Do pickles go bad? ♡ The short answer is yes–pickles can spoil. Here’s a simple guide on how to tell if pickles have gone bad, how long they should last, and storage tips.
Pickles are a beloved snack for many, and you can find them in a variety of different forms – from baby dills to spears to bread and butter chips. Not only do they make the perfect accompaniment to any sandwich or salad, but pickles are nutritious too.
But do pickles go bad? How long do they last? In this blog post, we’ll answer these common questions and provide tips for storing your pickles to help keep them fresh and flavorful for as long as possible. Read on for all the juicy details.
Do Pickles Go Bad?
The last time you did a deep clean of your refrigerator, chances are you came across an opened pickle jar that’s been in there for months and wondered—do pickles ever go bad?
The quick answer is yes, pickles can go bad or spoil. Although if stored properly, it’s unlikely they’ll go bad before you’ve had a chance to enjoy them. This leads many people to believe they are fine to eat indefinitely, but in certain circumstances, they can spoil and become unsafe to eat, just like other foods.
Pickles have an extended shelf-life because they are stored in brine—a vinegar or other acidic-based liquid, which continues to preserve pickles for an extended period of time even after opening.
How Long Do Pickles Last?
Both unopened and opened (refrigerated) pickles can last 1 to 2 years past their “Best-By” date when stored properly. According to the USDA, shelf-stable foods are technically safe indefinitely and can last for years if the can or jar remains sealed and in good condition. However, the taste and crunch will change over time.
How long can pickles be stored for optimal freshness?
While pickles can remain safe to eat for years when stored properly, quality will decline over time. For optimal taste and freshness, FoodSafety.gov states that you should consume pickles within 1 year if they’ve been stored unopened in the pantry and within 1 to 3 months if they’ve been opened and kept in the refrigerator.
In our opinion, it’s best to regularly read the dates on labels and look for signs of spoilage before consuming. Keep reading for more details on this.
🥒 Please note: we are generally speaking about store-bought, pasteurized pickles in this article. Keep in mind there are many ways pickles are made and processed.
What is pasteurization? A process of heating foods to kill harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Learn more at Britannica. Most shelf-stable, grocery store pickles are pasteurized.
How to Tell If Pickles Have Gone Bad
While it is very uncommon for pickles to spoil before you’ve had a chance to eat them, here are the top ways to tell if your pickles are bad.
1. Check the Label
Start by checking the pickle jar label. Most companies will print a “Best-By” date or an “Expiration” date. This provides a general idea if pickles are still good to eat.
However, please note that many foods are ok to eat after the “Best-By” and “Expiration” dates. These dates are determined by the manufacturer and are meant to provide consumers with information regarding food freshness per the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), not necessarily food safety.
Best-By Date – many companies now use a “Best-By” date instead of an “Expiration” date. This will be a great place to start for a general idea of how long the pickles will last.
For example, the jar of Mt. Olive Kosher Baby Dill pickles we recently bought has a Best-If-Used-By date of 2 years & 2 months past the date we purchased them.
Expiration Date – some pickle jars come with an expiry date printed on the label. If it’s well beyond the expiration date and you see any signs of spoilage, then it’s best to purchase a new jar.
2. Inspect the Pickles and Brine for Signs of Spoilage
Always check pickles and juice for indicators they have gone bad. These include visible signs like mold and discoloration, as well as smells and odors. If you observe any of these signs, it’s best to discard the pickles immediately.
Here’s specifically what to look for:
- Mold on pickles or floating in the pickle juice
- Soft or slimy texture
- Specs of brown or black that aren’t spices
- Bad smell or off-odor
- Cloudy brine (note – fermented pickles may already have a cloudy brine)
- Bubbling or fizzing
According to Clemson University, bubbling or a white film are a couple signs that could signal the presence of harmful bacteria or organisms that can cause botulism.
3. Check the Jar or Container
Inspecting the jar itself is another way to tell if your pickles have gone bad. If you notice any visible signs of mold, bulging, cracking glass, or leaking liquid, it’s likely time to toss them out. In addition, if the lid is not securely fastened for an extended period of time, it may no longer be safe to eat.
