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Mar 21, 2009 01:42 PM

Are there disadvantages to plastic containers for pickling? [moved from PNW board]

[NOTE: We've moved this digression from a discussion at -- 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)

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  1. I have several large one gallon plastic jars that I make pickled vegetables in. They originally contained pickles so I guess they are fine and food safe.

    1. 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)

      3 Replies
      1. re: chococat

        Hi there, I have a problem with my pickles. I pickle the veggies in brine (water, vinegar and salt). The brine is boiled and poured over the vegetables while hot. The vegetables are packed in plastic containers and then the hot boiling brine is pured over the veggies. The containers are sealed while hot. The containers and the lids are loating after a few days. What is wrong and how can I prevent this?

        1. re: chococat

          The info about botulism in a ferment is mis-guided. If you are true lacto-fermenting in a salt brine without heating and no vinegar, there is ZERO chance of botulism. Also, pressure buildup will not affect the ferment at all. It is possible however that the buildup of pressure will rupture your vessel explosively so be careful of that. the vessel does not need to be capped, you can just throw a towel over the top to keep flies out.

          The alaskans were fermenting Fish, which just rotted and never actually fermented because the plastic was sterile and didn't have the good bacteria around to produce the lactic acid that kills the botulism.

          Just make sure you are using fresh veggies that have not been cooked or irradiated and a 3% salt solution. Dont use chlorinated water or iodine as that will also kill the good bacteria need to begin the ferment.

          Lacto fermentation is just about the safest way to prepare foods. Enjoy.

        2. 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...

          1. They need to be food-grade plastic buckets, but that seems reasonable...You can buy airlocks and buckets from a home brew (beer) store or online.

            1. thanks for all the good info, yall