You open your fridge, and there in the back is a half-empty jar of pickles. You can’t remember when you bought them, but you’re fairly certain it was before today’s date. Your eyes scan the label for a answer to your question, but all you see is a meaningless jumble of letters and numbers. What do they mean? Are these pickles safe to eat?
The food we eat is regulated by the government to ensure that it meets certain safety standards. However, these regulations only go so far. Once food leaves the factory, it’s up to us to make sure that we’re not eating something that has gone bad. With that in mind, here’s a look at what those expiration dates on food packaging really mean.
What Do Food Expiration Dates Mean?
In the United States, there is no federal law that requires manufacturers to place expiration dates on many food products. However, many states have their own laws that do require expiration dates on certain items, such as baby formula and some meats and dairy products.
So, if expiration dates aren’t required by law, why do manufacturers use them? The answer is simple: money. The longer a product can be stored without going bad, the longer it can be kept on store shelves—and the more money the manufacturer will make. In fact, most expiration dates are completely arbitrary and have nothing to do with food safety.
With that said, there are some exceptions. Infant formula is one example; milk another. Both of these products are highly perishable and can pose a serious health risk if consumed after their expiration date. That’s why infant formula always has an expiration date, while milk usually doesn’t.
Are Pickles Safe To Eat After Their Expiration Date?
Now that we’ve established what those dates on food packaging really mean, let’s answer the question you came here with: are expired pickles safe to eat? The answer is yes… but only if they’ve been properly stored. And that “yes” would more accurately be “for a time” since the pickles are likely safe for a few months after their “Best By” date, but not indefinitely. If the pickles taste fine and are under 6 months past the expiration, they are usually OK. They might be a little mushy, but they should be safe.
If you see any visible mold or the pickles taste off — fizzy, sour, etc. — make sure you dispose of them and do not eat any.
Pickles are preserved in vinegar or brine, which prevents bacteria from growing and spoiling the cucumbers. As long as your pickles have been stored in an airtight container in the fridge (where they should be!), they should be good for several months past their expiration date.
Expired food isn’t necessarily unsafe to eat — but it may not taste great. If you’re questioning whether or not your pickles are still good to eat, give them a smell test; if they smell sour or off in any way, it’s better to be safe than sorry and toss them out. Otherwise, enjoy!