How Long Do Pickles Last (And Why)?

Exact Answer: Up to 2 years

Pickles are a popular addition to salads, sandwiches, and various other dishes. They are considered to be highly nutritious and good for the human digestive tract. Some studies also suggest that the consumption of pickles can reduce the chances of getting cancer in humans.

A pickle is made through the process of picking in which vegetables such as cucumber, carrot, etc, and/or meats and eggs are fermented in vinegar or brine with herbs and spices. It can last for a very long time if stored under proper conditions. Pickles, in general, have an extended shelf life because of the presence of natural preservatives such as brine or vinegar.

Pickles can be either pasteurized or unpasteurized. The difference between the both is that in unpasteurized pickles the fermentation never ends as it is a continuous process. Even though pickles have a comparatively long shelf life, they can get contaminated by various pathogens such as bacteria and become unfit for consumption

How Long Do Pickles Last?

Commercially sold pickles tend to live 1 or 2 years more past their expiration date as written on the jar label. They survive longer when stored in a cold and dark environment. Pasteurized pickles can be stored for 3 to 6 months additionally in a pantry.

An open jar of pasteurized pickles is recommended to be placed in a refrigerator immediately if needed to be stored for at least 3 months. An unopened bottle of unpasteurized pickles, on the other hand, can last for up to 3 months in a refrigerator but is unsafe to be stored in a pantry.

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Unopened homemade pickles can last for up to a year in both a pantry and a fridge. An opened jar of homemade pickles can last for only 2 to 3 months when placed in a fridge in contrast to the unopened jars. One must strictly follow the storage guidance rules to increase the shelf life of pickles.

In summary:

PicklesDuration
Unopened Pasteurized3 – 6 months
Opened Pasteurized3 months
Unopened Unpasteurized3 months
Opened Unpasteurized3 months
Unopened Homemade1 year
Opened Homemade2 – 3 months

Why Do Pickles Last So Long?

All types of pickles have an extended shelf life because of the presence of natural preservatives such as vinegar and brine. Unopened bottles of commercially sold pickles can even last for 1 or 2 years more past their expiration date because of the presence of other artificial preservatives. The ingredients of the pickles such as vegetables, eggs, or meats are fermented well to ensure a long-lasting period.

Although pickles have a good shelf life, they can also be subjected to contamination when exposed to warm and humid environments. Pathogens such as bacteria form colonies and expand in numbers to increase the decaying rate. Some of the common symptoms of contaminated pickles include:

Rotting Smell

Pickles have a recognizable scent. The presence of an unpleasant foul smell indicates food spoilage. In the initial stages of contamination, pickles appear normal in terms of appearance but develop a strong smell of decay.

Change in Texture

Spoiled pickles develop a slimy, spongy, and softened texture that directly indicates that the pickle has become unfit for consumption. The presence of mold is another indication of contaminated pickles. It is highly recommended to seek medical help if food poisoning symptoms appear after consumption.

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Inflated Lid

Pickles are stored in containers having metal screw tops. If the jar top bulges out, it directly indicates a chemical change in the pickle because of which acid may be produced in the liquid. The acid puts extra pressure on the metal screw top causing it to inflate.

Brine

A brine is a high concentration liquid containing water and salt. It has a pale yellow color and crystal clear appearance. Slimy or cloudy brine indicates contamination in pickles.

Conclusion

Pickles are consumed as a fermented side dish that contains various ingredients such as cucumber, cabbage, corn, pepper, carrots, eggs, or meats along with vinegar or brine and different spices or herbs. It is a popular dish because of its many health benefits. It contains a good amount of nutrients, especially vitamins.

Pickles can last for a year or two if stored properly according to food storage guidelines and conditions. Storing pickles in a fridge or a freezer can further extend their shelf life. In the case of food poisoning caused by the consumption of spoiled pickles, it is recommended to seek professional guidance at the earliest.

References

  1. https://ifst.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1745-4549.2007.00110.x
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0023643818307199
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