. what are your thoughts on mayo and heat? If it’s hot and I take a side container of it to add to my lunch (work)?

    • It’s over 100 here in the Bahamas (and it was in the Sea of Cortez, too) and I’m not refrigerating it. The more times you put it in a different container, the bigger the risk of contamination. So if you are going to put it in a little dish, make sure the dish is totally clean and so is the spoon you use to transfer it. I’d be less concerned to just have a squeeze bottle (unrefrigerated) that you keep at work.

    • great! thank you!

  21. Agreed. I don’t refrigerate mayo either. If you are uncomfortable buy a pint instead of a quart.

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