A Peek Inside my Refrigerator: I Threw Out 5 Jars of Sauerkraut, One was Pretty Bad!

I often get these questions: Has my sauerkraut gone bad? Is my sauerkraut safe to eat? How will I know? Let’s look inside my refrigerator and see if there’s some sauerkraut there that is not fit for consumption.

Looking for Jars of Bad Sauerkraut

It was the beginning of December 2014. I had just lifted the lid on the first batch of sauerkraut (Kimchi Style Sauerkraut) that I had fermented in my new 3-gallon Ohio Stoneware Fermentation Crock. I packed its contents into 13 1-quart jars – WOW! that crock holds a lot – and soon realized there was not enough room in my refrigerator for storing it. Time to do some clean-up and culling.

I’m lucky to have a second refrigerator in my garage. It’s where bags of fall farmer’s market finds get stashed: cabbage (in the white plastic bags), carrots, beets and apples, olive oil, wheels of bulk-purchased raw Gouda cheese, along with many jars of sauerkraut. On those 2 shelves are 18 jars of various flavors of sauerkraut: Dill, Kimchi and Sweet Garlic. Ah, the power of making sauerkraut in large crocks, but that’s for another blog post.

My refrigerator with cabbage, sauerkraut, carrots and cheese. | makesauerkraut.comTo make room, I started looking for jars of sauerkraut I knew I would never eat but hadn’t had the heart to throw out earlier. Here are 5 jars of sauerkraut I found – hanging out on the door of the refrigerator – that were old and were not being consumed.

Browned and old jars of sauerkraut get tossed. | makesauerkraut.comOut went the Spicy Garlic Sauerkraut from 2011. Brown, too spicy for me; the heaping teaspoon of red pepper flakes in it left my mouth flaming.

Next to dump into my bowl for the compost heap was Cinnamon Beet Sauerkraut from 2012. Good flavor but the beautiful vibrant-red color in the beets was long gone.

Carrot Radish Sauerkraut (2013) was a failed flavor attempt at “clean out the refrigerator of leftover vegetables.” And, I knew I would never eat the Sweet Garlic Sauerkraut from 2012 when I had more than a dozen 2014 jars already in my refrigerator; so that also was fed to the worms.

Bowl of tossed sauerkraut ready for the compost pile. | makesauerkraut.comLast to dump – of the edible, but not pretty stuff – were the brined Garlic Carrot Rounds. My family just never ate them. I sampled a few; they tasted just fine but I had to make room for the 2014-2015 harvest!

I started moving jars around to fit the new jars in and found one last jar.

The jar labeled “10/11” indicated it was over 3-years old and had to go. But, in a way I was proud of that jar. It was my first jar of sauerkraut that definitely “DID NOT LOOK NOR SMELL EDIBLE.” This is one spoiled jar in 10-plus years of making sauerkraut! Yes, I’ve thrown out some slimy sauerkraut, when I fermented with too many high sugar vegetables and have had some mold pockets in my early days of fermenting before I was weighing ingredients and using a specific brine ratio, but this jar was different.

Rotten, smelly sauerkraut gets dumped. | makesauerkraut.comThere were strange creamy-white threads of who-knows-what working their way along the top layers. I had put my son’s name on the label, to indicate he grew the cabbage and “Red, Dill” for the type of cabbage and flavor. I knew it was time to toss it but first, I opened the lid. Strong, alcohol-like vapors knocked my socks off. What happened? My guess? A causality of “double-dipping!”

Double-dipping is the act of dipping your personal fork into the jar to serve yourself. A “dirty” fork introduces unknown bacteria into the ferment. We had eaten just a litlle out of this jar and then forgot about it… for years. leaving plenty of time for the bad bacteria (off our forks?) to do their dirty work.

Or, perhaps I did not use enough salt to create a healthy brine ratio. I’ll never know the real reason for the demise of that jar of Red Dill Sauerkraut, but it’s the only jar of sauerkraut in my dozen plus years of fermenting, that was definitely not edible.

Has My Sauerkraut Gone Bad?

Most likely not. But, it might not have maximum nutritional levels.

Browned Sauerkraut

Look back at the labeled picture at the beginning of this post. What do you notice? The brined carrots and the 2013 sauerkraut have good color. The 2- and 3-year old jars from 2011 and 2012 have browned. These jars of sauerkraut all smelled fine and are safe to eat.

However, browning indicates oxygen has gotten to the cabbage and the Vitamin C content is low to nil where it is browned. This, according to Lea Harris over at Nourishing TreasuresNow, I don’t feel so guilty about tossing all those jars of sauerkraut.

