How Long Do Pickles Last? Can They Go Bad?
It is in the nature of a pickle to be long-lasting, because the pickling process was designed as a way of prolonging the lifespan of fresh fruits and vegetables. Let’s take a look at what that process entails, and how it affects the lifespan of fresh veggies.
The Pickling Process
There are various ways pickles can be produced, and different forms that the pickling process can take, but the end result of all of these processes is a long-lasting product. Besides cucumber, the primary ingredient that goes into a pickle is the acid solution that the cucumbers are submerged in. Vinegar is commonly used, as is a salt solution – and sometimes a combination of vinegar and salt is used to create the perfect pickle.
The acid cultivates an environment in which good bacteria can thrive and bad bacteria that creates spoilage are resisted. This means that a pickle, submerged in the right kind acid, is going to last a good long time.
Other ingredients such as herbs, spices and garlic are often added for flavour, but these won’t affect how long your pickles will last.
If you’re buying pickles at the store, there will be two varieties you’re likely to pick off the shelves – pasteurized and unpasteurized. You’ll be able to tell the difference because unpasteurized pickles will be found in the refrigerated aisle.
Stored correctly, both pasteurized and unpasteurized pickles will last a long time – but because the fermentation process is ongoing in an unpasteurized jar of pickles, these will deteriorate faster than a pasteurized batch. Unsealed, unpasteurized pickles should be good for up to three months beyond their best-by date. Once open they’ll start to decay, but should be good in the fridge for around three months from the date you cracked them open.
Pasteurized pickles have been sterilized so that there’s no bacteria in the jar whatsoever, and until they’re opened your pickles are in a chemically inert environment. Sealed like this your pickles are effectively frozen in time, and can last a year in your pantry. Once opened, however, you’ll have exposed your pickles to the elements – opened pickles will last for up to three months, if stored correctly.
Home pickling is growing in popularity. This is an easy way of extending the lifespan of your veggies, and lets you experiment with different flavour combinations! You can turn your refrigerator into a science experiment with home pickling – mason jars with mysterious floating shapes will line the shelves.
So you may be wondering how long your home pickled creations will last! If you’re pickling your cucumbers in vinegar and salt water, you can expect these to last for up to two months in your fridge.
Remember, these dates are all just guidelines, and they depend on optimized storage for your pickles. If you’re keeping pickles longer than their best-by date, or pickling your veg at home, you’ll need to know how to tell if your pickles have gone bad.
How To Tell If Pickles Have Gone Bad
Pickles are reliably long-lasting so you’re likely to have a few jars on hand, tucked away at the back of your refrigerator or pantry. If you’re keeping your pickles around for a while, it’s essential that you know how to tell if they’ve gone bad.
When you pop your pickle jar’s lid the first thing you need to take note of is the smell that comes off your pickles. Good pickles are pretty pungent – the combination of acid, as well as the additional herbs and ingredients, will give off a characteristic smell that you should learn by heart.
Pickles, if they’re still good, will have a sharp but pleasant acidic scent. If the aroma coming from your pickles has changed, it could be a sure sign that they’ve gone bad.
Pickles live in an aquatic world, and they thrive when they’re submerged in the acidic brine in which they’re prepared. This brine will obscure your pickles so they’ll be hard to examine, but the brine itself can tell you if your pickles have gone bad.
Some sediment in the jar is totally natural, but if you notice the brine changing color or texture then you may want to reconsider eating these pickles. If the brine changes then the chemical makeup of the jar could be compromised.
A Bulging Jar
If the lid of your pickle jar seems to be bulging, or if when you unseal your jar there’s an audible release of pressure, it could be a sign that your pickles have gone bad. When there’s too much acid reacting with your pickles an abundance of pressure can build up in the container. If you sense this pressure in your pickles, it’s time for them to go in the trash.
Although the highly acidic environment of the pickle jar creates a hostile environment for growth, it’s always possible for mold to sprout. If the level of the brine has dropped in your jar and some pickle-tips are peeking out, then mold can latch onto these unsubmerged spots and thrive. If there’s mold anywhere in your jar you should consider the whole batch contaminated.
If your pickles look good and smell good, but you’re still not sure if they’re good to go then a small taste test should indicate if they’ve gone bad. If your old pickles taste great, then I’d say to go ahead and chow down. Sometimes old pickles lose their characteristic sourness and can go soft – in this case they won’t do you any harm but their pickley goodness will have been compromised by age. If you’re a big pickle fan, that’s when a fresh batch comes in handy.
How To Store Pickles
Properly stored, your pickles are going to last a minimum of a few months – maybe even up to a year. To maximize your pickles’ lifespan, you need to make sure they’re stored correctly. Otherwise your pickles could go bad long before they’re due.
If you’ve purchased pasteurized pickles then you can trust that any bacteria in the jar was eradicated in the pasteurization process. This creates a stable environment and these pickles will survive just fine in your pantry until you open the jar.
Once opened, a reaction will slowly begin to take place due to contact with the air. To slow down this process and keep your pickles at their best, it’s time to store them in the refrigerator. Ensure that the jar is well sealed, and crucially that each time you replace the jar, all the remaining pickles are submerged in the brine. The acid of the brine preserves the pickles, and even a pickle tip protruding from the surface will quickly spoil.
If you’ve picked up some unpasteurized pickles, more often found in small batches at your local deli or farmers’ market, you’ll need to keep these in the fridge to slow down the reactions that are still taking place in the jar.
As with their pasteurized counterparts, the unpasteurized pickle jar needs to be resealed tightly, and the pickles must stay submerged in the brine to protect their preservation.
Can You Freeze Pickles?
Pickles are already an exceptionally long-lasting product, and they are practically defined by the preservation method they’ve undergone. So why would you add another into the mix?
If you freeze them, ice crystals will expand in your pickles as they cool, and upon thawing your pickles could turn to mush. Pickles are prized for their crunchy snap as much as their sharp flavour, so this would be a real shame. Store your pickles correctly and ensure they’re always submerged in the brine and your pickles should last long enough.]]>