Pickle Safety

Adair P. Hoover,
Home & Garden Information Center

August is here and that means pickling time! Pickled cucumbers (and a variety of other vegetables) are popular in South Carolina and processing them for year-round use can be fun and productive. While there are many ways to pickle, canning for shelf stability requires careful attention. Water-bath processing is required and using passed down or “homemade” recipes can be risky!

Examples of Canned Pickles
Examples of Canned Vegetables

So, what is the correct method for preserving pickles, and how do you know they are safe to eat? First, it’s not always possible to tell if a canned food has gone bad. A sure sign that a pickled food has gone bad is bubbling. Bubbling and/or a film in the jar indicates the food has spoiled. Only a microbial analysis can tell you what is spoiling the food and whether it is harmful. Growth of either bacteria or yeast can produce gas. Growth of bacteria, yeasts and/or molds can also cause a film to develop. Molds growing in pickles can tolerate the acid and cause the pH to rise, and a raised pH increases the chance that harmful organisms (such as the organism that causes botulism) can grow. The pH (a measure of the acidity of a food) is one of the fundamental factors related to canned food safety. If you are a home canner, becoming familiar with the role of pH in creating shelf-stable food is essential. HGIC 3030, Canning Foods –the pH Factor has great information. However, if you are preserving using a scientifically-tested recipe, precisely following instructions, and properly storing the food, it will be safe.

When it comes to canning the HGIC recommends using only research based/scientifically-tested recipes. However, if you really MUST can your own recipe consider having it tested for safety at the Clemson product-testing lab. Cost is approximately $100 per product. A small price to pay for knowing that you have a product that is safe for your friends and family to eat! For more information on product testing call the Home & Garden Information Center Monday through Friday 9:00 – 1:00 @ 888-656-9988.

Pickling is a tasty way to preserve summer vegetables so, be safe and get your Pickle on!

For more information on Pickling see HGIC fact sheets:

3100 Pickle Basics
3101 Common Pickle Problems
3380 Dill Pickles & Sauerkraut
3400 Pickled Foods
3420 Pickled Cucumbers
3440 Pickled Peppers
3460 Relishes
3470 Flavored Vinegars

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