Who doesn’t like pickles? Your sandwich is never complete without these crunchy bits. Pickles also create a good balance for your savory meals, thanks to the sharp flavor and sour taste.
Too bad you forgot that half-full jar of pickles in the corner of the fridge. It has passed the “best before” date. But, the stuff still looks fine. Is it safe to eat pickles beyond the expiration date? Do pickles go bad? How to tell that pickles are bad?
If you are looking for the answers to those questions, stay on this page. Read on and find new knowledge on pickles’ shelf life, storage, and how to know that pickles have spoiled.
What Are Pickles?
Pickles have been around since many centuries ago. Pickles are prepared by fermenting vegetables or fruit in a pickling solution consisting of water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and spices.
The fresh ingredients can be anything from cucumber, carrots, cabbage, garlic, cauliflower, peppers, etc. Almost every country worldwide has its own special recipes.
In the Western world, pickled vegetables are highly associated with cucumbers or gherkin. In South Korea, pickled cabbage or kimchi is a staple, while German people can never live without sauerkraut.
Pickles are enjoyed by many for the tangy, sour, sweet flavors, and of course the crunchy texture. Not only for a sandwich, but pickles are also used in many recipes and great as healthy snacks!
Although pickles are easy to find at your local supermarket, some people are willing to work the extra mile to make delicious homemade pickles.
How to Store Pickles
If you decide to make homemade pickles, unless you do a proper home canning procedure they should always be kept in the refrigerator.
Make sure to always keep the container tightly sealed and use clean utensils when taking out the good stuff. Hygiene practice is important for food storage!
Home-canned pickles and store-bought pickles are relatively shelf-stable. You can safely keep an unopened jar at a cool, dry area, away from sources of direct sunlight and heat. As usual, your kitchen pantry or cabinet will do the job. Don’t forget to label your homemade pickles!
After opening, always keep the jars refrigerated. Fermentation begins to occur again once the seal is opened. However, fridge temperature can slow down the process.
How Long Do Pickles Last?
When properly stored in the fridge, homemade pickles can stay fresh for a couple of weeks or longer.
USDA and NCHFP (National Center for Home Food Preservation suggests that home-canned pickles should maintain the quality up to 12 months, subject to proper storage and preparation methods (*).
To benefit from the maximum quality and shelf life, make sure to use fresh vegetables for pickling. Finish the leftover immediately after opening before the product goes stale, but generally, it is good to eat for the next couple of weeks.
Store-bought pickles maintain the peak quality up to the “best before” or “best by” date stamped on the label, typically 2 – 5 years after the manufacturing date (*). After opening, always keep it in the fridge and it should stay fresh for the next 1 – 3 months.
Is It Safe To Eat Expired Pickles?
It is possible that after passing the date, the products are still good and safe to eat. As long as the package is not damaged and there are no signs of spoilage, you’re good to go.
How to Tell if Pickles Have Gone Bad or Spoiled?
It is true that canned foods, especially the commercially prepared ones, can last for years. After some time, even canned pickles can lose their quality and go bad.
After opening, the fermentation process will start to occur again but is slowed down by the cool temperature. At some point, the flavor and taste of the pickles start to degrade. If you find the desired crunchiness of pickles has turned too soggy or the flavor changes slightly, it is your call to keep it or toss it.
Before opening, if you see any damage on the packaging, such as broken seal, rusted, leaked or dented jars, the lid is not flat, there is no safer option than to discard the product.
Improper preparation and canning process (especially for homemade pickles) are common causes for food spoilage. For example, inadequate heating temperature or processing time. As a result, molds and other bacteria are not entirely killed.
If you see visible molds in the jar, quickly discard the product for safety reasons. Likewise, if the pickles emit a foul smell or you see discoloration, slimy liquid, or bubbles, these pickles are not safe to eat.
If you suspect that pickles are spoiled, it is better not to taste it. Also if you’re doubtful, don’t ever risk your health over a jar of pickles.
Kosher pickles are not necessarily kosher in terms of meeting Jewish dietary law. Kosher here refers to the traditional pickling method of Jewish New York City pickle makers, characterized by adding a good amount of garlic and dill.
Cloudiness on fermented pickles is normally caused by the use of hard water and the growth of lactic acid bacteria (*). Unless other signs of spoilage are seen, cloudiness is indeed undesirable, but not a safety concern.
To begin with, only good quality vegetables make long-lasting and delicious homemade pickles. Poor quality of cucumbers or other vegetables will produce poor or unsafe pickles.
Follow the preparation methods correctly and store the products properly. It is highly recommended to follow scientifically tested recipes like these ones from the US National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP).
As long as you don’t see any signs of spoilage, your homemade pickles should be safe to eat.
For long-lasting homemade pickles, you can follow home canning procedures to maintain the quality up to a year. Don’t forget to label the jars!
Commercially prepared canned pickles have undergone thorough procedures to ensure that unwanted bacteria are killed, including Clostridium botulinum.
Although less common (compared to home-canned foods), commercial products can still bear the risk of botulism poisoning. Thus, canned products should always be checked before use, especially the old and expired ones. If the packages are damaged, throw it away. There’s no good in risking your health.
Pickles will go bad after some time. Canned pickles can safely sit in the pantry of the cabinet before opening. But, homemade pickles and leftovers always need refrigeration.
Proper storage is important to maintain quality and prevent spoilage. Do the safety checks if you’re suspecting that pickles have spoiled to decide whether to keep it or toss it.
*Photo by AndreySt/depositphotos