Do Pickles Go Bad?

Do pickles go bad or not? How long do pickles last? Here's a short and handy guide on how to determine if your pickles have gone bad, pasteurized or not.

People either absolutely love or completely despise pickles.

You’re probably here because you’re in the former group, you’ve found an old jar of pickles, and now you’re wondering:

Are my pickles off? How do you tell? How are you even meant to store these?”

We’ve got you covered. In this article, we’ll go over:

  • The ways to identify a pickle that has gone bad
  • How you should store your pickles to get them to last longer
  • How long you can expect your pickles to last in different storage methods

Here’s the deal: It’s pretty easy to tell if a pickle is off – your best bet is to check the best by dates and that the seal is intact.

To know how to store your pickles, you’ll need to identify if your pickles are pasteurized or unpasteurized. If pasteurized, they can go in the cupboard. If unpasteurized, your pickles will need to go in the refrigerator.

First Up, What Are Pickles?

Pickles are usually cucumbers, but often other vegetables are pickled too.

The process of pickling involves boiling a mixture of water, vinegar, sugar, and spices to make brine. Then, cucumbers, or other vegetables, are put in that solution and sealed in a sterile jar for 48 hours or more.

Brine promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria on the vegetable, and this bacteria helps to preserve it. The added positive of this growth of good bacteria is a production of lactic acid, which is what pickles the vegetable, making it taste delicious!

How To Tell If Pickles Are Bad

Before we go any further, if your pickles aren’t submerged in brine, throw them away. That’s because the brine helps to preserve your pickles and stop them from drying out. However, you can just chuck the parts that aren’t submerged and eat the rest.

Here are the other signs that your pickles have gone bad:

  • Your pickles should smell acidic. If they smell funky, chuck them.
  • Mold, though this is pretty unlikely.

Now: don’t worry if there’s white sediment at the bottom of your brine. That’s totally normal.

You may also find that your pickles go softer and sourer. They’re fine to eat at this point, provided they haven’t exhibited other signs of going bad, but they won’t taste particularly nice!

How To Store Pickles

How to store pickles depends on whether they are pasteurized or unpastuerized. FYI: most pickles in the supermarket are pasteurized.

Pasteurized pickles do best on the shelf at room temperature. That’s because the pasteurization process kills all the good bacteria inside the jar, so the fermentation process has stopped.

All you need to do is make sure your unopened pasteurized pickles are stored away from light and heat sources. A dark cupboard that’s not near you oven or stove is a good option.

Once you’ve opened your jar of pasteurized pickles, reseal the jar and put it in the refrigerator.

With unpasteurized pickles, it’s a different deal.

As soon as you get home from the grocery store, you should store your unopened unpasteurized pickles in the refrigerator. This is because the beneficial bacteria in the jar is still alive, so the fermentation process is still going. You need to slow down this process by refrigerating the jar.

Although fermentation is important in getting that delicious pickle taste, if you store your jar at room temperature, the fermentation process will progress too far, making your pickles sour.

If store at room temp, fermentation process resume & turn sour.

Now: whatever you do, make sure you always keep your pickles submerged in brine. Otherwise, they’ll be destined for the bin.

How Long Pickles Last

It doesn’t really matter whether you have pasteurized or unpasteurized pickles: how long they last is about the same.

Most jars of pickles will last 1-2 months past the best by date, because the vinegar used in the pickling process is a preservative. Plus, the brine has a high sodium content.

Once you’ve opened your pickles, they’ll last for 1-2 months. That’s only if you re-seal the jar, keep all the pickles submerged in brine, and follow the appropriate storage instructions detailed in this article.

The Truth About Pickles

Your pickles are unlikely to go off, as long as they’re submerged in brine and the jar is sealed. As long as there aren’t any changes in appearance, smell, or taste, they’re good to eat.

The only tricky thing about pickles is the different storage methods: for pasteurized pickles, the best place is the cupboard, whilst for unpasteurized pickles, the best place is the refrigerator.

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Alisa Shimoyama

Alisa eats her way around the world on her travels and likes to have good food ready and waiting for her when she gets back.