A variation of this article originally appeared on the Tedium newsletter. 

Sauce packets, the dabbles that vinegar and also tomato puree that comprise ketchup, the emulsified eggs and also oil bound with each other in the average mayonnaise (admit it, you use these because that fries) or the soybean beans sauce from her last takeout order, it seems ~ to it is in the Forrest Gump of the quick food world. With every milestone or major industry event, they sit there, in the background.

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Yet, these little bits of plastic room a entirety industry depend themselves. Prior to they started clogging up your silverware drawer, they stood for a kind of packaging innovation.

Take the Heinz packet. Lot like the magnetic stripe on your mean credit card, they’re more recent than you think. The an initial Heinz ketchup packet didn’t come around until 1968, acquiring beat to the market by soy sauce packets, i m sorry came around roughly a te earlier. And also their size appears comically small, yet that’s no accident. According to Marketplace, food providers are very specific about the dimension of their ketchup packets end the years.


Lots and lots that ketchup. (Photo: invoice Selak/flickr)

Despite the reality that they generally can it is in made in larger sizes, the market has resolved on nine-gram packets, despite the fact that nine grams is clearly not enough since we use like six of them in a solitary serving. (Credit come Heinz, though, because that attempting to come up v some alternatives.)

Heinz sells an absurd variety of these packets each solitary year—according come the company, that’s around 11 billion or so every 365 days, or two for every human on the planet. At ripe grams each, that’s around 109,000 loads of ketchup. (Heinz uses an ext tomatoes than anyone rather on the planet.)

The level of production behind ketchup packets raises some far-ranging concerns, just due to the fact that of every the raw materials used and the fact that … well, a many packets that sauces finish up in fridges or in cupboards. And also those concerns are, come a degree, warranted. Ketchup packets are usually not really easy to recycle, due to the fact that they’re do of a mix of plastic and also foil, and separating the products is much more complicated than fusing lock together.

The juice machine Capri Sun, which provides its packaging in about the very same way, has actually come under fire in current months since its packs can’t be recycled.

While Heinz is by far the biggest producer the ketchup packets, they’re much from the only one. The world’s biggest fast-food chain, McDonald’s, severed that ties with Heinz totally in 2013 after ~ the condiment company hired burgess King’s former CEO together its brand-new chief executive. Previously, provided 90 percent that McDonald’s condiments.

For condiment lovers who can’t simply grab the packets turn off the counter, that is feasible to buy ketchup in stores. Amazon sells mass packets together with other digital outlets such together Food organization Direct and also Heinz’s very own food organization vendor.

The number of packets out there, the reality that they don’t have any kind of expiration dates directly top top the packaging, and the fact that they’re often given far for totally free commonly leads to part weird situations and also interesting questions.

Perhaps the weirdest case came about in 2006, as soon as a pair of knuckleheads in Indiana returned an ext than 400 pounds that sauce packets, or around 25,000 packets, to a local restaurant—something we’re suspect the manager on that night was thrilled about.

The packets, i m sorry were reverted inside of six garbage bags, were gathered by a group of pranksters end a three-year period and left within of a dude’s car. Reports initially argued that the warm sauce to be stolen, but The Consumerist report in a follow-up that it was actually the occupational of a man who ate a the majority of Taco Bell.


Packets that Heinz ketchup native a burgess King in Spain. (Photo: Toni Genes/flickr)

“I’ve heard a lot of people accumulate sauce packets in their glove compartments. Us know human being keep things and also it’s a pretty typical phenomenon, but to have that many, I’ve never ever heard that that,” Taco Bell spokesman plunder Poetsch said of the incident.

Perhaps these guys are to blame because that a change in sauce-distribution policy at part stores. Critical year, Slate contributor Ruth Graham noted the growth of a movement by some rapid food shop to only distribute sauce packets behind the counter.

“The recession teach fast-food restaurants the you should run a much much more efficient operation. You must run a chop ship, and you cannot get by gift loosey-goosey and also freewheeling through your condiment packets,” Sam Oches, who edits a fast-food-industry profession magazine told Graham.

