Pickles were originally created as a way of preserving vegetables during the long winter months. By combining salt and vinegar, you are able to stave off rot-causing bacteria and keep the pickles fresh even without refrigeration.
Although they are known for staying fresh for many years, at some point, many people start to wonder if their pickles have gone bad.
If they are kept for more than a couple of years, pickles can expire or go bad. “Expiration” occurs when the brine becomes too acidic and causes the pickles to become extremely sour. They won’t actually go bad until contaminants are introduced to the brine that causes bacteria to grow.
Can Pickles Expire or Go Bad?
Although pickles are made to last a long time, pickles can expire eventually and go bad making them unsafe to eat. The vinegar and salt in the pickle brine help to slow down the spoiling process, but they don’t completely stop it.
At some point, usually, after about two years, the pickles will start to decompose and should be thrown away. The easiest way to tell if your pickles are going bad is by smelling the brine and checking their appearance. If the brine smells sour or the pickles don’t look quite right, they’ve probably reached their end.
How Do Pickles Expire?
Over time, the acid within the pickle brine becomes stronger and stronger. As this happens, the pickles will eventually become so sour that they are difficult to eat. At this point, the pickles are considered “expired” and should no longer be eaten.
If any sort of contamination occurs, the pickle brine can also go bad. This will happen if dangerous bacteria enter the pickle brine and begin to grow there. This can result in the brine going rancid at which point the pickles should also be thrown away.
The last way that pickles could go bad is if too much of the brine is removed. For the brine to function properly and preserve the pickles, the pickles need to be completely submerged. If they are exposed to oxygen, the pickles will begin to rot.
How to Tell If Pickles Have Gone Bad?
Fortunately, it is pretty easy to tell if pickles have gone bad. There are a couple of things that you can look at to decide if they are good or not but overall, if they look bad, they probably are.
The smell is probably the easiest thing to check and the first thing that you’ll notice when you open a pickle jar. The pickle brine should smell salty and slightly vinegary, but should not have a rancid or overly acidic smell that causes your eyes to water.
If you pull the pickles out and they have a rotten smell, they have also gone bad and should not be eaten.
The exact color of your pickles will depend on the variety of cucumber that was used to make them. Some will be lighter in color whereas others will have darker skin. The inside will usually be white unless the pickles have been dyed which is common in cheaper pickle brands. They will add a green dye to help cover up any discoloration that their pickles may have.
If the pickles have brown spots on them, mold, or just look discolored, then they have probably gone bad. If you suspect that your pickles have gone bad, try checking some of the other factors on this list before making a final decision.
This one almost goes without saying but if you see any mold growing in your pickle brine or on the surface of your pickles, throw them away. It is pretty uncommon for mold to grow on pickles since they have low sugar content. However, it can happen, especially if there has been cross-contamination.
This is why it’s always important to use a clean utensil to take the pickles out of the jar. If you introduce sugar or other contaminants, it can encourage bacteria to grow and cause your brine to go bad.
The last thing you should check to decide if your pickles are still fresh is their texture. Pickles that have not gone bad should have a firm texture that is even throughout. There should be no soft patches on the pickles and they should be fairly smooth.
If the texture has gone soft or there are darkened, soft patches this is a sign that the pickles have begun to decompose.
Can You Eat Expired Pickles?
If your pickles have simply expired and gone extra sour, there is no harm in eating them. They may be slightly painful to eat due to the high acid content, but you shouldn’t have any issues with them causing you to become sick. There are no bad bacteria that could cause illness and as long as the pickles haven’t rotted, you’re good to go.
If your pickles smell rotten or you observe some of the other previously mentioned signs, then you should not eat them. Once pickles have gone bad, bacteria can grow which can make you sick if you eat them. When in doubt, just don’t eat them. The last thing you want is to end up in the emergency room from food poisoning because you ate rotten pickles.
How to Properly Store Pickles
The best way to keep your pickles fresh for as long as possible is to store them properly.
As soon as you get your pickles home from the store, go ahead and put them in the refrigerator. Even if you aren’t going to open them, this can help to prevent the pickles from fermenting and keep the texture and flavor better for a longer period of time.
If your pickles were in the pantry section of your store, then it is not necessary to refrigerate them until they are opened.
Once your pickles are opened, it is important to keep them refrigerated constantly. This will ensure that any bacteria that manage to enter the jar will not be able to grow. Also, there’s nothing better than a cold and fresh pickle straight from the fridge.
One of the best things about pickles is that they can stay fresh for several years when stored properly. However, even vinegar and salt aren’t completely immune to time and at some point, your pickles will expire or even go bad.
If they expire, it will be pretty easy to tell just from the extremely sour and acidic taste. This can make it difficult to eat them, although it does not make them dangerous. If they have spoiled, you will be able to tell by a strong odor and a change in their texture causing the pickles to become mushy.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to store the pickles in the refrigerator as soon as they are opened. This will keep bacteria from growing and keep your brine as clean as possible.