Shelves of pickles sit under bright lights in the pantry section at your local grocery store. You wouldn’t be alone in grabbing a jar, spotting the “keep refrigerated after opening” message and wondering, do pickles need to be refrigerated? Here’s the deal (or should we say dill?) on storing pickles so they stay crisp and, more importantly, safe to eat.

Should pickles be refrigerated?

Open jars of pickled food should always be refrigerated—unless you have a root cellar or other storage space that stays a constant 34° to 40°F. Even some unopened jars should be stored in the refrigerator. For instance, if you bought them from a refrigerated display case, they’re likely unpasteurized and sold cold to keep the pickles crisp and free from harmful bacteria.

Unopened jars that have been pasteurized and sealed—the ones you find on grocery store shelves with other canned goods—can be stored at room temperature until you pop the lid open.

How long do pickles last on the counter?

Like most other foods, pickles should be left out on the counter for no more than two hours. Despite being preserved in brine, bacteria can still form in the pickle jar. Even in two hours, pickles’ texture can start to change. Warm temperatures cause pickles to soften and lose their crunchy texture. Keeping them cool keeps them crisp.

Fridge-cold temperatures prevent mold and yeast from forming in the pickle jar, but other factors can affect the contents, too. Pickles that stay fully submerged in their brine, aka pickle juice, are less likely to spoil. Help pickles last even longer by reaching into the jar with a clean fork every time you want a crunchy snack, then screwing the lid on tight when you’re done.

How to Tell if Pickles Have Gone Bad

So we’ve answered the question, do pickles need to be refrigerated (yep). The next one to ask is, can pickles go bad? It’s not likely to happen if you store them properly, but it is possible.

When pickles go bad, you can usually see or smell it. If your pickles have any of these problems, throw them out or toss them in the compost:

Change in the original color of the pickles or brine
Unappealing smell
Surface mold
Slimy or mushy texture
Bulging jar lid
Fizzy brine

Can you store pickles in the freezer?

Pickles generally shouldn’t be stored in the freezer. Freezing and then defrosting can make them soft and mushy.

The exception is homemade freezer pickles, which are made by packing sliced vegetables in vinegar and sugar before they are frozen. They can have a surprisingly fresh, crisp texture when thawed and eaten straight from the fridge.

Does storage differ for canned vs. store-bought pickles?

Properly sealed pickles, whether store-bought or homemade using a steam canner or hot-water bath, can be stored in the same way. Put them in a cool, dark, dry place before you open the jar and in the refrigerator once you pop the lid.

If you bought pickles from a market’s refrigerated section, they need to go straight into your fridge. The same is true of homemade fermented, refrigerator or quick pickles. Those submerged in a vinegar brine might be refrigerated immediately or once the brine cools, depending on the pickle recipe. Fermenting might take weeks, after which refrigeration slows the process and keeps the pickles crisp.

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