Ranch dressing really is addictive stuff and you can dip all kinds of things in it – carrots, cheese sticks, pizza – you name it! So, how long does ranch last in the fridge so that you’ll know when it’s time to replace that giant bottle?
Well, store-bought ranch is hardy stuff and will last anywhere from 6 to 9 months in your refrigerator, but the trick is always putting it back in immediately when you are done. You should still follow the ‘use by’ date, as well, but it’s surprisingly resilient and usually there for you when you want it. Homemade ranch, by comparison, will only last about 2 weeks in the refrigerator and up to 2 months in the freezer.
The commercial and homemade ranch will also tend to freeze differently, so in order to give you the best information, we’re going to take a closer look at what’s in store-bought ranch vs. what’s in homemade, cover some storage options, and tell you how to know when your Ranch has ‘gone to pasture’.
If you’re ready, then let’s mosey on down to the Ranch – Our favorite ranch dressings, that is!
Understanding the shelf life of ranch dressing
While most of us won’t admit it, just about everyone has found themselves wanting that tangy zing of Ranch dressing, only to find that the bottle in the fridge is practically ancient – and it still turned out amazing, anyway!
So, what’s up with that? Take a peek at the ingredients and it’ll be pretty apparent fairly quickly – especially once you’ve read past the ‘main’ ingredients.
Hidden Valley Easy Squeeze Original Ranch Salad Dressing
There really are so many kinds of Ranch dressing out there that we thought it best to pick one that everyone knows. This Hidden Valley Easy Squeeze Original Ranch salad dressing fits the bill and you can find it at just about any grocery store, in this case, we nabbed the ingredients from Target.
- Vegetable Oil (Soybean and/or Canola)
- Egg Yolk
- Garlic (Dried)
- Onion (Dried)
Also added: Phosphoric Acid, Xanthan Gum, Modified Food Starch, Monosodium Glutamate, Natural Flavors, Disodium Phosphate, Sorbic Acid, and Calcium Disodium Edta Added To Preserve Freshness, Disodium Inosinate, and Guanylate.
Breaking it down
Now that you know what’s in Ranch, it’s a little easier to see where the longevity comes from. If we take out the dried onion, garlic, sugar, and salt, then we’re left with vinegar, water, buttermilk, egg yolk, and vegetable oil.
Our most vulnerable ingredient is the egg yolk, which just lasts 2 days in your fridge on its own, although the additives and preservatives (more on these shortly) do an amazing job preserving it.
Buttermilk is our second-most vulnerable ingredient and it’s really kind of tough on its own – in the refrigerator, a carton of buttermilk will last about 14 days after you open it in the fridge, maybe even a little longer.
Now, If you’ve ever mixed up Hidden Valley Ranch from the packet, you’ll also notice a particular ingredient is missing here and it makes a difference – mayonnaise.
Mayonnaise is often added in Ranch to help with the flavor and creamy consistency, but it doesn’t store well since it’s an emulsion and temperature changes can cause it to slowly separate, so the clever folks at Hidden Valley left that out and concocted a tasty Ranch dressing without it.
Homemade recipes will have mayonnaise, and sometimes sour cream, which makes them super-delicious but also quite a bit more fragile than a commercial ranch dressing. Especially when you consider the defense array of additives and preservatives.
Let’s take a look and we’ll tell you a little about each.
Additives and preservatives:
- Phosphoric Acid – Also lovingly known as ‘additive E338’, Food grade phosphoric acid is a preservative with a tangy flavor that you probably recognize since it’s used as a preservative in jams and many of your favorite sodas.
- Xanthan Gum – Created by fermenting sugar through a bacteria called Xanthomonas, Xanthan gum is used as a stabilizer and thickener and helps with that ‘mayonnaise-like’ consistency in Ranch that doesn’t actually have mayo in it!
- Modified Food Starch –Modified food starch hangs out with your Xanthan gum, backing it up with emulsifying, thickening, or stabilizing functions in salad dressings and other foods.
- Monosodium Glutamate – While MSG was demonized in the 80s and blamed for migraines and many other health ailments, modern science tells us that it really got an undeserved ‘bad rap’ (you can read more at this Discover article here), but it’s just a preservative that also provides a meaty umami type flavor that people love all over the world.
- Natural Flavors – ‘Natural flavors’ is one of those ingredients that makes you pause and ask ‘really??!’, but when you see this, it just means that there are natural flavorings derived from animal or plant sources, usually an extract or an essential oil.
