Everyone KNOWS you have to refrigerate mayonnaise . . . but do you?

Unrefrigerated Mayo?

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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  • Glenda
    Posted at 24 December 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Mark and Cindy - s/v Cream Puff
    Posted at 24 December 2014 Reply

    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

  • Cheryl Colber
    Posted at 24 December 2014 Reply

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

    • Lynn
      Posted at 29 December 2014 Reply

      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!)

  • Darlene Burnett Price
    Posted at 24 December 2014 Reply

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

  • Dave Tew
    Posted at 24 December 2014 Reply

    We’ve never refrigerated mayo either.

  • Peter Robertson
    Posted at 24 December 2014 Reply

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

  • Dave Skolnick (S/V Auspicious)
    Posted at 24 December 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Donna
    Posted at 24 December 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Frances Liz Fernandez
    Posted at 25 December 2014 Reply


  • Beth
    Posted at 25 December 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Ted
    Posted at 25 December 2014 Reply

    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).

    • Lynn
      Posted at 29 December 2014 Reply

      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…

  • Claire McCloskey Ford
    Posted at 25 December 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Charlie Jones S/V Tehani
    Posted at 30 December 2014 Reply

    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

  • Marilyn
    Posted at 30 December 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Monika
    Posted at 13 March 2015 Reply

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

  • Maeve
    Posted at 15 October 2015 Reply

    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.

  • Lori
    Posted at 04 July 2016 Reply

    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!

  • Mark
    Posted at 09 July 2016 Reply

    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.

    • Carolyn Shearlock
      Posted at 09 July 2016 Reply

      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.

  • Sharon Provenzano
    Posted at 25 July 2016 Reply

    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.

  • Red Canoe
    Posted at 25 July 2016 Reply

    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)?

    • The Boat Galley
      Posted at 25 July 2016 Reply

      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.

    • Red Canoe
      Posted at 26 July 2016 Reply

      great! thank you!

  • Jane Gammons
    Posted at 25 July 2016 Reply

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

  • epemae
    Posted at 27 April 2017 Reply

    When I was growing up we never put mayo in the fridge and it never made anyone sick. I’m so glad I found your website. Thanks for all the great tips.

  • Sailing Kittiwake (Elena)
    Posted at 05 July 2017 Reply

    This is so true! We found out by mistake by tasting our squeezy mayo after 2 months of cruising – it was forgotten in a locker! And it tasted perfect! My boyfriend’s super happy about it 😀

  • Debbie Graves
    Posted at 29 August 2017 Reply

    Haven’t in years’

  • Karen Bowen
    Posted at 29 August 2017 Reply

    I tried it based on your post. After 2 summers we are converts and stopped refrigerating many of our condiments and salad dressings.

  • Karen Belinda
    Posted at 29 August 2017 Reply

    Just can’t get there….yet anyway.

  • Marcella Balkema
    Posted at 30 August 2017 Reply

    At the rate I eat mayonnaise, there’s no need to refrigerate it 🙂

  • Pamela Blanchard
    Posted at 30 August 2017 Reply

    We never have. It freaks people out.

  • Andrea Fuchs
    Posted at 31 August 2017 Reply

    Yes, don’t refrigerate mayo, just be a bit careful. BUT! Do me and the good old globe a favour and do not buy individual packages as suggested. You do not die from unrefridgerated mayo, but we all die from plastic waste. PLEEAASE!

  • Shannon Gladden
    Posted at 31 August 2017 Reply

    We do not.

  • Sonya Meredith Nyberg
    Posted at 31 August 2017 Reply

    I have never refrigerated it. Still livin obviously. This is not new news

  • Betsy Ash
    Posted at 03 October 2017 Reply

    I knew about any vinegar related things, ketchup, mustard etc…but MAYO!! Yee Hawww !! 🙂 now to teach the other half not to double dip!! Yes, thank you for all the great tips and hints.

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