When "quick pickling" vegetables (submerging them in a salt + vinegar brine, but not properly canning them in fully airtight containers at high temperatures that would guarantee the product is free of pathogens), how long should I expect the vegetables to remain good if kept in the fridge?

  • On the one hand, I'm using non-airtight containers, doing my prep at room temperature, not sanitizing carefully, etc. Basically all the things you shouldn't do if you're trying to properly preserve food. As a result, I definitely don't expect these vegetables to last months or years like if I were doing proper canning.
  • On the other hand, they're sitting fully submerged in a brine full of vinegar and salt in a refrigerator. This seems like an environment that should be very inhospitable to most microbial life. Surely this will cause the veggies to remain good for longer than they otherwise would, right? I just don't know by how much.

The brine I'm using is approximately:

  • 1 C vinegar
  • 1 C water
  • 1 T salt
  • Other flavorings that I don't expect to make a difference, like some hot sauce and spices

The vegetables I currently have going are shredded cabbage and onions.

  • How long should I expect such quick pickles to last in the fridge?
  • How should I expect them to go bad? Will they mold? Ferment and develop a mother? Do something dangerous? Just invisibly start tasting bad?
  • Hey, the USDA says that there is no generic answer for all kinds of pickles: usda.gov/media/blog/2015/01/06/its-quite-pickle-be So ... do you want an answer for cabbage & onions?
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 18:36
  • Yes please! I'll edit to be more specific in the question.
    – A_S00
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 18:43
  • Oh, also, is this a hot brine, or a cold brine? That is, is the vinegar/water hot when you add it to the veggies?
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 19:03
  • It's a cold brine.
    – A_S00
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 19:17
  • I started writing up an answer, and realized that if it's a cold salt/water/vinegar solution, and includes cabbage, aren't you just making a very wet sauerkraut? There's nothing preventing it from fermenting.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 19:59

2 Answers 2


Since you're putting the cabbage in a vinegar/water mixture, you are not fermenting it as sauerkraut (at least not initially), which would keep for months. Instead, you're relying on the acidity of the vinegar for preservation. The 50/50 mix you have there is plenty acid (est. pH of 2.8 or so), so even if fermentation doesn't start on its own it should be safe. But for how long?

This turns out to be hard to answer, even if we narrow it down to the most common recipe similar to yours, which is quick-pickled spiced red cabbage. Online recipes advise from 1 week to 6 weeks, and there's no reason to believe those estimates are anything other than a rule of thumb. The USDA is surprisingly ignorant of pickling anything other than cucumbers. The leading preservation books are no help either: Putting Food By does not cover refrigerator pickles for some reason, and The Home Preservation Bible says "3 days" (which is a bit silly since unsalted raw cabbage will keep longer than that in the fridge).

However, there is one major difference between what you're doing and red cabbage recipes: you're using a cold brine. Given that, there's no reason why fermentation of the cabbage wouldn't start on its own; basically, you're making an extremely wet sauerkraut.

This also means that seeing bubbles is not a reason to think your cabbage and onions has gone bad; that could be fermentation starting. You'd need to check, and see if it still smells sour instead of funky, yeasty or moldy, which would all be bad signs.


The problem is by putting the brine mixture in the fridge you are retarding the process of osmosis. So your vegetables are not being preserved by the pickling, making the whole dredge pointless. Yes the PH of the mixture is probably too acidic for any harmful bacteria to grow, but harmful bacteria is unlikely to grow on your veggies while in the fridge anyway, unless they are kept for way longer than what they should.

Brines need to be able to have the salt molecules move freely between the protein strands. This leads to a constant dehydration and hydration of the protein molecules. In a meat this leads to a protein strand that can better retain moisture and generally more moist meat. In vegetables like cabbage it releases lactic acid, which leads to a further reduction in PH of the pickling juice and gives the juke it's pleasant tart taste.

This is hampered when the temperatures are too low. You need room temp for a brine

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