Do Pickles Have to Be Refrigerated? & Can Pickles Go Bad?

Do Pickles Have to Be Refrigerated? Can Pickles Go Bad?

If you’ve come across pickles on the shelf and pickles in the refrigerator at your local grocery store, you may wonder – do pickles need to be refrigerated? The answer is not very straightforward. Most pickles can do just fine without refrigeration if left unopened. Commercial pickles contain chemicals that tend to weaken the protective brine, thereby making refrigeration necessary.

As a general rule, opened pickles should be refrigerated to preserve the freshness and slow down the metabolic process behind the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms. This article will break down information concerning the preservation and refrigeration of pickles and some of the questions you may have concerning the subject.

What Are Pickles?

Pickle is a general term used to refer to food naturally fermented with salt brine or preserved for a given period in a vinegar solution. Although cucumber seems to be the most common food item used to make pickles, other fruits, vegetables, and proteins are used. Nonetheless, when you hear the term pickle, it most likely refers to pickled cucumber.

What Do You Need To Make Pickles?

Pickling is not necessarily hard when you have all the right ingredients and follow the right process. There are different ways to make pickles, but some of the general supplies you’ll need to include:

Vinegar: Different types of vinegar could be used in pickling, from white vinegar to apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, and more.

Salt: Salt is another important thing you need to make pickles. To get the best results, you may want to avoid table salt or salts with additives. Pure sea salt is a great option to go with.

Sugar: Sugar or any other suitable sweetener will get some taste into the pickle solution. For the sake of variation, you can try out brown sugar or honey.

Spices and Herbs: This is where you get to put in a few of your personal preferences. There are just so many spices you could use in pickling. Tested and trusted spices and herbs include bay leaves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, mustard seeds, allspice, and chilies.

Why Do Pickles Need to Be Refrigerated?

It’s simple. Even though pickles have a considerably longer shelf life, refrigeration is still important to keeping the taste fresh and getting a longer shelf life. When pickles are left unopened, refrigeration is not compulsory, even though it is advised. However, opened pickles need to be refrigerated to minimize the rate at which bacteria grows. Furthermore, commercial pickles should be kept refrigerated because they generally have weak brine.

Do Pickles Have to Be Refrigerated After Opening?

The good thing about pickles is that they keep well at room temperature, even when they’ve been opened. Nonetheless, it would be best if you always refrigerated after opening. It’s best to leave the pickles in the container they came with., but you can also transfer them into another suitable airtight container. The only exception is fermented pickles. Fermented pickles do not need refrigeration, opened or unopened.

Do Pickles Go Bad if Not Refrigerated?

In general, pickles don’t go bad if left unrefrigerated. At room temperature, they’re able to last as long as they would when refrigerated. This is particularly true when the pickles are unopened. After opening, refrigeration becomes somewhat necessary. The key to keeping opened pickles sufficiently fresh and preventing them from getting spoilt is to reduce the metabolic rate via refrigeration.

Refrigerated vs Non-refrigerated Pickles

While it’s generally recommended that pickles be stored in the refrigerator, it’s not always required. The main purpose of refrigeration is preservation, but there are some pickles that don’t compulsorily need this kind of preservation.

For instance, if you pick pickles from the refrigeration section in the store, you’ll likely have to refrigerate them to keep them from spoiling and becoming unsafe to eat. On the other hand, you could pick non-refrigerated pickles from the shelves. 

Can You Eat Pickles Left Out Overnight?

Yes, it’s safe to eat pickles left out overnight. If left unrefrigerated, properly sealed and canned pickles will remain in top condition for a couple of years. Opened pickles, on the other hand, is a different story. It should be kept refrigerated once the seal is broken, but you have nothing to worry about concerning pickles left out overnight.

Why Are Some Pickles Refrigerated?

