My peck of pickles are not perfectly fermenting, should we eat or toss?

jar tops
Photo credit: Kate Jones

We tried fermenting pickles and I am unsure as to whether or not they are safe to eat. We used a store-bought pickling seasoning. We put the cucumbers, dill and seasoning in jars, covered with water, placed the canning lid and ring loosely on top and set on the counter for 2 weeks. I know the water was supposed to cloud, but we have a film of slime on top of the water and whitish, powdery looking "gunk" on the cucumbers (in the water.) I have bought Bubbies pickles before that are fermented. They have cloudy solution, but not as much "gunk" in the water. I'd love to try these, but I don't want anyone to get sick. These have not been in the refrigerator at all, nor have they been heat canned.

- Washington County, OR

This does not look like the fermentation went well. It has been warmer than ideal for fermenting vegetables lately, that might have allowed bacterias and molds that were undesirable to outpace the bacterias that create the desired fermentation process. I would recommend discarding these without tasting.

A scum can form on the top that is mold and should be skimmed off as soon as it forms. If allowed to grow, it will spread through the container. No coating should develop on the cucumbers themselves during the process, so that is a bad sign as well. I would guess that the cucumbers have softened and are slimy inside.

Cleanliness is important for fermenting to make sure nothing undesirable gets into the container. Make sure the cucumbers are washed, jars sterilized, hands are clean when preparing a ferment.

Protecting the top of the ferment also helps. It will keep anything wafting through the air from landing in the ferment and taking off. Placing a plastic band of brine on top of the ferment can help weight down the cucumbers and protect the surface of the brine, or placing a clean towel over the top of the container will help. This allows gases to be expelled but keeps particles from falling in.

Check out our Pickling Vegetables publication with more information. See page 8 for Dill pickles.

I would encourage you to try again, maybe when it cools off a little so the temperature doesn't exceed 70 or 75'F.

Oregon State University Extension Service also has a Food Safety and Preservation toll-free Hotline available July 14 โ€“ October 17 (Monday โ€“ Friday, 9:00 a.m. โ€“ 4:00 p.m.). Please feel free to call 1-800-354-7319 with any food safety or food preservation questions. They would be happy to talk to you.  

Jeanne Brandt
Family and Community Health Faculty
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