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We're in the process of making 4-day sweet gerkins and after the second day of soaking overnight the brine solution was foamy and has an unpleasant odor. Does this mean the pickles have gone bad?

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When I no longer like the taste or the smell. Especially when my baby daughter expresses concern about putting it in my mouth. –  Blessed Geek Aug 23 '12 at 7:52

2 Answers 2

Whenever you see froth in a bottle or jar that has not been shaken it indicates that some fermentation process is happening. If there is also a bad smell, you have bacteria doing the fermentation that is causing the froth.

Throw them away - lord only knows what bug is causing the problem, and it is not worth the trouble of finding out.

OTOH it may be time to sanitize the surfaces of your kitchen. People forget to wipe the undersides of cupboards, then put things like jars of pickle underneath the overhanging cupboard - under the false impression that because it looks clean there can't be anything stuck there which might fall into the jars.

I just threw out a bottle of blackcurrant cordial because it had "unnatural" froth in it ...

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The froth or scum on the top of a container is not inherently problematic, and neither is a bacterial colony growing in the pickles. Pickles cannot exist without bacterial fermentation. However, the unpleasant smell is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that there are unwanted bacteria. –  RudyB Aug 23 '12 at 14:05
    
Pickles exist to avoid microbial contamination. Some things, like sauerkraut, may incorporate inoculation with benign organisms that induce a natural fermentation, but to say that "Pickles cannot exist without bacterial fermentation" is twaddle. –  klypos Aug 23 '12 at 21:28
    
"Pickling, also known as brining or corning, is the process of preserving food by anaerobic fermentation in brine (a solution of salt in water) to produce lactic acid, or marinating and storing it in an acid solution, usually vinegar (acetic acid). The resulting food is called a pickle." from "Pickling". If you are making a quick pickle with acetic acid where does it come from? Bacterial conversion of ethanol (CH3-CH2OH) into acetic acid (CH3-COOH). Therefore I stand by my statement. Bacteria are not all bad, but good bacteria are not always so. –  RudyB Aug 25 '12 at 3:18
    
Bacterial conversion of ethanol to acetic acid? Dream on. If you want to rely on an article written by someone who refers to "ploughman's pickle" as English (it's a Heinz brand), go ahead. A lot of the article is twaddle, and I gave up writing Wiki stuf because there's so much twaddle in wikipedia. –  klypos Aug 25 '12 at 21:04

It certainly sounds like they have gone bad yes. A bad smell is a dead give away. As with any such situation, a few cucumbers (or whatever you're unsure about the safety of eating) are not worth getting food poisoning over: if in doubt, throw it out.

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