- Disodium Phosphate – Fortifying your buttermilk to make it mighty, Disodium Phosphate is a commercial emulsifier that you’ll find in many dairy products that you purchase every time you visit the store.
- Sorbic Acid –Sorbic acid is another popular preservative, generally added as a salt, but which is there to slow down mold and yeast.
- Calcium Disodium Edta – This salty additive is used in a lot of baked goods to increase shelf life, as it is considered a ‘chelating agent’ – simply put, it helps to prevent oxidation of metal minerals in foods.
- Disodium Inosinate – This is another salty additive that is mostly for flavor, and is often found in potato chips, noodles, and other snacky treats.
- Guanylate – The final additive in this Ranch dressing, Guanylate is a neat little flavor enhancer that gives you more salt-intense flavor, so you need less salt in the product.
As you can see, that 6 to 9 months your Ranch lasts in the fridge is a carefully orchestrated effect and a kind of culinary alchemy. So the next time you make some homemade Ranch and it only lasts a week or two, be sure to give it some slack. Commercial Ranch is seriously fortified to last, but DO make sure it’s refrigerated -You don’t want to leave it out and exposed to the air, as it will start to go bad within 2 hours at room temperature!
What can I do to make my ranch dressing last longer?
As commercial ranch lasts so long in the refrigerator anyways, we’re going to focus on homemade ranch dressing so that you’ll know how to make it last longer. Now, with a basic ranch dressing – made with say mayo, sour cream, buttermilk, and dried herbs, you can freeze and it should last up to 3 months.
There is a caveat, however, and that’s going to be the consistency. We mentioned that mayonnaise is an emulsion, which binds together oil, vinegar, and egg. When you freeze it, unfortunately, then you’ve got a problem – oil, vinegar, and egg are going to freeze at different rates. You may have seen frozen mayo ‘fluff up’ a bit and that emulsion separating is the reason why. It doesn’t taste as good either – it’s not bad, but it’s not as creamy and yummy as it used to.
You CAN get around this a little by using a no-mayo homemade ranch recipe, especially one heavy in sour cream because you can whip that up a little after it thaws to get a better consistency.
For best results, most people will simply put the homemade Ranch in a sealable plastic container and then pop it into the refrigerator. While it only lasts up to 2 weeks (with 10 days being the recommended limit), this is usually long enough to consume it unless you’ve made quite a large batch.
What about vacuum sealing?
Vacuum sealing, sadly, won’t give you much of an edge with creamy ranch, as it’s right back to that mayo as our biggest problem. Taking all of the air out and storing will give you an enormous edge with a lot of different foods, but ranch just isn’t one of them. If you want to use your vacuum sealer anyways, it does make for an amazing way to pre-measure salad dressing and make your own ‘to go’ packets, but beyond this there’s not a lot the vacuum sealer can do for your Ranch.
How can I tell when ranch dressing goes bad?
Ranch takes so long to go bad, that most of us don’t know what to check for – we’ve never needed to know, after all. There are certainly some telltale signs, however, so here’s a quick checklist to help you know when your Ranch needs to be replaced:
- Smell – When Ranch goes off, you’ll usually notice a vinegary smell first, but if your Ranch smells even slightly different, then it could be culturing bacteria and it’s best to toss it out.
- Color – Ranch darkens a little as it goes bad sometimes, so you can take a look at the overall color in the fridge or kitchen light and if it’s darkening, then discard it.
- Texture – Ranch can get a little runny, although it usually perks right up when you shake it – until it doesn’t. If it’s watery or doesn’t ‘cream up’ with a quick few shakes, then the integrity of the dressing is compromised and you shouldn’t eat it.
- Container pressure – Yeast and molds eat up sugars and ‘burp’ out carbon dioxide after a nice, heavy meal. That means that sometimes you’ll notice that your bottle seems a bit ‘pressurized’ and that’s because it IS. If you notice this, then no excuses – throw it away.
Did your Ranch go bad? Here’s a 5-minute Ranch recipe!
While homemade Ranch won’t last anywhere near as long as the commercial stuff, the trade off is that it’s incredibly delicious and you can make it in about 5 minutes flat. This recipe from Mary Younkin at Barefeet in the Kitchen will tell you how it’s done and once you taste it, it’ll be the best 5 minutes you’ve spent in a long time! Here’s how it’s done.
