sauerkraut safety feat

How long does sauerkraut last? Can it go bad?

“Saw – ur – krawt.” Yes, that’s how you say sauerkraut. If Koreans have kimchi, Germans have sauerkraut. This is a Central Europe diet staple Lacto-fermented vegetable called sour cabbage or sour herb. Sauerkraut is basically made from fermented, finely sliced cabbage and salt (sometimes with little caraway seeds). This is intentionally made as food for the winter long before refrigerators exist. Kimchi, on the other hand, is pickled in chunks and seasoned with spicy Korean flavors.


Making sauerkraut requires using fresh kraut or cabbage. The cabbage is thinly sliced and has it wholly submerged in a brine solution. The fermentation process requires an anaerobic environment for the lactic acid bacteria in the cabbage to thrive successfully. Traditionally, the fermentation process for sauerkraut takes from two to four weeks, and it is maintained at an ambient temperature of at least 59 °F or 15 °C. Some ferment it at room temperature for one week before keeping it in the fridge. Giving it enough time and the best environmental conditions will improve your sauerkraut’s flavor and texture. 


What’s more? Sauerkraut is a versatile side dish known for its healthful benefits for your digestive system and immune system because it contains a great source of probiotics, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This food can either be eaten raw or cooked.


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If you happen to have made some sauerkraut, you might be thinking about how long you can keep it. As a preserved food, will it even go bad? How to know if it is not best to eat it? How to keep it at its peak quality?


This post will tell you the answers! Let’s dive in!


How to store sauerkraut?

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Elena Hramova/

That depends on the kind of sauerkraut you have. In the market, there are two kinds of sauerkraut: refrigerated or unrefrigerated.


Now, let’s focus on refrigerated sauerkraut. 


Refrigerated sauerkraut is known as the “the healthy option” or the “good stuff” because you can get an astonishing amount of probiotics that are highly beneficial for your gut health. The refrigerated sauerkraut is simply the fermented thinly-sliced cabbage submerged in a brine solution. This product did not undergo any pasteurization method where bacteria are intentionally destroyed through heat. In other words, refrigerated sauerkraut is not shelf-stable. You will always have to store it in refrigerated conditions. 


Generally, refrigeration slows down bacterial growth and minimizes the chances of spoilage.

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In storing refrigerated sauerkraut or homemade sauerkraut, you will need to remember these tips:

  1. Immediately keep the newly-bought sauerkraut in your refrigerator when you get home.
  2. Make sure your refrigerator’s temperature is low enough to control or slow down the fermentation process. The faster it ferments, the more it becomes sour.
  3. Once a jar or package of sauerkraut is opened, make sure the cabbage is deeply submerged in its brine to prevent it from spoiling faster.
  4. After scooping out some sauerkraut in its jar, make sure that the rest of the cabbage is fully submerged into the brine before covering it back. If not, the unsubmerged part will eventually dry out due to oxygen exposure, and ultimately, it may create a frothy layer of molds.


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Now, let’s touch about unrefrigerated sauerkraut. 


Unrefrigerated sauerkraut is prepared the same as the basic fermented cabbage. The only difference is that this has undergone pasteurization to make it shelf-stable. The process involves killing all the bacteria living in the product. Unlike the refrigerated sauerkraut, it cannot be fermented further. And, you get no probiotics in it, just merely a ready-to-eat fermented cabbage. 


In storing unrefrigerated sauerkraut, you will need to remember these tips:

  1. The best thing about unrefrigerated sauerkraut is that it won’t steal some space in your refrigerator. Instead, you can keep it in a cool and dry area like your pantry or kitchen cabinet. 
  2. Make sure you keep your pack of sauerkraut away from direct sunlight exposure.
  3. Once the package is opened, place the leftover sauerkraut in the fridge. Seal it tightly inside its original packaging, in a freezer bag or airtight container.


How long does it last?

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Sergey Hramov/

Just like most pickled or fermented vegetable products, sauerkraut manufacturers put a “best by” date, “best before” date, or “sell by” date as part of the food label.


Either refrigerated or unrefrigerated kind of sauerkraut can last months after its “best by” date as long as you haven’t opened it yet. Even canned sauerkraut can stay at its best quality for 3 to 5 years unopened. However, once you have it already opened, the next step will be done differently for each type.


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An opened unrefrigerated sauerkraut or pasteurized sauerkraut can last only one week at most in the refrigerator. Why that short? That is because it does not contain any lactose bacteria to continue the fermentation. 


The refrigerated sauerkraut, on the other hand, can retain its freshness up to months as long as you have it submerged in its brine. It usually lasts up to six months from production. Why is that the opposite of the shelf-stable sauerkraut? That is because the bacteria in refrigerated sauerkrauts are alive. 


Homemade sauerkraut can stay in its peak quality for about one year in the best storage conditions.


Does it go bad?

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Kapustin Igor/

Yes, sauerkraut’s shelf life is not that long compared to other preserved foods, but it does not quickly spoil. Since it contains salt, it is good enough to keep it for months as it inhibits bacterial growth. It is in bad storage conditions, and contamination can spoil your sauerkraut. Generally, sauerkraut cannot last long in hot and humid conditions.


Your refrigerated sauerkraut can last for months, even if you have opened it. One thing that can destroy its quality is due to mishandling or contamination. Harmful bacteria thrive everywhere. It can be on your utensils, containers, and more.


Ensure that the storage space is clean and the utensils you will use to scoop out some sauerkraut are dry. Avoid eating straight from the jar by reinserting the spoon into your sauerkraut. Double-dipping it is like planting your sauerkraut with a wide range of bacteria from your mouth or hands. You’ll be at fault for spoiling a good jar of sauerkraut. 


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As mentioned before, unrefrigerated sauerkraut has only a short shelf-life once the pack is opened because all those bacteria were killed during the fermentation process. If left at room temperature, air will dry it out and ruin the flavor. And this will allow other new and unwanted bacteria to creep into the product. This is why we recommend consuming all its contents sooner once it is opened. Or, if you want to keep it for a few days, always store in an airtight container, then keep it in the fridge.


How to tell if it has gone bad?

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Kapustin Igor/

Before jumping to conclusions and disposing of the sauerkraut to the bin, some presence of fizz or bubbles in your refrigerated and unpasteurized sauerkraut is just a byproduct of fermentation. That’s normal and harmless. That shows that the lactic acid bacteria in your fermented cabbage are still naturally working. Just scoop out the part with the bubbles, and the rest of it is safe to eat. 


Make sure to have the entire cabbage dipped into the brine, or else it will dry out. Take note that the longer you store sauerkraut, its taste will gradually change as well. So, if you find your sauerkraut not tasty anymore or it is giving-off a strong rotting odor, it’s time to say bye-bye to it. 


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As for unrefrigerated or pasteurized sauerkraut, discard it if it possesses any unusual signs like mold formation, altered taste, change of texture and color, or off-smelling odor. It is also best to throw away a dried out sauerkraut due to oxygen exposure. Any suspicious greenish-blue specks on top of the pickled vegetable is a sign of molds, and it becomes harmful for consumption. 


If you have it in your refrigerator for more than a week, better choose the safe option and throw it away. 


Is it okay to freeze sauerkraut? 

Well, no one can stop you from freezing your sauerkraut. However, refrigerating is all enough to help extend its shelf life. Freezing it will only alter the flavor and texture of your sauerkraut. But if you insist, make sure to keep it in a freezer-safe pack.

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