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Nov 22, 2013 04:50 PM

how long will a homemade lemon vinaigrette last?

I make a vinaigrette with Dijon mustard, lemon juice, and olive oil a few times a week and it only just occurred to me that it might be easier to make a big batch and keep it in the fridge! My question is... how long will this last in the fridge?

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  1. FWIW, I keep such vinaigrettes (with or without also crushed garlic and various vinegars) for a few weeks refrigerated (tightly closed, of course), without notable degradation.

    Keep in mind that lemon juice and ground mustard both are natural preservatives in their own right. Lemon juice is both an antioxidant and powerful pH lowerer, and was traditionally identified (in pre-internet days) in government food advisories as among the most powerful of all food preservatives, in situations where its flavor is compatible (as certainly in this case).

    7 Replies
    1. re: eatzalot

      Regarding the garlic, is botulism not an issue with the acid?

      1. re: c oliver

        That's what I was thinking.

        OP, I wouldn't keep the vinaigrette around any longer than you keep most perishable items. 3 days is a good conservative number.

        I don't think I'd change your vinaigrette-making schedule. Maybe make one jar on Sundays and one on Wednesdays.

        1. re: c oliver

          Probably not an issue with the acid. But to be safe one can use garlic powder.

          1. re: C. Hamster

            Good suggestion. Taste-wise how does that compare?

            1. re: c oliver

              FYI I used garlic powder for years, as a shortcut. (US commercial salad-dressing mixes like Good Seasons, sold as packets with a glass shaker jar to add oil and vinegar, were based on garlic and onion powders; I used them when very young and later basically made my own from scratch.) Garlic powder has the body of garlic without the soul (i.e. complexity) and also with less of the emulsifying power of fresh garlic, which can bind oil and water.

              Not sure it has much bearing on the food-safety issue anyway. Both because unclear if commercial dried allium products are subjected to the necessary special temperatures for killing Clostridium spores, and because, even if they are, garlic is still far from the only spore carrier, as I noted already in longer reply.

          2. re: c oliver

            I don't think botulism is a problem with acid. It's a problem with oil because botulism grows in an aneorobic environment and oil seals out oxygen. I don't think vinaigrette is dangerous for botulism.

            Oh, I see this was covered extensively already. I'll just note that I've kept vinaigrette for months in the fridge.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              I have as well. Usually use what I've made within about 3-4 weeks.

        2. c oliver, you touched on a favorite topic of mine: I've cited anaerobic food-safety issues here for years (occasionally to amazingly deaf ears), after recipes appeared on Chowhound for homemade products (such as garlic or duck confits, stored under fat) that'd bring prompt health-department intervention if ever attempted commercially, since they violate standard international food-safety guidelines for botulism prevention.

          Garlic ("cooked" or not) stored under oil has been a particular (and regulatory) food-safety issue in the US, following modern botulism episodes.

          Also, some technical subtleties in this topic mislead many people into unsafe complacency. (Two nutshells: 1. Cooking foods at "high temperature" in ovens or deep fat does NOT raise the local temp. within the food to those same temperatures, if any water remains, thanks to Lvap.
          2. Adding marginal acidity to liquid in canned foods does NOT guarantee the same acid level in the food itself, especially over time, due to reactions that can neutralize the acid.)

          With that in mind, here's what I know about vinaigrettes with garlic. (The issue isn't just from garlic: spices, such as black pepper, have been implicated as Clostridium spore carriers. Remember that the hazard is not directly from the spores, which are all around us, but from their development into toxin-generating bacteria in food stored under special conditions.)

          That bacterial development requires a pH within the food moisture above about 4.2 at extreme minimum. (You'll notice that many commercial condiments such as pesto sauce, especially if "fresh" and not pressure-sterilized, include additives like citric acid to lower the pH outside the hazard zone.)

          I've personally measured ripe lemon juice pH's around 2.0. Meaning an acid (or ion) concentration 100 times greater than pH 4.0. Accurate assessment of pH within the crushed garlic in a real, stored vinaigrette is tricky -- beyond the ability of pH papers or casual pH meters -- but the roughly 100:1 initial overkill (when the lemon juice accounts for most of the vinaigrette's water content) affords some reassurance, beyond the level of ordinary commercial condiments or home-canned fruit.

          In the OP's vinaigrette, which mentioned no garlic at all and whose only aqueous ingredients are very acid anyway (prepared mustard, lemon juice) I find stronger assurance still.