Here’s specifically what to look for:
- Bulging lid
- Cracks or leaks
- Broken jar
4. Taste Test the Pickles (Last Resort)
If your pickles don’t have any obvious signs of spoilage, try tasting them. Pickles that have gone bad will typically have an off-taste that is sour or bitter. If you detect any odd flavors in your pickle taste test, discard them immediately.
What to Do with Old or Expired Pickles
If you have old or expired pickles, check for signs of spoilage, such as discoloration, mold, or off-odors. If they don’t look or smell right or you are unsure if they are safe to eat, the best course of action is to throw them away rather than risk food poisoning.
Can you eat pickles that have gone bad or moldy?
It is not advisable to eat pickles that have gone bad or turned moldy. Discard any pickles with mold, discoloration, bad smells, or other signs mentioned above. Eating spoiled pickles can cause foodborne illness.
Tips for Storing Pickles Properly
It’s important to store your pickles properly if you want them to last longer. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Unopened – to best preserve the taste and quality, store unopened pickles in a cool, dry place such as a pantry or cupboard away from direct sunlight or heat sources like stoves or ovens. The USDA recommends temperatures under 85°F (with 50°F to 70°F being the ideal range).
- Opened – store pickles in an airtight container (with the juice) in the refrigerator after they have been opened. This will help to prevent bacteria growth and keep them crisp and tasty. The optimal temperature range is 34°F to 45°F, according to the USDA.
Note: it’s best to use a clean fork or utensil to remove pickles from the jar, avoiding grabbing pickles with your hands as it may transfer bacteria to the pickles and/or juice.
How long can pickles sit out?
Generally speaking, opened pickles should not be kept outside of a refrigerator for longer than two hours. If the temperature is above 90°F, then it’s best to cut that time down even further. Keeping pickles at room temperature for too long can lead to bacteria growth, which can cause food poisoning. It’s always best to store opened pickles in the refrigerator.
Do pickles need to be refrigerated after opening?
Yes, pickles need to be refrigerated after opening in order to maintain quality and safety. Bacteria can form and multiply quickly at room temperature, leading to the risk of food poisoning. Once opened, pickles should be refrigerated in an airtight container in brine.
How to Use Up Pickles Before They Expire
If you have opened pickles that are nearing expiration, there are plenty of ways to use them. Pickles can be added to salads, sandwiches, burgers, and other dishes for a tangy taste. You can also chop them into smaller pieces and add them to sauces and dips. Pickle juice can be used as a marinade for meats or as an acidic addition to dressings and sauces. The possibilities are endless.
Here are our favorite ways to use pickles
- Pickle, ham, and cream cheese rollups
- Homemade potato salad
- Crunch salad topping
- Bratwurst topping
- Cheeseburger pizza
- Dill pickle macaroni salad
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to common questions about pickle shelf-life and storage.
What are shelf-stable pickles?
Shelf-stable pickles are pickles that have been processed to last for at least 12 months without refrigeration. This is usually done through a heating and cooling process that kills bacteria. The resulting pickles will maintain their crispness and flavor at room temperature, making them perfect for taking on the go or stocking your pantry.
How long do pickles last in the fridge?
Pickles can last 1 to 2 years beyond their Best-By date in the fridge if stored properly. According to FoodSafety.gov, for optimal taste and freshness, opened pickles in the refrigerator should be used within 1 to 3 months.
If in question, be sure to check for signs of spoilage. To increase their shelf-life, store pickles in an airtight container and avoid using your hands to remove pickles from the container, as this can contaminate them with bacteria.
What happens if you eat bad pickles?
Eating bad pickles can cause food poisoning and a number of symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. If you have consumed bad pickles and are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention.
In conclusion, proper storage is key to extending the shelf-life of pickles. Fortunately, pickles last for a long time when stored correctly. However, if you ever notice signs that your pickles have gone bad, don’t take any chances—it’s best to discard them and replace them with a fresh jar.
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