Do You Have to Refrigerate Pickles After Opening?

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As someone who has been canning vegetables for over a decade, I’ve always thought that most people know how to store them.

That’s why I was surprised to learn that some of my readers didn’t know if you have to refrigerate a jar of pickles after opening it or not. As a general rule of thumb, pickles should be stored in the refrigerator once they’re opened up.

However, they can still sit out for a few hours at room temperature since their brine inhibits the growth of harmful microorganisms. Keep reading to find out when it’s a good idea to leave pickles out and when it’s better to keep them refrigerated.

Do you have to refrigerate pickles after opening?

Whether you buy your pickles from the refrigerator aisle or the canned goods section, you should always store them in the fridge after you pop them open.

Once a jar of pickles is opened, it gets exposed to bacteria similarly to other shelf stable food items such as almond milk.

Coupled with the increase in temperature, this creates ideal breeding conditions for bacteria and increases the risk of foodborne illness.

Having said that, canned pickles can still be left out for a few hours at room temperature since their brine severely limits the growth of bacteria.

In fact, plenty of deli stores don’t bother keeping their pickles in the fridge for this very same reason.

So if you’ve accidentally forgotten a can of pickles on your counter overnight, you shouldn’t hurry to throw it out.

In all likelihood, the pickles will probably be a bit more sour and mushy, but still safe to eat.

If however, you’ve bought your pickles from the refrigerator section you should proceed with more caution.

Refrigerator pickles are usually brined in vinegar which is washed off before packaging.

As a result, they’re more susceptible to bacterial growth and mold compared to their canned counterparts.

For that matter, you should keep refrigerator pickles (as their name rightfully implies) in the fridge even if they’re unopened.

How long do pickles last?

Depending on the way they’re prepared, pickles can last for anywhere from two months to a couple of years.

Canned pickles undergo pasteurization before they hit store shelves, so they can stay good for up to two years after their expiry date as long as they’re unopened.

After opening, you can expect them to last for about 1 to 3 months before they go bad according to the USDA.

Refrigerator pickles, on the other hand, don’t enjoy the same longevity and spoil in less than two months.

However, I find this timeframe to be a bit of a stretch since their quality starts to seriously go downhill after the first month.

The last time I ate a refrigerator pickle that was near its expiration date, it felt like I was chewing seaweed.

That’s why I don’t recommend eating refrigerator pickles that are more than a month old.

How to tell if pickles have gone bad

Even though pickles have a fairly long shelf life, they will eventually spoil whether you store them under optimal conditions or not.

The most obvious signs that point to spoilage are changes in the texture and smell of pickles.

When a pickle starts to spoil, it begins to smell off due to the release of ammonia and the increased bacterial activity.

So if you notice that your pickles smell off putting or have visible mold growth, then you should toss them out.

Another sign that you should be on the lookout for is fizzing or discoloration of the brine.

When food spoilage bacteria begin to break down the sugars in the pickles, they emit carbon dioxide which makes the brine fizzy.

In addition, the release of carbon dioxide also causes the jar lid to bulge.

It’s worth noting, however, that this reaction also occurs in pickles which are naturally fermented.

In this case, the pickles are completely safe to eat since the resulting release of carbon dioxide is caused by beneficial lactobacillus bacteria.

The bottom line

Canned pickles are one of the longest lasting foods you can find on the market.

With proper storage, you can keep these crunchy little spears fresh for years even without refrigeration.

However, once you open them, you’ll need to keep pickles refrigerated at all times to prevent bacterial growth.

What are you doing with your pickles? You can try making my Creamy Crab and Corn Salad or my Savory Cake as both can be made with pickles.

If you've tried my recipes and cooking tips, please tag me on social media - I would love to see your creations! 

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