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Dec 7, 2010 06:21 PM

Pickles Safety Query

I guess this isn't exactly a home cooking issue, but here it goes: I just opened a jar of Nathan's Kosher Pickle Halves that has been sitting a month or two in the pantry since purchase. On opening the jar, I heard a good deal of fizziness, like carbonation. Then I read the label and it says "always refrigerate."

Not that I'm willing to experiment with my health, but I am curious. Does spoilage create fizziness? And I don't think I've ever bought pickles that needed to be in the fridge for storage before opening. I suppose I might have got these from a fridge case at the market without noticing that fact. They just went into the pantry when I got home....

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  1. Do not eat them. The fizzeness is absolutely telling you that the pickles have spoiled. There are a few higher quality pickles that require refrigeration and Nathan's is one of them. Bacteria grows quickest between 40* & 140*, so by not keepimng them refrigerated the bacteria has been able to multiple rapidly. Not all pickles need refrigeration due to the cooking process and lack of preservatives.

    1. Yep, that fizziness is carbon dioxide, the same thing that makes the fizziness in Coke and beer. In Coke, it is added by adding pressurized carbon dioxide. In beer, it is (sometimes) a result of fermentation after bottling. More often, even in beer it is added using pressurized carbon dioxide.

      Fizziness in a normally non-fizzy item is indeed a sign of spoilage. You can even reach high enough pressure to blast your food all over your kitchen. I once opened a several-year old can of tomatoes, and sprayed tomato all over the back wall of my kitchen. Needless-to-say, I tossed them. The carbon dioxide is made in much the same way that you make carbon dioxide when you breathe. Except with the bacteria in your pickles, the CO2 can't escape, so it goes into solution. It fizzes out when you release the pressure.

      A very common contaminant that causes fizziness or pressure in acidic foods (tomatoes and pickles) is Clostridium botulinum. Botulism.

      Don't eat fizzy food.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Indirect Heat

        "Don't eat fizzy food."
        That might be the funniest and most useful thing I read all day.

      2. Thanks, folks! I am in the process of serious disinfecting of surfaces. Do not wish to get acquainted with Mr. Botulism...

        7 Replies
        1. re: Bada Bing

          "Do not wish to get acquainted with Mr. Botulism..."

          That has me wondering. Of course I'd be seriously cleaning up a mess like this, but not sure I'd be all that worried about the Botulism bug itself. Would it even survive in the (presumably oxygenated) atmosphere of an average kitchen?

          1. re: OldDog

            You're right not to fear the botulism bug. It won't survive in a healthy adult for very long. It's the toxin that it secretes where it grows (i.e. the contaminated food). That toxin is one of the most deadly compounds known to man - fabulously small amounts of the toxin will kill you *if ingested*.

            Just don't eat it. And wash all the surfaces of your kitchen that get tomato-spray on 'em.

            1. re: Indirect Heat

              Interesting about the difference between the bug and the toxin.

              Actually, I didn't have much mess at all, but I bet a tiny bit of fluid got onto my wooden counter, on which I prepare all kinds of food directly. I've windexed it for the time being.

          2. re: Bada Bing

            I would not get excited about botulism. Botulinum is not a common contaminant of any food, and especially not acidic foods (which is why folks who don't have a pressure canner add lemon juice or other acids to veggies before processing). It's very common in soil, but unless you did some gardening and forgot to wash your hands before digging a pickle out of the jar, I don't see how you could have introduced that particular bug.

            I don't know where IndirectHeat read that botulinum produces CO2. I do some home canning and make fermented sausages and have done some research on the subject and have never come across any reference to botulinum producing CO2. On the other hand, some Nathans pickles are naturally fermented, and the bacteria involved in that process do indeed produce lots of CO2 (I make my own pickles as well and can testify to that). So if you had a jar one of Nathan's fermented pickles it probably just got over-fermented a bit. In any case, something might contaminate an old jar of pickles, but it won't be botulinum.

            1. re: Zeldog

              Fermentation produces CO2. Botulism. Baker's yeast. Salmonella. Lactobacillus. Fermentation produces CO2, the organisms hardly matter (at least in any kind of situation in the kitchen, we can talk about hydrothermal vents later, if you like - they're a bit different). Friendly bugs make CO2. Nasty bugs make CO2.

              Botulism isn't the most common contaminant of foodstuffs. But it is the most common contaminant of foodstuffs to survive the canning process. The botulism bug is tough. As a spore, it can survive some pretty ridiculous insults. An opened container that became fizzy is probably some other bug. An unopened container that became fizzy is very likely to be botulism.

              For reference, I'm a microbial physiologist when I'm not barbecuing.

              1. re: Indirect Heat

                I haven't had Nathan's pickles, but I think they are fermented dill pickles, aren't they? Like a kosher dill? Usually fermented style dill pickles make enough acid to prevent botulism - and the canning process just stops the fermentation. But the thing is, you couldn't be sure so I am with @Indirectheat on this one. I wouldn't eat it. The canning process provides the anaerobic environment that botulism spores need to grow. A pickle that's underacidified and then canned could get botulism. Some of those Japanese style pickles have a really mild brine are like that - that is why you always refrigerate those kinds. For reference, I am a nerdy geeky engineer when I am not pickling.

                1. re: momskitchen

                  I called up Nathan's: they say that, indeed, all Nathan's pickles require fridge storage.

          3. The advice on here is not good in the general sense, although it applies to OP. Things that are naturally fermented may be carbonated. Heterolactic acid fermentation generates lactic acid AND carbon dioxide. Homolactic acid fermentation generates primarily lactic acid. Fizziness in high quality pickles and sauerkraut is often the product of having more hetero than homo fermentation. Neither is harmful, it's just a matter of what the person eating the pickles prefers. If the pickles have been properly jarred and stored at the right temp, then the fizziness is very likely just the product of fermentation. You're fine. Kimchi is usually a bit fizzy even if you open it right after purchasing it. If you don't like the fizziness, slice the pickles in halves and wait a few minutes prior to eating. The carbonation will dissipate and the pickle will taste like what you're used to.

            On the other hand, high quality pickles are NOT pasteurized, hence the need to store them in the fridge. If OP left his jar out, then it's toast. Bacteria not associated with the fermentation process can grow when pickles aren't pasteurized and are stored at too high a temp. Throw them out and get some new ones!

            1. Also bought Nathans half sour pickles and there is also this cloudy stuff floating in it I'm not eating these either.


              1 Reply
              1. re: Rockki

                Real salt-fermented, uncooked pickles always have a cloudy brine. Don't worry about it -- they're fine.