But, I might consider adding brine before putting away my jars of sauerkraut that end up dry and not covered in brine. I hate to do this because I find it dilutes the flavors but if I want to maximize Vitamin C levels, I might have to.

The 1-year old Carrot Radish Sauerkraut still had good color, so maybe I just need to make sure to eat it within a year which fits in with the traditional food preservation process. Preserve the bountiful fall harvest to get through winter when locally available vegetables are scarce.

Visible Fuzz, Significant Mold, Pink Color, Smells Bad or Smell of Alcohol

My Red Dill Sauerkraut definitely falls under this category. Toss and learn from it what you can.

See Has Your Sauerkraut Fermentation Gone Bad: Three Fermentation Rules and Many Troubleshooting Tips for additional advice.

In closing, I offer you these words of encouragement: making lacto-fermented sauerkraut is a safe and easy way to create a delicious probiotic-rich food with numerous health benefits. The likelihood of something going wrong is minimal.

See The SureFire Sauerkraut Method… In a Jar: 7 Easy Steps for step-by-step instructions.

SureFire Sauerkraut... In a Jar | makesauerkraut.com

Do You Have a Jar of Sauerkraut that has Gone Bad? What Did You Throw Out?

Please share your experience in the Comments section below.

42 thoughts on “A Peek Inside my Refrigerator: I Threw Out 5 Jars of Sauerkraut, One was Pretty Bad!”

  1. Yes, i tossed a few jars of sauerkraut last year that were made in a borrowed Karsch crock. The whole process went well, the product was very tasty. That is until it came time to store the jars. I know now that I should have had more brine in the top of the jar. The lack of brine and the fact that the recipe called for apple….it went brown and very unappealing quickly….

    • Beth,
      It’s amazing how much color is a factor by which something is appetizing. I’m finding I have to eat my sauerkraut containing apple within a few months because they do tend to brown quickly. Be sure to borrow that Harsch crock again. I never have an issue of not enough brine in the large fermentation crocks with the water trough. – Holly

  2. My post disappeared, so I will ask again. Holly, my kraut in jars went dark on top like the one you pictured here, after just a few days. I think air entered because i used sheet of baking paper between the lid and the jar. I took off the dark bits and resealed what still seemed good in fresh, clean jars and after almost three weeks it looks good. It’s a bit of an experiment and I ‘m not sure if I can bring myself to eat this batch – but what do you think? Would it be safe to eat?

    • Hi Julie,

      Sorry that your post disappeared, but I’m glad you tried again.

      I think you’re right; the darkness came from air entering the jar, especially if the brine wasn’t covering the cabbage mixture. I had more than just darkness in the picture above. There was definite rot and it smelled terrible, very much like an industrial cleaner. I would never eat that stuff.

      As long as you had close to the proper ratio of salt to swing the action in the jar towards fermentation instead of rot, you should be just fine. Let your nose be your guide. It should smell tangy, and not be slippery or slimy.

      I know it can be hard to eat food that we leave out on our counter but you’ll soon get over that fear and be a fermentation pro! It is most likely safe to eat, especially after your repack job. I don’t tend to eat browned kraut not because of safety fears but because it doesn’t look as nice and is lacking in Vitamin C. – Holly

      • Hi Holly, thanks for responding so quickly. I am not having luck with this batch at all and think I will throw it out and start again. As well as the jars, I made a my first ever batch in a crock, using the same recipe I’ve used before, and it’s not good at all. I opened it this morning after 3 and a half weeks and while it’s not slimy, the liquid is very brown and it has a slight chemical/bleach or ammonia type smell. Maybe I didn’t get the salt right this time, although I used the same recipe I have used several times before. I will try your recipe next time – I think you use a little more salt – my recipe calls for two heaped teaspoons per kilo of cabbage. Like you, I dint think I can eat brown sauerkraut!

        • HI Julie,

          The smell of your kraut definitely sounds like a “toss this batch.” That’s a tough one, especially when thinking of the time and cost of supplies.

          Don’t give up, however! One learns a lot through these trials and tribulations and when you get it right, it’s soooo good.

          Yes, I use more salt in my recipe. You need a 2% brine to set the stage for the good bacteria to do their work while making sure the bad guys don’t move in. My recipe amounts create this 2% brine. I calculate that you’re just over a 1% brine.

