Can you eat pickles past the expiration date?

Pickles are a refrigerator staple in many households. Their crunchy, tangy flavor can liven up sandwiches, burgers, salads and more. But what happens when you discover an open jar of pickles in the back of your fridge, and the expiration date passed weeks or months ago? Is it still safe to eat them?

The shelf life of pickles depends on a variety of factors, including the type of pickle, how they were processed and the ingredients used. Let’s take a closer look at pickles and expiration dates to determine whether you can enjoy these tasty treats even after their best by date has passed.

What are the different types of pickles?

There are several main types of pickles:

Fermented or brined pickles

These pickles are preserved by a process of fermentation or brining in salt or vinegar. This includes cucumber pickles, sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickled vegetables like peppers and carrots. Fermented pickles rely on good bacteria like lactobacilli to produce acid, which prevents harmful microbes from growing.

Refrigerated fresh-pack pickles

These are raw cucumbers or other vegetables that are packed in vinegar and spices. They are lightly processed and then refrigerated. Fresh-pack pickles have a shorter shelf life than fermented pickles.

Shelf-stable processed pickles

These pickles are treated with heat during processing to kill bacteria. This allows them to be shelf-stable at room temperature until opened. Processed pickles include forms like pickle relish, sliced dill pickles, and pickle spears.

How are pickles preserved?

Pickles are preserved in a few different ways:

  • Fermentation – Good bacteria produce acids that inhibit the growth of dangerous microorganisms.
  • Brining – Salt solutions draw moisture out of pickles to inhibit microbial growth.
  • Vinegar – The acetic acid in vinegar is a potent antimicrobial.
  • Pasteurization – Heat treatment kills microorganisms and inactivates enzymes.
  • Refrigeration – Cold temperatures slow the growth of microbes.

The preservation method impacts the shelf life. Fermented and brined pickles last months or even years thanks to live cultures and anaerobic conditions. Processed shelf-stable pickles can last 1-2 years unopened. Once opened, they should be refrigerated and used within a few months.

What do expiration dates mean for pickles?

The expiration date on a jar of pickles represents the last date by which the manufacturer guarantees the best quality and flavor. It doesn’t necessarily mean the pickles are unsafe to eat after that date.

Here are some key points about pickle expiration dates:

  • The date is an estimate, not an exact cutoff for when the pickles go bad.
  • Dates account for quality loss over time, like softening textures and diminishing crunch.
  • Pickles may slowly lose flavor after the date, but remain otherwise edible.
  • Unopened, properly stored pickles can maintain quality well beyond stated dates.
  • Once opened, pickles should be refrigerated and used within a shorter window of freshness.

The date is meant as a guide, not a hard rule. Let your senses of sight, smell and taste also help determine if an expired product is still acceptable to eat.

How long do opened pickles last?

Here are some general guidelines for how long different types of opened pickles will last refrigerated:

Pickle Type Refrigerator Life After Opening
Fermented pickles (sauerkraut, kimchi) 6-9 months
Brined dill pickles 9-12 months
Fresh-pack pickles 3-4 months
Processed pickles (relish, spears) 6-9 months

Properly storing opened pickles extends their shelf life. Keep them refrigerated at all times and make sure the pickling juice or brine fully covers the vegetables. Maintaining an anaerobic environment sans oxygen helps prevent microbial growth.

How to tell if pickles are bad

You don’t necessarily have to toss pickles that are past their prime date if they still look and smell normal. Here are signs of spoiled pickles to watch out for:

  • Soft or mushy texture
  • Slimy appearance or coating
  • Yeasty, fermented or alcohol smell
  • Dry, shrivelled vegetables
  • White or colorful mold growth
  • Cloudy pickling liquid
  • Rancid or off odors

Changes in texture, appearance and smell are more reliable indicators of safety than the sell by date. If your pickles exhibit noticeable changes from their normal state, it’s best to discard them.

Can expired pickles make you sick?

Eating spoiled pickles could potentially cause illness, especially for those with compromised immune systems. However, the risk is relatively low compared to perishable foods like meat and dairy.

The main food safety hazards with pickles are botulinum toxin and molds/fungi. Here’s a breakdown:

Botulinum toxin

The bacteria Clostridium botulinum produces this dangerous toxin under anaerobic conditions like jars or cans of food. Pickling methods create an environment that inhibits C. bot growth. But spores could survive and produce toxin over time after opening.


If pickles show heavy mold growth, including colorful fungal colonies, they should be discarded. Some molds like Fusarium are toxigenic and linked to poisoning.


The Listeria bacteria is a potential hazard with refrigerated ready to eat foods. But listeriosis cases linked to pickles are very rare. Proper refrigeration inhibits listeria overgrowth.

So while expired pickles come with minimal risks, it’s still advisable to inspect them closely and throw out any that seem off. Don’t take chances with pickles that exhibit signs of spoilage.

Tips for storing pickles

Here are some tips for maximizing the shelf life of your pickles after opening:

  • Refrigerate promptly after opening
  • Keep pickles submerged in brine/juice
  • Check regularly for signs of spoilage
  • Don’t let pickles sit at room temp more than 2 hours
  • Avoid cross-contaminating pickles and brine
  • Store opened pickles towards the front of the fridge
  • Keep your fridge below 40°F
  • Don’t keep open jars longer than recommended time

Proper refrigeration and limiting air exposure are key for preserving freshness. Also, never allow pickles to sit at room temperature for prolonged periods.


The expiration date on a jar of pickles is an estimate, not a hard cutoff for when they suddenly become unsafe or inedible. Many factors determine the usable shelf life of opened pickles stored in the refrigerator.

As long as they look, smell and taste normal, pickles can often be safely eaten weeks or months past their printed date. However, you should discard any that show signs of spoilage like mold, sliminess or off-odors. Follow basic food safety practices, trust your senses and enjoy your tasty pickles without worrying too much about the date on the label.

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