He additionally suggested that there’s an aspect of behavioral psychology in ~ play.

“Ultimately if you begin to implement several of the change at the save level, where you move the expectation from not gaining to seize handfuls of condiment packets and have to go as much as the respond to to ask, in time civilization will forget,” the explained.

Perhaps this glut of sauce will shortly be a thing of the past, but for now, let’s go ago to the pile of arbitrarily condiments sitting in your fridge. Plainly they’ve probably been there because that a while, probably dating to the Clinton management or longer.

These gadgets of saucedom usually have very small in the method of useful information located on the package. No nutritional information, and also generally no expiration dates. Which could make one wonder—do they critical forever?


Many packets that Panda Express soy sauce. (Photo: me and also the sysop/flickrsysop)

I’m below to tell friend that, in many cases, lock don’t. Some varieties of condiments frequently found in packet form, choose honey, salt, and also sugar, don’t really go negative for assorted reasons.

But those preventive Taco Bell sauce packets the you’ve been using prefer Tabasco from one more mother? Yes, lock spoil. They lose their flavor over time, and those plasticky steel packets just go so much to safeguard the spicy flavor that’s hidden inside that the casing. Exact same with ketchup, mayo, mustard, BBQ sauce, or relish.

And think it or not, they carry out actually have actually expiration days generally listed—just not on the sauce packets themselves. Instead, they often tend to have it top top the boxes that the restaurants traction the warm sauce the end of.

This problem that we’re emotional upon is actually a large topic of conversation in the survivalist space. It’s understandable: If the people ends and you run out of sustenance elsewhere, the extra supply of Horsey sauce from Arby’s is going come come in handy. But the an outcome is a tiny disappointing from a outcomes standpoint. A typical story shared approximately survivalist court is this one from WISN reporter Portia Young, who uncovered that most sauces last less than a year. There’s no a most meat there, and I’m linking to Wayback machine link, so clearly this info is current and authoritative, but here’s the list she got from Heinz:

Ketchup: 7 monthsChopped onions: 7 monthsMayonnaise: 8 monthsFat-free mayonnaise: 8 monthsRelish: 9 monthsMild taco sauce: 9 monthsHot taco sauce: 4 monthsYellow mustard: 9 monthsBBQ sauce: 9 monthsSteak sauce: 9 monthsTartar sauce: 8 monthsHorseradish sauce: 8 monthsCocktail sauce: 9 monthsTabasco sauce: 8 months

A slightly better piece of study on the issue comes from a site called the Outdoor Herbivore Blog, which puts expiration dates on the sauces and also offers part guidelines regarding what to expect once you’re in the center of nowhere and also the only thing you need to eat is a packet the mayonnaise that you uncovered inside the chair cushions of your 1989 Ford Taurus.

A vacuum-sealed foil package of the type used because that condiments. Ketchup packets are generally not basic to recycle, due to the fact that they’re made of a combination of plastic and foil. (Photo: Matt Valentine/shutterstock.com)

“Before spend the condiment, check the packaging. If it appears puffy or is damaged, toss it. Once you open up the packet, inspect it. If it has an strange color, texture, flavor or odor, toss it,” the website explains. “Condiments containing fats (mayo, butter) walk rancid an ext quickly.”

But if that wasn’t shocking sufficient info, consider this: soybean beans sauce packets regularly don’t also contain that is eponymous ingredient.

As detailed in a story from the Atlantic last year, the background of the small packages is fascinating. Howard Epstein, a Jewish guy from the Bronx, co-created the product after making plastic freezer pops for years. The initial use situation was no take-out, either; it was to allow Chinese food to be offered on airplanes. Thrillistthen stated a disgusting, disappointing truth that friend didn’t notice: those soybean beans sauce packets quite frequently don’t incorporate soy, yet instead a reassuring ingredient called “hydrolyzed vegetables protein.” in ~ least, when you pick up a Heinz packet, you understand you’re getting ketchup.

A variation of this post originally showed up on Tedium, a twice-weekly newsletter that hunts because that the end of the long tail.

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