Do Olives Go Bad? It’s Complicated

We love olives on cheese plates and pizzas, in salads and sandwiches—you name it. Still, we’d be lying if we said the suckers never got lost in the clutter of condiments in our kitchen. If you’re anything like us, that mystery jar of olives in your fridge or pantry might have you asking, “Do olives go bad?” Well, you’re going to have to dig a little deeper than the expiration date to answer that one...but we did the research for you, so all you need to do is keep reading.

Do Olives Go Bad?

The short answer is yes, olives do go bad. That said, it usually takes a pretty long time for that to happen if they were in good condition when you bought ‘em and they’ve been properly stored since. Here’s everything you need to know when it comes to assessing the freshness of those tasty table olives you’ve had hanging around.

How Long Do Olives Last?

The shelf life of olives depends on both the type of packaging and whether or not it has been breached—and this is true for all cultivars (kalamata, castelvetrano, what have you). In terms of packaging, it’s important to consider whether the olives you have are liquid-packed or dry. (Hint: The former has much more staying power than the latter.)

First, let’s talk about liquid-packed olives: When purchased in this form, an unopened, commercially packaged container of olives will stay fresh, tasty and safe to eat for up to two years, regardless of what the date on the jar says. (Fun fact: "Best by" dates have nothing to do with food safety—they’re actually just somewhat arbitrary dates the manufacturer comes up with to indicate optimal quality.) In other words, feel free to always keep a backup jar on hand if you like snacking on these salty guys.

As previously mentioned, liquid-packed olives boast a pretty impressive shelf-life, even if the jar has been opened. If the olives you bring home are bathing in a liquid brine, they will stay fresh for 12 to 18 months after being opened, provided that you store them properly. (More on that later.) How do you know where in that window your particular olives fall? The olive purveyors over at Mezzetta recommend erring on the side of caution and consuming their olives within 12 months. That said, the best way to tell whether your olives are past their prime is simply to examine them for signs of spoilage. (Again, more on that later.)

Finally, olives that are bought "dry" (i.e., picked from a salad bar), will not fare quite so well. Bottom line: If the olives in question are not commercially packaged and suspended in liquid, you should consume them within three days from the time you bring them home regardless of when you start snacking.

How To Tell If Olives Are Bad, Spoiled or Rotten

As with most foods, the “rules” for olives are really just general guidelines; if you want to feel completely confident before popping a few into your mouth, your best bet is to confirm for yourself that no tell-tale signs of spoilage are present. Fortunately, this isn’t too hard to do.

First and foremost, it doesn't matter how long you’ve had the olives or when you opened them—one moldy olive is a sign that the whole jar has got to go. Okay, that one is pretty obvious, but you can’t count on olives being fresh simply because you don’t see mold. Any change in appearance or smell is bad news. For example, if the olives smell kind of funky, or start to look shriveled or discolored, you should bid them adieu. Finally—and this is important—no matter how normal the olives look, do not proceed if the lid of the jar (opened or not) is bulging, dented or damaged in any way.

How To Store Olives

All the aforementioned shelf life guidelines are 100 percent dependent on proper storage. To make the most of your goods, store unopened liquid-packed olives in a cool, dark place (in the pantry, a dark cabinet or somewhere where the temperature doesn’t climb above 75 degrees). Once you’ve opened the jar, close the lid well for an airtight seal and stick the container in the fridge. It’s also important to remember that the brine is a key preservative, which is why the olive experts at Mezzetta recommend that you use a utensil when you dig back into an open jar—you know, so you don’t lose any of the precious liquid that’s keeping the olives fresh. As for dry-packed olives, those should go in the fridge in an airtight container from day one. Oh, and one last bit of good news before we sign off: Olives of any kind can be frozen without brine in an airtight plastic container for up to six months.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...