          If you want to calculate you’re own amounts by weight, check here:

          https://www.makesauerkraut.com/how-much-salt-use-to-make-sauerkraut/

          I look forward to hearing about your successes! – Holly

  3. Hello everyone! I just tossed out my first batch of sauerkraut. I used a 3 quart pickling crock with stone weights, after 5 weeks in the basement, I found the top was covered with eggs and maggots. Very gross! I cannot say what went wrong. I had plenty of liquid covering the cabbage weighed it down with stone and put the lid on it. The stoneware lid does not fit snugly but sits rather loosely on the jar. May this have been a problem? I’d like to get back to it and try another round but first any input in what may have gone wrong would be appreciated!
    Thank you and good work!

    • Hello, So sorry to hear of your infested sauerkraut. So disappointing. Glad to hear you’re ready to try again. I always look at three variables: salinity (how much salt you used), temperature, and time.

      Did you use the correct amount of salt? A 2% brine solution creates the best environment for good bacteria to proliferate and bad bacteria to die off. When filling a crock I mix 5 pounds of cabbage and vegetables with 3 tablespoons of salt and pack that into the crock one batch at a time. Invest in a scale to ensure proper ratios.

      What was the temperature of your basement during the first week or so? Too cold – below 65 degrees F. and the good bacteria have a hard time getting established.

      You fermented for 5 weeks, which is a nice time for a large crock (5-10 liter). If the basement was on the warm side, I would shorten the time; on the long side, increase the time.

      With all that going well, the issue is most likely with the lid not fitting snugly which allows air in (not ideal) and would have allowed fruit flys to get in there too. I like to use the water sealed crocks as shown on my Resource Page (https://www.makesauerkraut.com/resources/). Some people rubber band/tie a cloth over the crock to keep bugs out and have success with that.

      Enough for you think about! -Holly

      • Thank you Holly!
        The basement is on the warmer side, washers and dryers down there, water heaters. I had a fruit fly problem in the kitchen the first week I had it in my apartment. Pretty sure that’s what happened.
        I spent a proud sum of money on the crock so I’d like to figure out how to make it work. I’ll try the cloth method. I’ve also read about parchment paper?
        I think I got the salt ratio right, I probably added extra because I have low blood pressure 🙂
        So sad, but gotta get back to it!

    • See my reply above 🙂 the issue was your lid and I have a fix for it! Don’t bother with the cloth! It just gets wet and seeps outside the crock and that can contribute to mold or yeast. The silicone cover under the lid works perfectly

      • Thank you, I will try the silicone lid for my next batch. I’ve got a good one going for two weeks now, I used some muslin and a rubber bad and then put the lid over it.
        Ya’ll are amazing!

  4. Iconlab: It’s definitely the lid! I have the same issue with it not fitting properly. There is a great solution for it! They make silicone bowl covers that I invert upside down and then place the lid over that. It forms a tight seal and no fruit flies or nasties can get in ! I have also used a silicone baby place mat 🙂 but I love the bowl covers because they are round. I found mine at the ACE true value where I bought some of my fermenting supplies

  5. My advice: always keep sauerkraut covered with brine and also add some vinegar at the end of the fermentations process (4 weeks). This way you extend preservation time by 3 or 4 times.

  6. Twelve days ago I started my first batch of sauerkraut. I didn’t have a crock so I used a 5-gallon plastic bucket from Lowes. I cleaned it with a soft sponge and hot soapy water and rinsed it good. I used 4 heads of cabbage, about 8 pounds, which I sliced with a large knife and salted in a large bowl, massaging by hand to bruise the cabbage. Once it was nearly covered with water, I transferred the sliced cabbage to the Lowes bucket and did the next head. Before throwing the sliced cabbage into the bucket, I added fresh dill, including stalks, cut into pieces that were about a hand’s width, and I also peeled horseradish root, sliced across the grain into narrow 1/8-inch thick slices. I used a glass jar to press down and pack the sauerkraut. At the end, it looked like I needed to add a little liquid so I added a little brine water until the cabbage was covered. I used two small plastic bags to cover, one inside the other, turning the top portions over the edge of the bucket, just like I would do if I were using them for their intended purpose. I put a plate inside the plastic bags which was a fairly tight fit to the bucket, about an inch all the way around. I kept the Lowes bucket in the far corner of the basement where there is total darkness and the coolest spot. This time of year, the temperature is probably in the low 70s there. After a few days I wasn’t seeing much action and realized the cabbage was floating. I weighed the plate down with large cans of spaghetti sauce! Hey, it worked! When it was time to take a peek, I just gathered the top of the trash bags and lifted the plate and weights out. Today I tasted. Wow! What a taste difference! There is full flavor, a hint of dill. I can’t taste the horseradish; maybe that’s a good thing!? And the crunch!

