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Can Pickles Go Bad? Do They Expire?

There’s an open pickles jar in your fridge, and you’re not sure how long pickled cucumbers are good for. Can pickles go bad?

Or your jar is a few weeks (or even months) past its date, and you’re thinking: do pickles expire?

If you’re not sure how long your pickles will last or if they go bad at all, this article is for you. In it, we’ll cover:

  • how to tell if your pickles are bad (and what might seem off but is completely normal for dill pickles)
  • how long do pickles last, both before and after opening the jar
  • storing pickles – what to do with a sealed jar and how to go about an open one (plus what to do if you’ve left your open pickles out overnight)

Sounds interesting? Let’s jump right into it.

Three dill pickles
Three dill pickles

Can Pickles Go Bad? Do They Expire?

Pickles can go bad in one of the following ways:

  • They grow mold. If some pickled cucumbers aren’t fully submerged in brine, they can develop mold ([RD]), although that might take up to a few months. If you buy pickles in bulk at the farmer’s market (without any brine), mold might show up much faster.
  • They become too sour to eat. Okay, those pickles aren’t technically spoiled, but are no good flavor-wise. Too sour pickles are usually a result of prolonged storage, storing them at a too warm temperature, or both. I’ll talk about this more in the next section.
Homemade dill pickles jar
Homemade dill pickles jar

Besides that, there are some situations that people find concerning but are perfectly normal for pickled cucumbers (and other fermented products, such as sauerkraut). Those include:

  • There’s fizz in the jar after opening. That’s perfectly okay because while the fermentation process slows down, it doesn’t stop ([RP]).
  • The taste or texture is different from the last jar(s). Pickles are a living thing, and the taste, texture, and color vary between batches. Those qualities are also affected by how long you store your pickles ([RP]).

All in all, pickles don’t last forever, but it’s not like they’re going to spoil soon after the date on the label.

Pickles, apple, and onion salad  closeup
Pickles, apple, and onion salad closeup

How Long Are Pickles Good For?

Unopened pickles retain quality for about 2 years of pickling (or a year past the date on the label). Once you open the jar, pickles taste best for about 2 to 4 months, possibly more if you’re into really sour dill pickles. For pickles that you buy in bulk from a barrel, eat them within a week.

The truth is, there isn’t a one time frame everyone agrees upon when it comes to both unopened and opened pickles. Everyone has their own estimates.

Because of that, assume the date on the label is for the best quality, and the longer pickles sit in storage, the sourer they’ll become.

If you’re a regular pickles eater (like me), you’ll find pickles that are about a year past their date okay taste-wise, but ones that are like 4 or 5 years old will be way too sour for your palate. Open the jar and give one a taste to check if the flavor is acceptable.

Open pickles jar
Open pickles jar

How Long Do Pickles Last Once Opened?

Open pickles taste best for 1 to 2 months if you refrigerate them but will likely stay good-enough for eating for another month or two. It all depends on how sour pickles you still find acceptable.

There isn’t one correct answer here. Some producers recommend eating their pickles within two months ([RP]), while others say they’ll last “as long as it takes for you to eat them” ([RD]).

The thing to remember here is that open pickles continue becoming sourer, so the longer they sit in storage after opening, the harsher the taste.

Grated pickles and apple
Grated pickles and apple

How To Store Pickles

Store unopened pickles in a dark, cool, and dry place. The pantry or a cupboard in the kitchen is perfectly fine, and so is the fridge.

After you open up the jar, keep it in the refrigerator, sealed tightly. The same thing with pickles you buy in bulk – they should sit in a plastic container or bag refrigerated.

Most pickles, unlike sauerkraut, don’t require refrigeration as long as the jar is unopened. But if you grabbed your jar from the refrigerated section, make sure you always refrigerate them.

Once you open your pickles, you should refrigerate them and make sure every single cucumber is submerged in brine ([RD]). If it’s not, it might grow mold or darken after a couple of weeks.

If there’s a spoiled pickle in your jar, you can toss it out and enjoy the remainder ([RP]).

Pickles on a plate
Pickles on a plate

Do You Have To Refrigerate Open Pickles?

No, but storing them in the fridge is the recommended method for a reason.

If you leave them out after opening, the fermentation will speed up, and they will become much sourer much faster than in the fridge. They might become too sour to eat in a matter of a week or two. Plus, any pickles not covered by the brine will grow mold within days.

That also means that accidentally leaving open pickles out overnight isn’t that big of a deal. Just put them back in the fridge, and all is well and good.

What if you left out pickles at a warm temperature for a few hours and there’s carbonation in the jar?

Place the lid loosely on the jar, and put it in the refrigerator for a few days. The loose fit should allow any carbon dioxide to escape, and the fizz should be gone ([RP]).

Salad: pickles, apple, and onion
Salad: pickles, apple, and onion

Summary

  • Pickles don’t really go bad or expire, but they become sourer over time. At some point, they’ll be too acidic to eat.
  • For best quality, finish dill pickles within a year of their date, or 3 to 4 months of opening the jar. If you’re into super sour pickles, you can double those estimates.
  • Pickles without any brine (e.g., bought in bulk) keep for about a week.
  • Unopened pickles should sit in a cool and dark place. Once you open the jar, keep it sealed and refrigerated. The same applies to dill pickles you buy in bulk – store them in a plastic bag or container in the fridge.

References