Ingredients for 1 ½ cups of yummy homemade Ranch:
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup buttermilk or regular milk
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/4 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp dried parsley
- 1/2 tsp dried chives
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- ¾ – 1 tsp dried dill weed
- 1/8 tsp finely cracked pepper
- 1-3 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (to taste)
- In a large mixing bowl, add in your sour cream, mayo, and your buttermilk, and whisk them up until they’re blended together nice and smooth.
- Whisk in your spices next until they are fully blended and then add your lemon juice – Protip: You can always add lemon, but you can’t take it away without a lot of work – so start with 1 tsp and find your favorite amount.
- Pour this mixture into a jar and you can refrigerate it for up to a week – it’s not the longest shelf life, but wait until you taste what your 5 minutes of time just did for you!
Thanks again to Mary and if you want more tips that go specifically with this recipe, then be sure to give her website a visit and you’ll have a few more tweaks and some excellent recipes to add to your collection!
We’re just about ready to wrap things up, but before we do, we’ve got a few frequently asked questions on Ranch dressing and its shelf life that we think you’ll find useful. Let’s take a look and you can see what you think!
How long does unopened Ranch dressing last in the pantry?
As long as it’s stored in a cool, dry place, your unopened Ranch dressing may last as long as 12 to 18 months without affecting the flavor. Once you open it, however, it needs to go straight to the fridge!
How long will ranch dressing last after opening?
While we all know that ranch dressing is quite capable of a 6 to a 9-month stint in the fridge, there is an official USDA statement on it and their advice is essential ‘once you open it, it’s got a 2-month Visa to the Democratic-Republic of your Refrigerator’
Granted, we took a little liberty with the language, but the USDA firmly recommends that you only store your Ranch dressing, once opened, for just 2 months. Will it last longer? Probably – but we’re food lovers, and the USDA is… well, the USDA. So just remember that they’re the experts and use your best judgment.
How long does it take for ranch to go bad out of the fridge?
Outside of the fridge, even highly fortified commercial ranch dressing is in for a hard time, although homemade will definitely go bad faster. Those vulnerable, creamy ingredients – especially if an emulsion like mayonnaise is there – are exposed to bacteria along with oxygen and after 2 hours at room temperature, bacteria can start to colonize.
If it’s around 90 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, then you’ve got maybe an hour before you have to rush it to the fridge, otherwise, you really can’t trust that your Ranch isn’t growing something unpleasant. As long as you get in the habit of sticking it in the fridge after dinner, you usually have plenty of time, just remember that if the AC goes out and it’s a scorcher of a summer, you want to get that Ranch into the fridge as fast as you can after serving.
Why is Restaurant Ranch always so creamy?
Restaurant ranch looks super creamy and fluffy, but that’s just because it’s homemade and because they tend to go with higher-end ingredients. That means fancier mayonnaise, fresh-whipped sour cream, buttermilk that possibly has a French name… You get the idea!
As far as its longevity, though, it’s the same as if you made it at home – it’s still got vulnerable dairy products and emulsions inside, and it doesn’t have the little army of additives and preservatives that fortifies commercial Ranch, either.
So don’t worry – it’s not some preservation trick or anything like that, it’s just made fresh with top-of-the-line ingredients, and you can easily make your own at home!
Oh, and for those of you who were disappointed about the vacuum sealer not adding any substantial shelf-life, here’s a video of a little salad trick you can do with Ranch dressing and your favorite salad, courtesy of that amazing vacuum sealer.
Wrapping up on refrigerated Ranch and its shelf life
Today we’ve answered the question ‘how long does ranch last in the fridge?’ For homemade ranch you’re looking at 10 days to 2 weeks at MOST and refrigerated commercial Ranch can conceivably last for 6 to 9 months, although the USDA says that more than 2 months is pushing it.
It all boils down to those perishable ingredients – egg yolk, mayo, sour cream, and buttermilk – but remember that you don’t really have to store it if you don’t want to. You can whip up some homemade ranch in just 5 minutes that will put the bottled stuff to shame – in taste, if not in longevity.
Thanks so much for reading and please be sure to throw in your 2 cents worth regarding Ranch dressing storage tips, secret ingredients for flavor enhancement, or any other feedback you feel like. The comments are always one of the best parts of any online article, so please keep them coming!
Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got some carrot sticks in the refrigerator, and in 5 minutes, we’re about to have the perfect dressing to dip them in – creamy and delicious homemade Ranch.