    • I should mention that I placed a folded tea towel over the bucket as well which would prevent any fruit flies or other interested company out of the bucket.

      • Hello Jeff, It sounds like you have everything set up for a scrumptious ferment. Enjoy the goodness. Horseradish loses its bite during fermentation. I’ve yet to ferment it successfully.

  7. Hi holly!

    I just made my first two batches of your mason jar sauerkraut (trying out the small batches before I purchase a crock… But boy do I want one!). My first jar is about 4 days old, measured out to 1Tbs salt for 28oz of your sweet garlic recipe. It is well below the brine but looks to be a light brown color for the top half inch of cabbage… And the brine looks like it has “floaties” in it. These appear to be more white-ish in color. Did something go wrong? It’s sitting on my counter (about 70-74 degrees) and I had to use a regular mason jar kid that I “burp” 2x/day.

    Thank you for your help!

    • Hello, Congrats on your first batch. Before you know it, you will be ready to purchase a crock, so be patient.

      My guess on the light brown color are the warmer temps you’re fermenting at. It is fine, however. Just ferment for shorter than longer. Test it in a week and see how you like the flavor. The floaties might just be some cabbage bits. Leave them be until you open the jar and then see, but it sounds like you did everything just right. Let me know how it is when you open it to taste!

      • So I’m 11 days in now, I decided to just let it sit longer to see what happened. The floaties (yeast?) turned slightly pink in color and so did the browner kraut at the top. I ended up scooping the top out today, adding more brine because the levels fell (just in case)… And I still might wait another week to see what happens. I’m a bit nervous to eat it, but I figure if it doesn’t grow mold in another week it’s probably OK?

        • See what it’s like then. Pink fuzz is often labeled as a “toss.” Maybe for the next batch, just put on the lid with a slight looseness then you won’t have to “burp” it.

          • You are a wealth of knowledge! I really appreciate your expertise in all of this. I actually purchased a silicone pickle pipe lid and will be trying this for my next batch! I’m still going to use your jelly jar idea too! Genius! Keep you posted…

          • Thank YOU! You’ll love the Pickle Pipes! If you end up with brine overflow – the jelly jar can take up too much space – you might also want the Pickle Pebbles or just the plunger from the Ultimate Pickle Jar. Enjoy!

          • So far the Pickle Pipe is great… No burping! Although I am frustrated… This second batch still has the whitish small floaties that are now starting to turn that familiar pinkish hue :(. The brine is also brownish. This is Day 8 🙁 I’ve been using Himalayan salt and measuring my cabbage (28oz to 1 TBS). What’s going on??

          • Good question??? With all you’re doing, you should not be getting mold or a pinkish hue. You have good salt numbers and all is below the brine and an airlock!

            Can you share a picture? Are you using organic cabbage? Some have had issues with GMO commercial cabbage. Are temps still 70-74?

        • I finally came across the reason why “pink” mold is a toss sign. It indicates that the pH levels did not drop to below the safe 4.0 pH number. Would be curious what the pH of your brine is? I would toss.

  8. I have a couple of jars making sauerkraut and a couple making pickles that I started on Saturday (four days ago). The veggies are all in quart-size, wide mouth mason jars fitted with a special lid that has a sealing ring and an airlock piece that fits into a grommet in the lid. I followed the directions from a fermenting website and a book that I have and it was a very simple process. Neither the book nor the website mentioned putting a weight on the cabbage or on the cucumbers- so I didn’t. However, the veggies are all now at the top of the jars and the brine is on the bottom- about an inch of brine. Is my first attempt at sauerkraut and pickles a lost cause at this point or is all still good? I haven’t opened the jars, but the color of the veggies still looks good. Thanks so much for your help with this!

    • They are not a lost cause :-). Let’s just get them covered in brine so there is no place for mold to grow. Mold loves to hop on board any veggies exposed to air

      Look here for some ideas on how to hold everything below the brine: https://www.makesauerkraut.com/fermentation-weights/

      Then, mix up some brine: 2 cups water & 1 tablespoon salt. Put your weight in place, pour in brine to cover, screw your lid – nice setup that you have – back on and leave to ferment. You might find with the sauerkraut if you pack/push in down with a fork, that brine will rise to the surface. It likes to hide inside the mixture.

