How To Tell If Olives Are Bad & Tips For Preserving Them

It happens to all of us at some point: you pick up a lot at the grocery store one week, including items you don’t usually get. Then, you just sort of forget they’re there. That was the fate of your jar of olives. They’ve sat for quite a while, and now you’re wondering, have they gone bad?

Olives normally produce a pungent smell when they’re expired. The color and texture of the olives will also become different, paling from their usual vibrant hue. If you let them sit past this stage, then they could have visible mold. In almost all cases, you should throw out your olives at this point.

Exactly when do olives go bad? How do you know when they’re a little past their expiration date versus totally rotten? Can you make their shelf life last even longer? Read on, as we’ll answer all those questions and more in this article.

How Long Is the Shelf Life for Olives?

Before you buy anything at the grocery store, you always flip the box, package, or jar around to find the expiration date, right? Well, at least you should if you don’t already. The same goes for olives, of course. This fruit (as we’ve said before on this blog, olives are technically a fruit) don’t last forever, as is true of most fruits.

Now, the type of olives you buy can influence shelf life, as can where you keep the olives. If you like deli olives, or the kind housed in oil, you’re meant to put them right in the fridge. Do not stash them in the pantry. However, if you get standard olives in brine, those can sit in the pantry.

No matter what kind of olives you choose, once you unseal the jar for the first time, you cannot leave the olives out anymore. They must go in the fridge. Deli olives will last for two to three months after opening if refrigerated. Olives in brine have a longer lifespan, three to four months.

Now, if you don’t open your jarred olives in brine for any reason, you can keep them around in the pantry for a pretty long time. Typically, they’re good for another year or two past the printed expiration date. That’s only if you’ve never opened the jar. If you’ve even twisted the lid loosely, then you’ve broken the seal. The olives will have to go in the fridge, where you have a couple of weeks to eat them.

How to Tell if Olives Are Bad

Sometimes you put so much stuff in the fridge that other items get pushed to the back and forgotten about. Now you’re curious about the edibility of your olives.

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Take a look at the condition of the jar before you crack the lid open. Does it look like it’s in a poorer state than when you bought it? For instance, does the jar have any leaks, bulges, or even rust? If so, then something’s gone horribly wrong at some point. Don’t even bother looking at the contents inside. You’ll want to toss your olives in the trash and pick up some new ones at the supermarket.

Check the jar’s lid as well. The look of it can indicate what you might see inside. What do we mean by that? Well, a lid that’s tightly screwed onto the jar will be flat. If your lid has a slight domed indentation, then it’s more than likely the olives are no good and should go straight to the curb.

Let’s say you open the fridge and you don’t see anything wrong with your olive jar. Okay, so now you can uncap the lid and smell inside. Sometimes the olives will have a rancid odor that’s very much unmistakable. Other times, it’s a smell that’s just…well, off. You’ll know when something’s wrong with your olives, trust us.

At this point, you want to consult the expiration date. Then, do some math. How long ago did you buy these olives? How long have they been expired? A few weeks, maybe even a month or more? If so, then err on the side of caution and get rid of them.

There’s yet another sign that tells you the fate of your olives. Once you get the jar open, if you can bear it, look inside for more than a second or two. What do the olives look like? Is their texture different from the firm, smooth skin they normally have? Has their color faded significantly? Do you see mold? It’s high time for some new olives.

What Happens If You Eat Olives Past Their Expiration Date?

Maybe the olives didn’t smell that bad to you, so you decided to eat a couple. They didn’t taste too weird, but a few hours later and your stomach hurts pretty badly. What’s going to happen now?

The symptoms of eating food past its expiration date can vary. With olives, you may just have a stomachache for a few hours. This may be accompanied by diarrhea and vomiting. Do keep in mind that it’s possible to get food poisoning from olives if they’ve grown mold.

We would recommend resting up for the day after eating the expired olives. If your symptoms worsen or are severe from the onset, be sure to get in touch with your medical doctor.

Can You Make Your Olives’ Shelf Life Last Longer?

You can’t get enough of olives, and you wish you could keep them around even longer. Can you? Indeed, you can follow a few methods that may extend the shelf life of your olives. Now, there’s no guarantees, so always use your common sense. If your olives look or smell bad, then it’s better to play it safe and replace your olives with some new ones.

