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So last weekend the wife and I got a huge jar of pickles at Costco. The thing is bigger than a gallon of milk (the wife really loves her pickles). There really isn't any room for it in the fridge, but no where on the jar does it say 'refrigerate after opening', but I've always kept them in the fridge (and so does everyone else I know).

I know that pickles use to be kept out of refrigeration in barrels and I realize that the salt in the brine should keep anything bad from happening, but does anyone actually keep their pickles at room temp? Are there downsides to this?

Thanks

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Can't put this as an answer since it's just anecdotal heresay, but when I go to the local convenience store, they have a giant vat of unrefrigerated pickles that's probably been there for years, if that helps. If it was dangerous I'd think the health inspector would shut them down. –  stephennmcdonald Jan 31 '11 at 18:53

9 Answers 9

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Traditional fermented pickles were kept in barrels, but they're not the kind that you buy in a big jar at Costco. Those pickles have been briefly cooked in a brine, and should be refrigerated after you open the jar. The salt and vinegar should keep them safe for a while, but they will likely go bad at room temperature before you finish eating the whole jar.

As an anecdotal note, an office I used to work in kept one of these large jars of pickles around. After being open for a few years, they were clearly spoiled, and nobody would touch them.

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I just bought a huge jar of Vlasic brand kosher dill pickles at Costco myself, 1 gallon jar. it says refrigerate after opening on the lid on this one..

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I say refrigerate them. Throughout my life, I've notice that eating opened unrefrigerated pickles give me terrible diahrreah (sorry for the TMI). Not once has it ever happened with a refrigerated one.

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Most commercial pickles also contain sodium benzoate, a preservative used in many acidic foods and sodas. What sodium benzoate does is reduce the chance of spoilage through the pickle vinegar absorbing benzoic acid. Chances are an opened jar of pickles stored outside of the fridge and in a cooler, dark location (eg, a kitchen cabinet) will last quite a while.

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My wife and I are having a mexican stand off over this issue: refrigerate or not regridgerate; I like them room temperature and shee likes them cold.

I think they are okay because they are fermented. Vinegar and salt are preservatives. That being said, I think staying out for a week or so pickles are safe to eat. To go longer I don't know because they never last that long in our house.

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Cold pickles are definitely an acquired taste. Perhaps it's time to grab an old Mayo bottle and make yourself a room-temp pickle subjar. –  Wayfaring Stranger Apr 12 at 10:38

In this wild world of litigation, it surprises me that there is anything left that DOESN"T state, "refrigerate after opening....." With that said, I'd feel safe to assume that refrigeration really isn't required, granted one follows some general rules-of-thumb; try to store it away from light and heat. I prefer cold pickles but sometimes I just don't have the room so I'll transfer a few to a more manageable (and chill-worthy) container for future enjoyment. Yum........

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I have eaten pickles kept at room temperature for many months with no sign of spoilage. Here is a bit more explanation :)

Anything can spoil eventually, refrigerated or not. Keeping something under a lid and refrigerated restricts the number of airborne colonizers that might get access to it, and the cold temperature means that even if they get there, they will grow much slower than at room temperature.

For something to spoil, it needs to be colonized by bacteria or fungus spores, and it needs to contain some nourishment to support their growth, not too much chemicals that prevent their growth, and not too much competing life forms already present. So, things with a high concentration of salt or sugar tend to be unhospitable to bacteria and fungi growth, because they are hygroscopic (they draw the water out of cells). Extreme high or low pH (eg acidic) also retards growth. Think of things like ketchup, mustard, jelly with labels that say "refrigerate after opening" but most people ignore them. Alcohol is unfriendly if the concentration is too high, and of course natural fermented foods are already occupied by human-friendly bacteria.

Pickles are sealed in a jar, with periodic access by hands or utensil. They are also protected by a hygroscopic acidic brine. The invention of pickling was done as a preservation method when refrigeration was not available (although modern methods are different as another post pointed out). I think you can leave them out with no worries unless you see obvious mold growth.

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The non refrigerated life of things like pickles can be greatly enhanced by careful access to the barrel

In a closed room with still air open the barrel and using a very clean ladle decant enough to fill your normal sized jar and then close the barrel firmly and store in cool dark place

As long as the main storage barrel is only open a few times in clean conditions it should not get contaminated and should therefore last a significant time

Total time will also be effected by how well the content where preserved in the first place!

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Traditional sour/salty pickles certainly don't need refrigeration. Commercial pickles might be another thing entirely, however, if their brine is weaker. If the brine is too weak, expect mold to develop on the surface. Even then, I doubt that they would become unsafe before the brine grew mold. I'd say if your pickles didn't come from the refrigerator section and don't instruct you to refrigerate after opening, you'd be OK.

I'm less certain about the shelf life of unrefrigerated sweet pickles, but I would guess the same concerns would apply.

If you leave them out, make sure there's sufficient brine to completely cover the pickles--the expose pickles would go bad faster. I do know that unrefrigerated pickles aren't as crunchy as the same ones that have been kept cold, so that could be a consideration too.

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