  9. I started making my own red cabbage sauerkraut early this year..leaving jars out to ferment for about 8 weeks before transferring to the refrigerator. The fermentation process went perfectly. After refrigerating, I was eating it fairly regularly due to some tummy/digestive issues, but then got out of the habit (shame on me!). Recently I noticed I had still not finished the last jar I made (about 3/4 full), which has been in my refrigerator about 8 months (I kept cleaning my fridge thinking I would start eating it again, but didn’t). It still has nice color..with the exception of the top inch being being ‘slightly’ faded. No signs of mold, although the brine has been fully absorbed by the kraut (no more liquid even in the bottom, which is one reason why I have been hesitant to finish off the jar). I’m wondering if I should just toss it out since the brine has probably been absorbed for months (it still had brine over the top when I first refrigerated it earlier this year). I keep hearing it’s fine as long as there is brine..so now I’m concerned if it is safe to eat since the brine is gone. What is your opinion?

    • Hello Carol, Do not toss that lovely, long forgotten jar of sauerkraut. Brine gets pulled back into the cabbage which is why it is dry. I would just remove the faded part and indulge in the rest. Your tummy will thank you. 🙂

      • Thank you for your reply on this Holly! This is great to know. I wasn’t sure if I should be adding more salt-water to it (or yes, heaven forbid, to toss it!)..but it sounds like it is still good to eat as is! Thanks again!

  10. I made my first batch of sauerkraut, I ended up with a full mason jar and less than a half full mason jar of kraut. The full jar turned out delicious after 3 weeks, but the half jar had a thin skin of white mold with small dots ontop of the brine water. I skimmed off the mold easily, but the kraut was not as yummy or crunchy. There was a distinct difference in flavor, should i toss it?

  11. Hi Holly,
    My first batch of sauerkraut (in my beautiful new crock) was fabulous. For my second batch, I got brave and used red cabbage, carrots, fennel seeds, and a little apple. Things started out great, but then I got busy and let the water seal dry, so the crock wasn’t consistently protected from outside air/bacteria. I noticed and added water to the seal. Things got busy, as they do, and this happened a few times. On top of that, I left my crock for at least 10 maybe 11 weeks. My first one, I jarred at the 6 or 7 week mark. When I opened things up to jar it today, there was a glob of blue mold with white edges floating toward the middle of the brine. There were also little cabbage floaters. I skimmed everything I could out. The mold came out easily. I’ve jarred everything now, but I don’t know if it’s safe. I had a taste, and it SEEMS fine -pretty darn sour, but that’s kind of the point I think. It doesn’t smell as delicious as my first one, and it’s certainly softer, but it doesn’t smell gross. Can I eat it? Should I dump it? Will I regret serving it to guests? I’m chicken… tell me what to do!!?

    • Hello Daniella, By scooping off the moldy section, you’re doing just what our ancestors did with open crocks.

      As long as it smelled fine and the mold was only on the surface, all is fine. If you like the taste, eat away – and share with guests. Or… save the good stuff for the guests, since you’re probably trying to convince them that it really is delicious. 🙂

  12. About 5 weeks ago I cut up 4 heads of red cabbage, salted the shredded cabbage and put it in a 5 gallon crock. It’s less than 1/2 full, and it’s weighted down with a plate on which rests a small pail of water to keep it all under the brine. My problem is the cabbage tastes just like crunchy, salty cabbage. It isn’t sour or tangy at all. It smells ok and I’ve been skimming off white yeast every few days. Anybody know what’s wrong?

    • Hello Debbie, How much salt did you use? Did you massage and mix the salt in until you got a brine or just mix together in the crock? What temps are you fermenting at? If it’s on the extra-cool side, the bacteria may not have properly progressed through the necessary stages. But… white yeast usually means it’s warmer… Red cabbage does take longer to ferment, but not weeks longer.

      • Hi Holly. Thanks for taking the time to reply to my query. I didn’t keep track of how much salt I used but I think it was about 1/3 of a 3 pound box of pickling salt. I worked it with a wooden pounding tool and there was enough juice from the cabbage to cover a plate weighted down with a pail of water. The crock is sitting on my kitchen floor and though we had one hot day, all other days the temperature would have been around 72 F. I made fermented pickles at the same time in the kitchen and they turned out perfect. I think maybe I used too much salt with the red cabbage because I’ve had two batches of green cabbage sauerkraut (made with measured himalayan pink salt) going for three weeks and they are getting sour. One batch has grated carrots in it too and it has some white yeast on it. The other which is pure cabbage has no yeast on it. Thanks again.

        • You’re welcome and I think you’re right. Too much salt so it will ferment much slower than other batches. Be patient and see if you do notice a subtle shift in flavor to more acidic. The white Kahm yeast can happen with warmer weather. Fingers crossed!

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