          Both cases are radically unlike the non-acid, fat-covered duck or garlic that people have boasted (!) about storing at room temperature.

          Of course there's no harm either in making vinaigrette every few days. One advantage is that you can play with more variations. That's how we learn, as cooks.

          3 Replies
          1. re: eatzalot

            I appreciate your detailed reply. I'm the farthest thing from a germophobe but the garlic/botulism thing got my attention a few years ago here on CH. Thanks.

            1. re: c oliver

              And very reasonably, c oliver. The subject is a bit complex (not suited to sound-bite summaries): the three phases of botulism development (spores to bacteria to toxin), what heat and acidification can and can't do, the counterintuitive obstacles to raising FOOD temps high enough to kill spores at atmospheric pressure.

              Despite fatal and instructive examples that popularize botulism awareness periodically, its seems (as with stock-market crashes) each new wave of adults needs to re-learn the same lessons, harshly. After 1971's Bon Vivant Soup Co. episode, the US was sharply botulism-conscious. But a few years ago restaurants began fashionably storing things under oil and it happened again. Even AFTER that, the New York Times negligently published a cooking article promoting storing garlic or whatever under oil -- someone online summarized the article as an unreliable guide to causing botulism poisoning. The NYT amended the online version later, but there was no excuse for neglecting this issue to begin with. I wonder what might happen if someone is randomly killed after following one of the online bits of armchair advice about confit or garlic storage. The survivors' lawyers may go after the person who confidently posted the recipe.

              1. re: eatzalot

                I've wondered many times why CH even allows these conversations. I'd think THEY have liability. Again, thanks for a very credible explanation of the science.

          2. I am specifically wondering about non-garlic vinaigrette. It's only mustard, lemon, and evoo.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mmalone5401

              Since none of the ingredients go bad, I'd think you could keep it forever.

              1. re: mmalone5401

                Yes, details and experience report elsewhere in this thread already. I have scarcely heard of any food product of any kind with less potential for spoilage.

                1. re: mmalone5401

                  I make this about once a week or so, towards the end of the week the lemon flavor isn't as "bright" as i like it.

                  1. re: Ttrockwood

                    Yah, I find that both lemon and lime juice have a pretttty short shelf life in the fridge -- they just taste off.

                    I drink a lot of vodka/soda/lime, and used to sometimes squeeze lime juice ahead of time so I wouldn't have to do it for every single drink... but I found out the hard way that it's not a good idea, at least flavor-wise. It's already bad a day later.

                2. Geez, I keep a jar of fresh chopped garlic in olive oil in my fridge for 2-3 weeks at a time. I've been doing it for decades, and no one has ever gotten sick from my cooking. And I use LOTS of garlic in many of my dishes!

                  15 Replies
                  1. re: CapeCodGuy

                    "Geez, I keep a jar of fresh chopped garlic in olive oil in my fridge for 2-3 weeks at a time. I've been doing it for decades, and no one has ever gotten sick from my cooking." 

                    Congratulations. And many cooks have the same experience.

                    But that's the logic I addressed here four years ago (including in the linked thread, reiterated below), often to similar skeptical response (even from people who stored confits at room temperature).

                    It was the exact logic that produced a fatal botulism outbreak in a family, documented in Roueché's famous story "Family reunion," and the logic that led US restaurants a few years ago to store garlic in oil as condiment until botulism resulted, and the FDA "Food Code" was specifically amended to prohibit that practice. The risk is somewhat lowered by refrigeration but not eliminated, and the fact remains you'd bring health-department intervention if you did it in a food business.


                    1. re: eatzalot

                      I do so many, many things with food that skeeve out some here. I drink tap water all over the world. Eat raw eggs, meat, etc. The only time I've been sick from food was salmonella from US made peanut butter that didn't get removed from the shelf in Rio. But I DON'T store garlic in oil. And probably because I read what you posted originally. I have a decent amount of medical/scientific background and this is the real deal. Just because someone has never gotten sick doesn't mean that someone isn't going to get sick. Salmonella I dealt with (self-medicated with Cipro). Botulism I DO NOT want to deal with. Amen.

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        Well, I certainly don't want to put anyone, or even myself at risk, and given that it would seem I've just had a string of good luck, how long IS it safe to store refrigerated chopped garlic in oil in the fridge? I usually buy the small tubs of peeled cloves in my local MB, which is much more than I need for a week, or even two, of cooking. It skeeves me out a bit as it is as it's openly sourced from China to begin with.

