Pickles are a great addition to sandwiches, salads, and other dishes. Thanks to many vitamins they contain, they are highly beneficial for your digestive tract and can reduce cancer risk. Still, you may ask yourself do pickles go bad and how long do pickles last once you open a jar.
Do Pickles Go Bad?
Picking is a method of preserving food by fermentation in vinegar or brine, which is basically saltwater with herbs and spices. In the US, the term picking mostly refers to pickled cucumbers. However, you can pickle many other types of vegetables, meat, and eggs.
All pickles have extended shelf life because both brine and vinegar belong to natural preservatives. Nowadays, you can find both pasteurized and unpasteurized pickles in stores.
The difference is in fermentation that is still ongoing in an unpasteurized product. However, pickles can spoil if you store them improperly or bacteria from other foods contaminate them.
How Long Do Pickles Last?
Commercial pickles have an expiration date printed on a jar label, and it gives you a pretty good estimate of their duration. However, you can safely use the pickles past this date as long as you keep jars in the dark and cold place.
Actually, you can store pasteurized pickles in your pantry for additional three to six months. Once you open a jar, you need to place it in a fridge, next to unpasteurized pickles. When stored that way, they can sit in a fridge for almost three months after opening.
How Long Do Pickles Last (Chart)
|Unopened pasteurized||3 to 6 months|
|Homemade||Up to 1 year|
Up to 1 year
2 to 3 months
One exception is the homemade pickles. When you pasteurize cucumbers, you don’t have an expiration date, only the date you produced them. Therefore, you can keep unopen jars in a pantry for up to one year, while opened ones can stay safe for consumption for about three months when stored in the fridge.
Anyway, there is a good chance that an unopened jar preserves the pickles’ quality even a couple of years after the expiration date. Still, you need to be careful in that case and check for signs of spoilage before eating them.
6 Tips to Tell if Pickles Have Gone Bad
Guidelines for storing pickles are straightforward. Keep the containers away from a sunny and warm place and make sure all pickles are submerged in the marinade. Still, they will eventually spoil.
There are six signals that your pickles are spoiled, and you need to keep them in your mind before you start eating.
Once the pickles go bad, the acid in the liquid creates extra pressure, and the jar top swells and turns dome-shaped. This indicator excludes all doubts about food quality. You need to discard the container immediately since these pickles are no longer edible.
Regular pickles have an easily recognizable scent. If you suddenly feel a strong, unpleasant rancid smell, be sure that they have gone bad even though they seem decent visually. Keep in mind that any foul odor is an alert that something went wrong.
If pickles have the same texture and flavor as before, you can keep consuming them. On the other hand, slimy, spongy, and softened ones are inedible, and you should avoid them. The wise decision is to throw out a jar.
The brine in a jar has a specific, pale yellow color, and it should be entirely clear. If you spot any changes and the liquid becomes cloudy and slime, you should throw pickles away immediately. That indicates a chemical change in the fluid, and such food is no longer safe to consume.
If you ignore the peppercorns that some recipes include, a jar of pickles shouldn’t contain anything black or brown. Dark spots on pickle’s bark or brown floating particles may indicate a fungal infection. Those pickles can cause problems, so it is better to discard them.
Sometimes, mold can develop in a jar when you leave the pickles in a warm place. While whitish sediment at the bottom of the container is normal, mold on the surface indicates the pickles are spoiled. The same applies if you notice thin threads in the brine.
Tips to Store Pickles
Freshly picked cucumbers won’t last long, so the pickling process is ideal for extending their shelf life. Unfortunately, don’t assume that your jars will preserve their quality forever. I will give you a few helpful tips to store the pickles right.
The best place for your pickles is the corner shelf placed as near the floor as possible. This part is cold enough and without direct sun’s rays, and pickles will spoil slow. Make sure the seal on the jar is tight so that no air can come in.
Unpasteurized pickles can become more acidic over time because of the chemical reaction, so you should avoid storing them in the pantry for more than several days. If you have a few jars, but you don’t have enough place in the fridge, keep them in the coldest place in your home until refrigerating.
Once you open the jar, you need to put pickles in the fridge. Still, the shelves on the refrigerator door are not the best choice because of the temperature changes when opening it.
That may lead to blurring brine, and your pickles will probably go bad before the expiration day. Instead, place the jars in the fridge bottom, where the temperature is lowest and least variable.
If you buy pickles in a tin can, you should change the container once you open it. Avoid leaving an opened tin can in the fridge because pickles will change the taste and spoil quickly.
When deciding to keep pickles in the freezer, you will need a container made of suitable materials. Try to avoid aluminum, brass, and copper ones. Placing them in an airtight plastic container, Mason jar, or even a zip lock bag is probably a better option.
The primary advantage of these packages is the possibility to sterilize them effortlessly, plus they won’t absorb odors.
Lastly, you should use less sugar when storing pickles this way. It will lower the freezing point when added in brine, so pickles will take longer to solidify. Always freeze smaller portions, so you can thaw as much food as you need.
Once you open the jar, you should use clean utensils to take pickles out of it. Never do that with your fingers even if you washed hands beforehand because you can contaminate the remaining content.
Remember that all pickles in the jar need to stay under the brine. Otherwise, the protruding part may dry out, darken, and become inedible. Use a fork to push them down in brine before putting a jar back in the fridge.
The Risk of Consuming Expired Pickles
Once the expiration date passes, you can still safely use pickles. If you eat spoil ones, you will probably feel that something is wrong at the first bite, either by pickle taste or texture.
Anyhow, the home-canned pickles can cause food poisoning due to improper preparation process or high pesticide content in these veggies. Symptoms of food poisoning include fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea.
In severe cases, home canning pickles can be a reason for botulism. The danger lies in the fact that you can’t smell or taste the toxin that Clostridium botulinum produces. Signs of botulism include:
- Double vision
- Breathing problems
- Incomprehensible speech
- Muscle weakness
- Drooping eyelids
The problem is that symptoms appear after more than 24 hours of consumption, making the condition difficult to diagnose.
Can You Freeze Pickles?
There is no reason to freeze pickles since they already have extended shelf life, plus they become rubbery and gristly after thawing. However, you can freeze cucumbers to make pickles.
This unorthodox method excludes any cooking of cucumbers. In fact, you should boil water with some salt, sugar, and vinegar, with a 1:1.5 water-vinegar ratio. Put cucumbers in a jar and add liquid as soon as they cool off.
Make sure to use only undamaged and firm cucumbers, especially if you don’t grow them in your garden. Rinse them well under a stream of cold water, and then freeze whole veggies or cut them into rolls.
This procedure is quick and allows preserving pickles without any air inside the jar. Always write down the date of freezing and use vegetables within two years.
The only downside of this method is that you need to take the pickles out of the freezer 24 hours before consumption. Once thawed, they will be edible for the next 2 to 3 weeks if you store them in the fridge.
Pickles can remain safe to consume for years after their expiration date. Still, you need to store all opened jars in the fridge. Remember that you should throw away pickles that have changed the smell, taste, or the mold has started growing inside the jar.