Whether you’re putting ‘em in a Cuban sandwich or enjoying one as a stand-alone snack, a good pickle is hard to beat. Salty, sour, crunchy and thoroughly satisfying, dill pickles make our list of top kitchen staples—and you probably already know that an unopened jar is shelf-stable to boot. But when it comes to that jar of dills you first dug into yesteryear, you might be wondering, do pickles go bad? Fear not: We got the full scoop, so you can stop giving your condiment the side-eye and start building a dreamy sandwich instead.
Do Pickles Go Bad?
So, let’s cut to the chase: The answer to this question is, “possibly...eventually...but probably not before you have a chance to eat them.” In other words, pickles stay safe to eat for a very long time, regardless of what the ‘best by’ date says. (While we’re on the subject, it’s worth noting that ‘best by’ and ‘sell by’ dates actually have no bearing on the safety of a food product—they are actually labels slapped on by manufacturers to indicate best quality.)
Pickles are especially hardy, though, and are likely to stay fresh in both the pantry and the fridge for one to two years past that (misleading) expiration date, provided they’re properly sealed, the experts at Healthy Canning tell us. In fact, staying power is kind of the point of the pickling process. The highly acidic and uber salty brine that makes pickles possible was once the go-to method for preserving all types of food, and for good reason: The pickled environment is particularly inhospitable to bad bacteria. So, yeah, once a boring cuke undergoes that transformation, there’s really no turning back...or, erm, bad.
But wait, is it possible for a pickle to go bad? Yes, but it’s highly unlikely. First of all, there’s no reason it should take you two years to make your way through a jar of dill pickles—unless, say, you never liked them to begin with and bought them by accident. Even after two years, the odds that a pickle will make you sick are pretty slim. However, it is still a possibility—especially if you didn’t properly reseal the jar after opening it. When it comes to pickles that have been hanging around a little too long, the far more likely outcome is simply that they will lose their satisfying crunch.
How to Tell If Pickles Are Bad
You don’t have the foggiest idea of when you bought those pickles and you’re interested in exploring hypotheticals. (We get it.) Here’s what to look for in the off-chance that something went awry with either the pickling or storage process and your briny cukes have seen better days.
Bulging lid: If the metal screw-top of the pickling jar is bulging out, something wicked might be going on within.
Mold: This one is kind of a no-brainer—but if you pull out a moldy pickle, don’t put it on your sandwich.
Smell: If the pickles have taken on an odor that’s decidedly out of character, your best bet is to play it safe and take a pass.
That’s really all you need to look out for, friends—any other changes to texture and taste that occur over the course of long-term storage might affect how palatable any given pickle is, but not how safe it is to consume.
How to Store Pickles
An unopened jar of pickles can be stored at room temperature (i.e., the pantry) or in the fridge for up to two years past the expiration date. Once opened, pickles will stay fresh for roughly the same length of time as long as they are stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Note: For maximum freshness, it’s wise to pluck your pickles from the jar with a clean utensil rather than your fingers, as this will minimize the amount of bad bacteria introduced with every snack.