Tips & Tricks

Do Pickles Go Bad? + Great Ideas to Use Them Up

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Do pickles go bad? How can you tell if they are? All the answers to these and many other questions are here. After facing these dilemmas myself, I decided to write this post to help out those who want to enjoy these flavorful food items but are not sure if that opened jar sitting in the back of the fridge is still good or not.

Two jars of pickles

Photo by Claire and Ed Sutton via Flickr.

Ahhh. The pickle. These cucumbers turned wild have become quite the food accessory, don’t you think?

From topping burgers to sitting alongside sandwiches, pickles are all the rage as far as garnishes go. But here’s a question for you.

Do pickles go bad? Have you ever given this any thought?

I think most of us have had a lone pickle sitting in the back of the fridge for a while and we were left wondering if we can still eat it or, if it should be tossed. Or, is that just me?

How Long Do Pickles Last?

While cucumbers themselves have a relatively short shelf life after they have been picked, the same is not true for pickles. Thanks to the pickling process, they can actually last a relatively long time.

The process involved in making pickles requires a lot of vinegar, which is great for preserving food it is extremely acidic. The acid from the vinegar makes the brine a very hostile environment for any bacteria to grow in.

That being said, the shelf life is not indefinite. The lifespan of a pickle is determined by a host of factors including how they are stored, their “use by” date, and others.

If the pickles are stored unopened in a cabinet (with the temperature below 75 degrees) you can expect the shelf life of a jar of pickles to last well beyond their “use by” date (usually by 1-2 years). The same goes for pickles that have been stored opened, but refrigerated. The shelf life of these is also extended up to 2 years past the printed date.

Do pickles go bad?

Photo by Claire and Ed Sutton via Flickr.

If the “use by” date has come and gone and you think the pickles are probably good but you are nervous to try, there are some things that you can look for that will let you know if the pickles have gone bad. Some are obvious, some are not.

How to Tell if Your Pickles Have Gone Bad

Here are some signs that you may not want to bite into those crunchy little snacks:

  • Bloated packaging. If you are curious as to whether or not your pickles have gone bad, you can first check out the packaging. If the lid on the jar is flat, your pickles are probably just fine. If the lid is rounded however, this means that the pickles were not packaged correctly and bacteria has likely started to form. Go ahead and toss them. This is actually true for most packaged foods.  So be sure to look out for bloated packaging when you are trying to determine if something is safe to eat or not.
  • Black or brown spots on the pickles or throughout the brine. If the packaging looks good, but you are still unsure, it’s time to check out the pickles.  If you see that the pickles have any added black or brown spots, definitely don’t bite into them. It is time to toss these pickles out as well.  
  • Wilted or soft pickles. This one can go either way. If you open up your jar of pickles and you see that they have become soft or have started to wilt (or if they looked wrinkled), you can still eat them, but the crunch will be gone. So, like I said this one is your call. But who wants to eat a soft pickle? Not me! My favorite part of the pickle is that crunch!

Do you typically eat pickles past their “use by” date?

Great Ideas to Use Up Pickles and Brine

Now that we have discussed how long pickles can last for and what to look for to see if they have gone bad, let’s talk about all of the awesome ways we can incorporate them into your everyday recipes and meals.  

  • A tasty topping for your burger or meat sandwich
  • As a base for relish. This works for both dill and sweet pickles
  • Reuse pickle brine to make more pickles
  • Pickle Sandwiches
  • Reuse pickle brine with boiled eggs to make pickled eggs
  • Dill pickle grilled cheese sandwich
  • Peanut butter and pickle sandwich
  • Pickle Salads
  • Use pickle brine to add some zest to your martini
  • Drink the brine. Pickle juice has been known to help with dehydration. A great hangover cure!
  • As an added punch to your bloody mary. All you have to do is add the pickle juice to your bloody mary mixture, or you can simply add the pickle straight into the drink.
  • Enjoy a pickleback (A shot of bourbon followed by a shot of pickle brine)
  • Gargle with pickle brine. Some folks swear that gargling with pickle juice helps with a sore throat
  • Create dill pickle hummus
  • Use pickle brine for a salad dressing base
  • On a snack tray with cheese and meat
  • Use pickle brine as a marinade for chicken, steak, etc.

I’ve got to say, even though I work with food all the time, I am still surprised at just how many things you can make with pickles. They just go with so many different foods.  

What is your favorite way to enjoy pickles?

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