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Do Pickles Need to be Refrigerated? #1 Best Answer

The average American household buys a jar of pickles every 53 days.

Although you may go through a jar of pickles before it starts noticeably going bad, you should still always refrigerate an opened jar of pickles.

Contrary to popular belief, pickles can go bad. An unopened jar can last a few years if stored in a cool, dark place.

Do Pickles Need to be Refrigerated?

Pickles that were bought unopened and unrefrigerated can be stored in a dark cool place and do not need to be refrigerated. Pickles need to be refrigerated once the jar or container is opened. If they are not refrigerated, dangerous bacteria, yeasts or molds grow. Spoiled jars of pickles smell bad, turn a different color, and have bubbles or foam on the top of the pickling liquid.

Do Pickles Need to be Refrigerated?
Do Pickles Need to be Refrigerated?

About Pickles

Pickles are a cured food you make by putting different types of vegetables or fruits in a brine (saltwater) solution of vinegar, herbs, and spices to flavor and preserve them.

However, there are different methods of preserving pickles.

Since pickles predate refrigeration by some 4000 years or so, then, of course, you don’t need to refrigerate pickles after opening.

However, they will stay fresher and keep longer if you do.

There are different methods of making pickles, also. The traditional ways of making pickles, which are time-consuming, require specific ingredients, utensils, and patience.

In contrast, more modern methods cheat and use vinegar and salt to mimic the traditional flavors of brining and aging pickles.

Different pickling methods

Generally, homemade pickles are made using old-style recipes. The recipes for these types of pickles predate modern refrigeration.

There was a time that general stores would have big barrels of pickles on display in their stores.

The pickles from these barrels were often self-serve and stored at room temperature. Even today, you will see a gallon of pickles sitting at a bar or the counter of a country store. They are usually consumed before they go bad when sold in such a manner.

The pickles on bar counters and in country stores are always salty, sour dill pickles.

Fat and juicy pickles are suitable to eat alone or slice into discs or spears to add to a sandwich.

Making them is the basic method from which many pickles are made.

Once opened, pickles need to be refrigerated
Once opened, pickles need to be refrigerated

Vinegar Brine Pickles

Different methods can make pickles, but they all contain salt and vinegar, even sweet ones.

So how you make them can determine how well they hold at room temperature.

The three main methods of making vinegar-brined pickles include quick pickling, vinegar brine soak and rinse, and salt brine pickling.

Refrigerator pickles are a type of quick pickle and are vinegar-brined pickles.

They are the easiest pickles to make and only take a few hours from starting them to having pickles on the table for dinner.

These pickles must be refrigerated because that is where you make them and where they should remain until they are all eaten.

Pickles made with the vinegar brine soak and rinse method are not hard to make as far as a recipe goes.

However, making them requires a hot-water bath after being put into jars. This equipment can be costly and is time-consuming.

Even though these pickles are cooked, they will stay fresh longer if you refrigerate them after opening instead of leaving them at room temperature.

The salt brine method of making pickles works best for fruits and vegetables with a high water content.

When you pickle fruits and vegetables using this method, you must soak them in a salt, vinegar brine solution. This draws the water out.

Once you have brined the produce, you will need to rinse it thoroughly and allow extra water to drain from it.

After this process, you pack them in jars, add the required ingredients, seal the jar, and water bath them as you would with the vinegar soaking method of pickle making.

Unopened pickles can be stored in a dark cool place
Unopened pickles can be stored in a dark cool place

Fermented Pickles

Pickles that are fermented are also put into a brine solution. However, the pickled produce is left in the vessel with the brine for weeks and sometimes months.

The salty liquid forces the water from the product.

Microbes eat the produced sugars and create bacteria beneficial to your diet.

Fermented pickles are the only ones of this group that contain beneficial living bacteria that are good for your digestive system.

Sauerkraut is probably the most familiar fermented vegetable.

However, if you look, many artisan pickles have come to market.

They have interesting flavors, and just like their lesser cousin, the refrigerator pickle, they benefit from being refrigerated, even though they don’t need to be.

Pickles can go bad, refrigerated or not

We often buy products and find that something is amiss with their packaging when we get home.

If you purchase or make pickles and their lid bulges, throw them away. A bulging lid is a sign that bacteria is growing inside the container.

Pickles can also get old, and if you have mushy pickles or pickles that are off-color or growing mold, by all means, throw them away. But, for the most part, pickles are very stable and keep well.

However, temperature abuse, you know, taking them in and out of the fridge and sometimes forgetting them.

That’s temperature abuse. Well, it’s not suitable for pickles, and unless you devour them, they will get mushy and lose their flavor if you treat them this way.

If you choose to leave your pickles at room temperature, store them in a dark, cool place, and keep them tightly lidded.

If you do, they should stay fresh until you fish the last one from the bottom of the jar.

Bacteria, yeast and mold can grow if pickles were opened and not refrigerated
Bacteria, yeast, and mold can grow if pickles were opened and not refrigerated

Pickling and Fermenting

Before there was refrigeration, there were two main ways to preserve cucumbers, cabbage, or even foods like eggs.

One method was soaking the food in a liquid-like vinegar, which is the main method of how the pickles on your store shelves are made, and which is known as pickling.

The second method was fermentation. Fermentation requires bacteria, and plenty of salt, to preserve food.

Both methods of making pickles have their positives and negatives, but one thing is clear – they both require that any opened jar has to be refrigerated to keep the pickles from spoiling soon.

