Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables like napa cabbage, radish, green onions, and garlic. It has a sour, salty, spicy flavor and is full of probiotics and nutrients. Kimchi can be made fresh at home or purchased pre-packaged from grocery stores. But does packaged kimchi ever go bad?
The short answer
Yes, packaged kimchi can go bad if stored for too long. Commercially packaged kimchi has preservatives added to prolong its shelf life, but it is still a perishable food that will eventually spoil. Unopened kimchi can last 6-12 months past the “best by” date if refrigerated. Once opened, kimchi should be consumed within 3-6 months for best quality.
How is kimchi packaged?
There are a few common ways kimchi is packaged commercially:
- Jars – Kimchi is packed into glass jars, similar to how pickles are packaged.
- Pouches – Kimchi is packed into plastic or foil pouches, which helps keep the kimchi submerged under liquid.
- Tubs – Some kimchi comes in plastic tubs or buckets, which store large quantities.
Packaged kimchi often contains liquid like brine or sauce to help preserve the vegetables. The packaging creates an anaerobic environment that limits exposure to oxygen and slows fermentation. Preservatives like sodium benzoate may also be added. However, commercial kimchi is still a live, fermented food that continues to ferment slowly at refrigerator temperatures.
Signs packaged kimchi has gone bad
Here are some signs that your packaged kimchi is past its prime or spoiled:
- Mold – You may see fuzzy mold growing on the surface of the kimchi or on the brine/sauce.
- Yeasty smell – A very strong yeasty or alcoholic smell indicates over-fermentation.
- Rotten odor – Foul, rotten, or rancid smells mean the kimchi has spoiled from bacteria.
- Soft texture – Kimchi that has lost its crunch and becomes mushy has gone off.
- Pink, slimy film – Growth of yeast or mold can cause a pinkish slippery film on the kimchi.
- Fizzing – Bubbles or fizzing inside the packaging is a sign of fermentation restarting.
- Discoloration – The vegetables turning brown or drab looking can signal spoilage.
How to store packaged kimchi
Proper storage is key to getting the longest shelf life out of your packaged kimchi. Here are some tips:
- Refrigerate after opening – Keep kimchi chilled at 34-40°F once opened.
- Minimize exposure to air – Air causes kimchi to over-ferment faster. Keep kimchi submerged in brine if possible.
- Use clean utensils – Always use clean utensils to remove kimchi to avoid introducing bacteria.
- Keep lid tight – If using a jar or tub, make sure the lid is tightly sealed between uses.
- Check packaging – Avoid bulging or leaking packages which can indicate gas buildup from spoilage microbes.
- Don’t freeze – Freezing can damage the texture of kimchi. Refrigeration is best.
How long does unopened kimchi last?
The shelf life of unopened, commercially packaged kimchi depends on a few factors:
- Ingredients – Kimchi containing fish products will spoil faster than vegan kimchi.
- Packaging – Pouches keep out oxygen better than jars, extending shelf life.
- Preservatives – Products with preservatives like sodium benzoate last longer.
- Storage temperature – Cooler storage prolongs shelf life.
On average, commercially packaged kimchi lasts:
|Storage Temperature||Unopened Shelf Life|
|Room temperature (68–77°F)||6–9 months past the “best by” date|
|Refrigerated (34–40°F)||12 months or longer past the “best by” date|
Keep in mind these times are estimates for maximum quality. Over time, the texture, flavor, and bubbles will dissipate even if the kimchi does not spoil. For best taste and probiotic content, try to consume unopened kimchi before 1 year.
How long does opened kimchi last?
Once opened and exposed to oxygen, the shelf life of packaged kimchi is reduced. Estimate kimchi lasts:
- Refrigerator – 3 to 6 months
- Freezer – 6 to 8 months (quality declines when frozen)
To maximize freshness after opening, transfer kimchi to a non-reactive airtight container like glass or plastic. Make sure kimchi remains submerged under brine. Minimize air exposure by pressing plastic wrap directly on the surface before sealing the container.
Does kimchi expire?
Yes, kimchi does eventually expire and should not be eaten after reaching this point. The expiry date on packaged kimchi indicates the last date it should be consumed for best flavor and safety. However, kimchi expiry dates can be confusing.
There are typically two dates on kimchi packaging:
- Sell by date – Tells retailers when to remove kimchi from shelves.
- Best by date – Recommends when kimchi should be used for peak quality.
The “best by” date is the one to go by for expiry. As long as kimchi has been stored properly, unopened kimchi lasts 6-12 months past the “best by” date before expiring. Opened kimchi expires quicker within 3-6 months.
If kimchi shows any signs of spoilage like mold, foul odors, or soft texture, it should be discarded even if the expiry date has not passed.
What happens if you eat expired kimchi?
Consuming spoiled, expired kimchi can potentially make you sick. Possible health risks include:
- Foodborne illness – Bacteria like Salmonella or E. coli can grow in expired kimchi and cause symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and fever.
- Food poisoning – Toxins from bacterial overgrowth may cause nausea, chills, and stomach cramps.
- Allergic reaction – Fermented foods like kimchi can cause histamine toxicity when over-fermented, triggering allergy-like symptoms.
The populations most at risk are those with compromised immune systems,pregnant women, young children, and the elderly. Healthy adults may have milder symptoms or none at all from eating expired kimchi. But it is still best avoided for food safety.
How to tell if packaged kimchi is safe to eat
Here are some ways to evaluate if your packaged kimchi is still safe to eat:
- Check expiration date – Confirm kimchi is not past its expiry date on packaging.
- Look at condition – There should be no mold, sliminess, or pink film present.
- Smell – Kimchi should smell tangy, not rotten.
- Texture – The vegetables should be crisp, not mushy.
- Taste – Take a small taste and spit out. Kimchi should taste pleasantly sour.
- When in doubt, throw out – If kimchi seems at all off, don’t risk it.
As long as kimchi shows no signs of spoilage and has been stored properly, packaged kimchi is generally safe to eat according to expiration guidelines. However, use your best judgment when evaluating your specific kimchi.
Ways to use up kimchi nearing expiration
If you have a jar or pouch of kimchi that is close to expiring or has lost some freshness, here are some tasty ways to use it up:
- Kimchi fried rice – Fry kimchi with rice, eggs, and veggies for a fast meal.
- Kimchi soup – Simmer kimchi with broth, tofu, and green onions.
- Kimchi pancakes – Mix kimchi into pancake batter and fry up silver dollar-sized cakes.
- Kimchi grilled cheese – Top your grilled cheese with kimchi for a spicy twist.
- Kimchi omelet – Saute kimchi then fold into an omelet with cheese.
- Kimchi burgers – Add kimchi to your burger patties or use as a flavorful topping.
Cooked applications like these can give older kimchi new life while avoiding food waste. With a little creativity, you can get the most out of kimchi before it expires.
Packaged kimchi can go bad eventually like any perishable food. Signs of spoiled kimchi include mold, soft texture, and unpleasant odors. Unopened, commercially packaged kimchi keeps for about 6-12 months past the “best by” date if refrigerated. Once opened, kimchi lasts for 3-6 months in the fridge. Checking the condition and smell of kimchi provides the best indication of freshness. Consuming expired kimchi poses some health risks, so it’s best to discard kimchi that is clearly past its prime.