Are there disadvantages to plastic containers for pickling? [moved from PNW board]
[NOTE: We've moved this digression from a discussion at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/12949 -- THE CHOWHOUND TEAM]
As a side topic, are there significant disadvantages to using plastic buckets and/or food svc containers for pickling? I'm looking to add house-pickled cukes and dilly beans to the menu at our small restaurant, so beautiful stoneware crocks and glass jars aren't really feasible. Evergreengirl mentioned off-gassing. What's that mean? (Obviously, I'm a novice pickler)
Outgassing is the release of fermentation gas. It's gotta go somewhere. If your lids are too tight, it can rupture your containers.
If you're doing this for re-sale, it may be illegal to re-use pickle buckets as manufacturing containers. The vinegar/salt mixtures can eat away at plastics and some metals. If it were my restaurant, I might be tempted to "show off" the pickling by using very large clear containers.
In any case I'd use glass or ceramic containers to make the pickles. Look around your local restaurant supply store; you should be able to get a couple HUGE stainless steel "stock pots" in the 40 or 60 quart size that would do the job well and not cost an arm and a leg...
It all depends on if you are making "quick pickles" (vegetables are soaked in a vinegar and salt/spice solution for a few days and refrigerated) or "fermented pickles" (vegetables are salted and allowed to ferment for several weeks at room temp then canned or refrigerated to stop fermentation).
Crockery or glass fermenting vessels often have a "gutter" that is filled with water and the lid is "floated" on top so that gas can bubble out and allows some minimal air exchange. A pickle barrel lid seals so tightly, I would think that pressure would accumulate and hinder the fermentation. More dangerously, anerobic fermentation can be a very favorable environment for the development of botulism. Several outbreaks of botulism have occurred in the Native Alaskan population since they switched from traditional fermentation methods (hole in the ground) to plastic food containers.
Pickle barrels are great for STORING pickles and making "quick" pickles, but I would not ferment pickles in a sealed pickle barrel (may be okay if the lid is not sealed)