                        1. re: CapeCodGuy

                          The standard advice is "a few days" at refrigerator temps. You will find that freshly made food products nowadays, i.e. products that aren't steam-sterilized against botulism spores, always either are handled frozen (with instructions to use within "a few days" of thawing), or sold fresh with instructions to use in a few days, or include acidification or chemical preservatives (nitrates/nitrites) that inhibit C. bot. growth.

                          IMPORTANT: The place to look for authoritative safe advice on such food-safety questions is ALWAYS public-health sources (CDC, WHO, FDA, Health Ministries in other countries), not online discussion websites, which are miraculous fountains of sincere misinformation.

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            Plus one million on your "IMPORTANT" note. There's just an incredible amount of totally wrong info on the internet. And just because a source sounds legit doesn't mean it is.

                            Can whole, peeled cloves be frozen without adversely effecting the texture?

                            1. re: c oliver

                              I haven't tried freezing whole garlic (it has always seemed so easy to keep fresh bulbs, or even commercially peeled cloves sold packaged by various sources in my region).

                              The same ice crystal formation that impairs the textures of some other vegetables (by rupturing cell walls) would presumably leave the garlic a little ragged.

                              FWIW, when I have wanted to freeze some useful leftover flavorful ingredient, I've had the best success by covering it in some compatible liquid first. Keeps the dreaded oxygen at bay, and especially, inhibits sublimation of volatiles. (Sorry I if tend to drift into the technicalities, being technically trained too).

                              Truffle peelings in Madeira. Chopped fresh rosemary in dry vermouth. Grilled chicken meat in chicken broth.

                              1. re: eatzalot

                                So, do you only keep your peeled cloves for a few days? Aren't they just as susceptible to botulism whole vs chopped?

                                1. re: CapeCodGuy

                                  No. Botulism develops when spore-contaminated food that can support bacteria is stored with air excluded in certain ways (often under fat) -- that's the meaning of "anaerobic" bacteria -- in a certain pH range, at temperatures above freezing. None of which I've advocated here. (The peeled cloves sold by various sources might be subject to mold, but the ones I normally get aren't hermetically packaged and the one firm that I think does package them tightly, Christopher Ranch IIRC, knows what it's doing and presumably follows legal requirements.)

                                  Another illustration of why it is important to check this topic thoroughly, in official sources.

                              2. re: c oliver

                                I freeze garlic all the time. Unpeeled, usually still in a head. When I find good garlic I buy a lot and freeze. Better than getting bitter and sprouting.

                                It does affect the texture -- it's a bit mushy and translucent when thawed.

                                But the flavor is fine.

                                I find myself making a paste if garlic with the back of my knife quite often, and for that it's fantastic.

                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                  The paste idea sounds good. Would that then be good in a salad dressing since texture isn't going to be an issue anyway? Even though I'd think I'd never run out, sometimes I do. Having an extra in the freezer is a great idea.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    It's perfect for salad dressing because you get fresh garlic flavor almost completely dissolved into the dressing.

                                    It's great for any application where the garlic is cooked, too.

                                    I found some amazing garlic at the Union Square farmers market and bought a head and ended up freezing half of it. Still tasted pretty amazing after thawing. So the next time I was there I bought a lot if it and put it in the freezer.

                                    Frozen garlic is much easier to peel than fresh so there's no reason to prep it first.

                                  2. re: C. Hamster

                                    Thanks for the tip--there aren't that many times in a year when I am able to find really fresh, flavorful garlic in my area.

                              3. re: CapeCodGuy

                                Just a suggestion, CCG, why not try buying fresh garlic bulbs and using them as needed. If peeling is the problem, just give the cloves with a whack with the side of a chef's knife, and the skins slip right off. It's quick, easy, and safe.

                            2. re: CapeCodGuy

                              People don't get lung cancer from smoking and drive without seat belts, too.

                              You are toying with botulism, which can kill or permanently debilitate you.

                              1. re: C. Hamster

                                My keeping an open mind and learning to do things differently on this site has made me a better cook...and maybe kept me alive!

                            3. The acidity will start to wane after a couple of days. You can revive it with more lemon, but Is it really too much trouble to make it fresh as you need it?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: forkful

                                I'd say it takes me maybe two minutes. And, yes, lemon and lime juices change.