According to the University of Minnesota, fermented cucumbers can be kept in the refrigerator for nine months.

Pickled pickles, or those made through the pickling process as opposed to fermentation, last for up to two years beyond their expiration date, provided they are refrigerated.

Why Food Can Last Beyond Its Expiration Date

If a jar of pickles can last for so long after the expiration date, then why is the expiration date so inaccurate?

They are made to be absolutely sure when the food is still okay. This is done to protect the food companies and grocery stores from lawsuits.

A 2013 study done by the Harvard Law School found that most “sell by” labels show that the food was still good long after the date passed.

There are no federal laws that state how a pickle company can determine an expiration date.

The companies basically make up a date themselves.

The key to the Harvard study is that food lasted well beyond the expiration date, as long as the food was properly stored.

Keeping an opened jar of pickles out of the fridge for a couple of days in summer is likely to produce unsafe pickles, even if the jar is put back into the fridge.

Suppose you always kept your opened jar of pickles in the fridge and the power went out for a couple of days during summer.

It is possible that the pickles may be good, provided the fridge wasn’t opened much during the power outage.

However, you should inspect the pickles before eating them. Look at them, the brine in the jar, and give them a good smell.

How to Tell if a Jar of Pickles Has Gone Bad

Even if your jar of pickles is nowhere near the expiration date, the pickles may still not be safe to eat. Here are ways to tell if the pickles have gone off:

  • The pickles have turned brown, a much darker shade of green, or are otherwise discolored. This discoloration could be on some parts or all over the pickles.
  • The pickles have gone fuzzy. This is mold and can get you very sick.
  • The pickles have gone very soft, either in patches or the whole pickle.
  • You open the jar and a bad smell practically hits you in the face. Any pickle that doesn’t smell like – well, like pickles – should be thrown out.
  • Bubbles or foam appear on the surface of the pickle’s brine.
  • The brine changes from being oily to becoming thin and watery.
  • There is white film anywhere inside of the pickle jar.
  • The top of an unopened pickle jar has a noticeable bulge in it. This is due to gases made from bacteria, yeast or other undesirable microorganisms.
  • The jar has any sort of a crack — even if the crack has not gone all of the way through to the other side and nothing is leaking.

Do Not Use Very Old Recipes for Making Pickles

The process of making pickled cucumbers may have been around for 4,000 years, but those old recipes did not always make pickles safe for eating.

Even old family recipes, unless they’ve proven to be safe, should not be tried.

Clemson University notes that old family recipes may not have the right ratio of vinegar to water in order to make pickles safe for eating.

The right ratio is 1.5 quarts of vinegar for every 2 gallons of water.

Not adding the right amount of vinegar means the pickles will start spoiling.

This makes food for harmful bacteria, including bacteria responsible for botulism.

The pickles may even smell and taste fine, but can still get you sick.

Usually, the pickles will produce a white foam or film that lets you know right away that the pickles should be thrown out, but this visual giveaway that the pickles are off may not appear before someone decides to give the pickles a try.

Pickles that were refrigerated in the store need to be refrigerated opened or unopened
Pickles that were refrigerated in the store need to be refrigerated opened or unopened

The way you make a pickle determines if it needs refrigeration

Quick pickles, often called refrigerator pickles, must be refrigerated from the start.

Once a food has been refrigerated, leaving it at room temperature can quickly make it bad.

Other pickles aren’t so temperamental, and you can leave them out if you never refrigerate them, to begin with.

However, if you buy pickles in the cooler section of the grocery store, refrigerate them when you get home.

There is a reason they are sold refrigerated, and some of these products are fermented pickles, while some or not.

However, you don’t need to refrigerate every type of pickle, but every type of pickle benefits from refrigeration.

Frequently Asked Questions About Do Pickles Need to be Refrigerated

Do all pickled products need to be refrigerated after opening?

Not all pickles need to be refrigerated. Pickles that you buy refrigerated in the store should remain refrigerated when you get them home. Quick pickles that you make yourself should also stay refrigerated.

What is the Oldest Jar of Pickles?

The oldest pickle known is a medicine bottle that was made in 1876. It is in proud possession of the descendants of the pickler, the Boyle family of Florida. The pickle is many shades of brown and obviously has gone off.

Are Pickles Alive?

Although pickles are not alive, the bacteria in fermented or brined pickles, not pickles made in vinegar, are alive. Currently, they have no plans for world domination.

What Do Pickles That Have Gone Bad Smell Like?

Although good pickles have a strong vinegar smell, pickles that have gone off can be detected from their smell. Rancid pickles have a smell described as “sour mold.” A strong yeast smell is also bad news. If pickles smell bad, chances are they are bad for you and should be thrown out.

What Do Pickles That Have Gone Bad Smell Like?

Although good pickles have a strong vinegar smell, pickles that have gone off can be detected from their smell. Rancid pickles have a smell described as “sour mold.” A strong yeast smell is also bad news. If pickles smell bad, chances are they are bad for you and should be thrown out.

Conclusion About Do Pickles Need to be Refrigerated

Pickles definitely need to be refrigerated when the jar is opened.

Keeping them at warm or room temperatures promotes the growth of mold, bacteria, yeast, and anything else that can get you very sick.

Refrigerated pickles can last for months.

Unopened pickle jars do not need to be refrigerated and can last up to two years beyond their expiration date, as long as they have been stored consistently in a cool, dry place.