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Yes, Pickles Go Bad: Here’s How Long They Last

So, you know how sometimes we think that certain foods last forever just because they seem so? Pickles fall into that category for many of us.

But the truth is that pickles, just like any other food, do have a shelf life and will eventually go bad. And unless you want to find yourself… well, in a pickle after eating them, you need to know a thing or two about how long pickles last and how to store them.

Do Pickles Go Bad?

Yes, pickles go bad. Pickles may have a longer shelf life compared to many other foods, but that doesn’t mean they can be kept indefinitely.

As a general rule, an unopened jar of pickles can last for 1 year from the date of purchase when stored in the pantry. Once you open the jar, refrigerate the pickles to preserve their freshness. They typically last for 1 to 3 months in the fridge.1USDA FoodKeeper. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://www.foodsafety.gov/keep-food-safe/foodkeeper-app

Food safety experts agree that, as long as you’ve stored canned pickles correctly and the jar is intact, they can last well beyond their expiration date.2 Gravely, M. (2013, June 27). Before You Toss Food, Wait. Check It Out! USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2013/06/27/you-toss-food-wait-check-it-out3 Betkowski, B. (2018, November 9). Is it safe to eat canned food past its best-before date? University of Alberta. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://www.ualberta.ca/folio/2018/11/is-it-safe-to-eat-canned-food-past-its-best-before-date.html But don’t rely blindly on expiration dates or rules of thumb! When you open a jar of pickles, check it out before eating it.

How to Tell If Pickles Have Gone Bad

Pickles must be kept in a sealed jar. If the lid is bulging or the jar spurts when you open it, do not eat them. It’s vital to practice food safety habits when eating canned foods, as they can cause botulism if not canned or stored correctly.4(2022, June 24). Home Canning and Botulism. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/communication/home-canning-and-botulism.html

View and smell the pickles in the jar after opening them. If they feel soft, look gross, or smell weird, chances are they may no longer be safe. Trust your guts and don’t eat them.

Give your pickles a good sniff. If you detect any off odors, it’s a strong indication that your pickles have gone bad. And if the brine has become cloudy or murky, this is another sign your pickles may have spoiled.

When it comes to texture, mushy or slimy pickles are not a good sign. Similarly, if you notice any mold growth or discoloration on your pickles, it’s time to toss them out. These are all clear indications that your pickles may be unsafe to eat.

How to Store Pickles

Now that we’ve covered the shelf life of pickles, let’s go over the correct way to store them.

Commercially canned pickles have undergone thermal treatment and hermetic sealing to prevent the growth of bad bacteria and preserve their quality and freshness for a long period of time.5Canned Food – an overview. ScienceDirect. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/canned-food

Unopened pickle jars are shelf-stable. To store them, label the date of purchase on the jar or lid with a marker and put them in the pantry.6 Nummer, B., & Jahner, B. Storing Canned Goods. Preserve the Heat Extension. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from https://extension.usu.edu/preserve-the-harvest/research/storing-canned-goods If you don’t have a pantry, store them in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight and sources of heat, such as in a cabinet, drawer, or closet.

Avoid storing pickles near heat sources, like your range or the part of the countertop above the dishwasher, and keep the pickles away from the back of your fridge or freezer. These appliances emit heat that can make the pickles lose their best quality sooner.

Remember that once you’ve opened a jar of pickles, everything changes. They’re no longer a shelf-stable food—they become perishable—and they need to be stored in the refrigerator. For best quality, keep the jar’s lid tightly sealed and use the pickles up shortly after opening.

The Odd One Out: Refrigerator Pickles

We focused a lot on canned (okay, jarred) pickles so far. But it’s important to talk about another type of pickle. The outlier.

Refrigerator pickles, whether you made them at home or bought them from the Jewish deli or refrigerated section of your local grocery store, are not the same as their canned counterparts.

As their name gives away, refrigerator pickles must be stored in the refrigerator. They are not heat processed and definitely not hermetically sealed, and are sold in plastic tubs. Generally speaking, they stay good for 3 to 4 weeks in the fridge.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.