Pickles are refrigerated to slow down the metabolic rate and slow down the growth of bacteria and other microorganisms, especially in pickles that are not pasteurized. Unpasteurized pickles will continue to ferment, so they have to be refrigerated to slow down the fermentation process. Fermented pickles can also be refrigerated, but it isn’t compulsory.

How Do You Know if Pickles Are Bad?

Pickled foods can only keep for so long, and they will eventually go bad. It can be hard to tell if pickles are bad if you don’t know what to look out for. Some of the several signs that could tell when pickles are no longer in good condition are listed below:

  • Bad Smell
  • Bulging lid
  • Mold 
  • Change in taste
  • Change of color 

How Do You Store Pickles?

Unopened pickles can be considered shelf-stable. This means you can safely store them in a kitchen cabinet, in a pantry, or in another cool and dry space. When stored away from direct heat, these pickles can remain safe to eat for over two years and well past the “best by” date. Once you’ve opened a jar of pickles, the best way to preserve it is in a refrigerator.  

Can You Freeze Pickles?

Yes, you can freeze pickles, but they may degrade in quality after a long time in the freezer. Already pickled food can easily lose more texture and flavor as the freezing process will cause them to expand further. On the other hand, freezing can be used as a production method for pickles. 

Also read: Do You Need to Refrigerate Cucumbers? Does It Go Bad?

Why Do Pickles Get Spoiled Eventually?

Preservative efforts can only slow down the growth of bacteria, fungus spores, and yeast fermentation. The highly acidic and salty brine used in pickling creates an environment that’s not so conducive for bad bacteria. You can expect your pickles to go bad eventually. If some pickles aren’t fully submerged in brine for a long time, they can start to grow mold and compromise the quality of the entire jar. Nonetheless, it is more likely that you run through an entire jar before it starts to spoil.

Do Pickles Expire Even If They Stay Packaged?

Yes, packaged pickles do expire even if they remain packaged. However, the expiration depends on factors like the best before date, the preparation method, and how it is stored. Interestingly, unopened pickles can generally last for up to 2 years past the printed best by date. The highlight is that even though pickles expire eventually, it takes such a long time for them to expire that you’ll probably have used up the pickles before expiration. 

What Happens If I Eat Expired Pickles?

Eating expired pickles is much like eating any other expired food. It could cause food poisoning. However, the stand-out thing about pickles is that they can remain in good condition long after expiration. While it can be quite easy to distinguish the taste of spoiled pickles, it’s not so easy to tell what could happen afterward.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do homemade pickles need to be refrigerated?

Homemade pickles, like commercial pickles, do not necessarily need to be refrigerated. Unopened, they can be safely stored at room temperature, but as soon as they’re opened, they should be stored in a fridge.

Do store-bought dill pickles need to be refrigerated?

The same set of rules that apply to regular pickles applies to dill pickles. Unopened, store-bought dill pickles can last for up to two years or even more. Once opened, it would be best to store store-bought dill pickles in the refrigerator for proper preservation.

Can you store-bought pickles?

It is possible to re-can store-bought pickles, but the question you want to ask yourself is, “is it worthwhile?” If you choose a product with sufficient preservatives, all you need to do is refrigerate. Besides, reprocessing the pickles can affect the texture.

How do you know if homemade pickles are safe?

A simple inspection can let you know if or not your homemade pickles are safe to eat. The first thing is to make sure that the jar is not bulging or leaking. Next, you should inspect the content of the jar. White film or foam at the top of the jar, weird coloration, and offensive smell are some signs that pickles are not safe for consumption.


So, do pickles have to be refrigerated? To be on the safe side, you should refrigerate pickles after you open the jar. Traditionally fermented pickles like those kept in big barrels are quite different from the commercial pickles you buy at the store. Chances are you’ll exhaust your pickles long before you have to worry about them getting spoiled. The bottom line is whether you’re dealing with store-bought or homemade pickles, refrigeration is quite important to preserve quality and freshness after the pickles have been opened.

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