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Seal the Jar Tightly After Each Use

It might seem annoying to have to put a stronghold on the jar when you’re done eating your olives, but it’s necessary. That airtight seal you create maintains the quality of the olives. By only loosely screwing the jar lid back on or—even worse—not doing so at all, you put your olives at risk of expiring faster.

Also, do know that if your jar can no longer be sealed airtight for any reason, you can always move the olives to a different airtight container (these are my favorite).

Keep the Olives in Their Liquid

No matter where you transfer your olives, make sure you move their liquid with them. Whether that’s their oil or brine, the olives need this liquid to stay fresh. Not just a bit of liquid will do, either; all olives need complete coverage from the liquid. If the olives aren’t submerged, they’ll start rotting faster.

Maintain Pantry Temperature

What if you haven’t moved your jar of olives to the fridge yet? Perhaps you’re keeping them in your pantry, unopened, for now. That’s fine. Do keep an eye on the temperature, though. Olives do best in a pantry that gets no warmer than 75 degrees Fahrenheit.

Try to Store in Airtight Containers

If you purchased olive from the bulk section of the grocery store, chances are you got a basic plastic container to put them in. While these are great for quick transportation back home, they tend to leech air out of the lid and allow air in.

The best airtight containers I have ever used for just about everything would be these Snapware containers by Pyrex. There are cheaper options, and there are ones that have plastic bowls, but nothing beats the glass which allows for microwaving, easy cleaning, and oven safe nature of these (less the lid) in addition to of course keeping things fresh for longer. The snaps and seal on the lid for mine have lasted years now with no signs of wear so it definitely is worth considering.

Related Questions

How can you tell if black olives have gone bad?

Black olives behave like any other olive, for the most part. If you get a jar of the black variety, they too will have an expiration date. You should do your best to follow this expiration date to the letter, more or less. The same rules for storage apply as well. Keep your unopened olives in the pantry and then move them to the fridge once you open them.

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Black olives tend to produce an odor that some people call metallic once they go bad. They may also have a metal-like taste if their expiration date has passed. Other signs they’re no good? Look for discoloration, patchiness on the olive skin, a slimy or greasy texture, and—the most obvious indicator—a layer of white fuzz.

Can olives have white stuff on them?

This happens most often with black olives. Sometimes, they develop a white substance on them, typically after opening the jar or can. It’s not the white fuzz we described above, either. What is it?

This substance is known as yeast spots. Depending on the olive growth and brining process, some fungi and bacteria can develop to cause these spots. Most of the time, yeast spots aren’t a sign the olives are bad. You can typically wash the spots off and your olives should be okay.

Of course, you do want to take precautions. Give your olives a thorough sniff before popping them in your mouth or adding them to a dish you made. If they don’t smell quite right, then again, err on the side of caution. If they do smell fine, then try one. If the taste isn’t off-putting, you should be okay.

Does olive oil go bad? How can I help it last longer?

Olive oil, like any food, can expire. It’s good for 18 to 24 months on store shelves when left unopened. Once you bring it home and start using it, thus opening it, you might get a month or two out of it.

To maintain your olive oil so it’s in the best possible condition (and maybe extend its life a bit), you want to keep the oil away from oxygen as much as possible. That means screwing the lid on tight when the oil is not in use. Otherwise, you risk oxidation, which messes with the olive oil’s flavor.

You also want to ensure you keep your pantry or cabinet temperature between 60 and 72 degrees, but no higher or lower. Put your olive oil in a dark pantry as well, as too much light can degrade the oil’s antioxidants. 

Avoid keeping it in clear containers or in areas where it is subject to sunlight. There is a reason many olive oils come in dark colored containers, although it is a myth that the dark glass stops the UV damage to the oil.

Something like this smoked glass bottle, for example, is great for pouring and storing in a dark area. A solid stainless steel or ceramic design is, however, actually the best way to store it and avoid light as it blocks out the light completely (but doesn’t let you see inside for when the oil is low). Some even come in drip free designs.

You could of course cover the glass with some kind of permanent label which would also solve the problem. That is what some olive oil brands do when using clear bottles.