How long do pickled herrings keep?

Pickled herring can keep for up to a year when stored properly. The shelf life depends on several factors like the salt content, pH level, storage temperature, and type of packaging. With optimal storage conditions, pickled herrings can retain their quality and flavor for many months past their ‘best by’ date.

Quick answers

– Unopened pickled herrings last for about 1 year past the ‘best by’ date.
– Once opened, pickled herrings will keep for 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.
– Proper storage conditions like cool temperatures, airtight containers, and sufficient brine are essential for maximum shelf life.
– Pickled herrings may last for shorter periods if stored at room temperature or without enough brine.
– Signs that pickled herrings have spoiled include mold, soft texture, unpleasant odors, or very mushy flesh.

How are pickled herrings made?

Pickled herring is a traditional European dish made by curing fresh Atlantic herring fillets in a brine solution. The basic brine contains salt, sugar, and vinegar or other acids like wine or citrus juice. The salt cures the fish while the acidity of the vinegar firms up the flesh and enhances flavor. Spices like peppercorns, bay leaves, cloves, mustard seeds etc. are also added for extra flavor.

The fresh fillets are layered with onion slices and the spiced vinegar solution in jars or other containers. The containers are then sealed and left to cure in cool temperatures for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. This pickling process extends the shelf life of the fresh herring significantly while imparting a characteristic salty-sour flavor.

What factors affect how long pickled herrings last?

There are several key factors that impact the shelf life and long-term storage potential of pickled herrings:

Salt content

The salt content in the brine solution helps inhibit microbial growth and preserve the fish. Pickled herrings cured with higher salt concentrations tend to have a longer shelf life than lower salt versions.


The vinegar or other acids in the brine lower the pH of the product to help prevent spoilage. More acidic brines lead to longer lasting pickled herrings.


Some commercial producers may include chemical preservatives like potassium sorbate or sodium benzoate in the brine. These preservatives boost preservation and extend shelf life.

Storage temperature

Pickled herring should be stored at cool refrigerator temperatures around 40°F (4°C) once opened. The cool environment slows deterioration. If left at room temperature, the pickled fish will keep for a shorter period.

Type of packaging

Storing the pickled herrings in an airtight glass jar or container prevents air exposure and slows quality loss. Proper sealing also maintains the sterility and integrity of the product. Open tubs or permeable plastic containers accelerate spoilage.

Exposure to air

Limiting air exposure by keeping the pickled herrings fully submerged in brine is key for shelf life. Air can introduce microbes and causes oxidation which degrades quality.

How long do unopened pickled herrings last?

Unopened jars or packages of commercially bottled pickled herring have excellent shelf life:

  • Unopened shelf life after the ‘best by’ date: About 1 year
  • Store unopened pickled herrings in a cool, dry pantry away from direct sunlight.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations – don’t store in hot garages or freeze.
  • If the jar is accidentally frozen, thaw in the refrigerator before opening.
  • Discard if the vacuum seal is broken or lid bulges, indicating spoilage.
  • The vinegar brine preserves the product, so shelf life is long before opening.

How long do opened pickled herrings last?

Once opened, pickled herrings have the following refrigerator shelf life:

  • Refrigerator shelf life after opening: 3-4 weeks
  • Keep the opened jar tightly sealed and store in the refrigerator.
  • Always keep the herrings fully submerged in brine to exclude air.
  • Top up with additional vinegar if the brine level drops over time.
  • Discard if any mold, sliminess, or off-odors develop.
  • For best quality, consume within 1-2 weeks after opening.

How to tell if pickled herrings have spoiled?

Here are some signs that indicate your opened or unopened pickled herrings have expired and should be discarded:

Mold growth

Visible mold growing on the fish or brine is a clear sign of spoilage. Toss the entire jar out as mold can spread rapidly.

Soft or mushy texture

A very soft or mushy flesh that falls apart easily indicates degraded protein. Discard pickled herrings with this texture.

Strong or unpleasant odors

An “off” or rotten smell means the pickled fish has likely spoiled. Trust your nose and when in doubt, throw it out.

Cloudy or foamy brine

If the curing solution looks hazy, foamy or frothy, microbial growth has likely occurred. This can cause off-flavors and odors.


A slippery, slimy texture or coating on the fish is a warning sign of spoilage bacteria. Discard immediately.

Discolored or dull flesh

If the fillets look darker, yellowed or grayish rather than pearly white, oxidation and quality loss has occurred. Do not eat discolored herring.

How to store pickled herrings properly?

Use these tips to help your pickled herrings last as long as possible:

Storage temperature

Store jars at cool refrigerator temperatures between 35°-40°F once opened. Unopened cans or jars can be kept in a cool, dark pantry.

Airtight container

Ensure the storage jar or container has an airtight seal to prevent air exposure and drying out of brine.

Submerged in brine

Always keep the fish completely covered by the pickling solution to protect from air and maximize shelf life after opening.

Low light

Avoid direct sunlight or bright fluorescent light which can degrade color and quality over time.

No temperature abuse

Prevent large temperature swings by keeping pickled herrings out of hot garages, sheds etc. Do not freeze opened jars.

Pickled Herring Shelf Life Comparison

Here is a table summarizing the shelf life for pickled herring under different storage conditions:

Storage Method Shelf Life
Unopened (stored in pantry) About 1 year past ‘best by’ date
Opened (stored in refrigerator) 3-4 weeks
Stored at room temperature 1-2 weeks
Without sufficient brine 1-2 weeks

How long do homemade pickled herrings last?

Homemade pickled herring will have a moderately shorter shelf life compared to commercial versions due to differences in acidity, preservatives, and salting. Follow these guidelines for homemade pickled herrings:

  • Shelf life for unopened homemade pickled herring: 2-3 months.
  • Once opened, homemade pickled herrings will keep for 1-2 weeks in the refrigerator.
  • Discard if any mold, unpleasant odors, softening or other spoilage signs appear.
  • For best quality and safety, try to consume homemade pickled fish within 1 month.
  • Always use sterilized jars and freshly made brine, and sanitize equipment to prevent microbial issues.

Pickling tips to extend shelf life

You can help maximize the shelf life of your homemade or pre-made pickled herrings by:

  • Using the freshest raw fish possible – this prevents premature spoilage.
  • Adding sufficient salt – at least 10% brine salinity helps inhibit microbial growth.
  • Getting the brine pH low enough – aim for pH around 3.5-4.0.
  • Chilling thoroughly before storing – cool temperatures slow deterioration.
  • Using preservatives if desired – potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate etc.
  • Processing using hot fill or other methods.
  • Sanitizing equipment and containers properly before use.
  • Ensuring the cured fish remains fully submerged in brine during storage.


With proper storage conditions like cool temperatures, airtight sealing, avoidance of air exposure, and an acidic brine, both commercially packaged and homemade pickled herrings can keep for upwards of 1 year when unopened. Once opened, consume refrigerated pickled herrings within 3-4 weeks for best safety and quality.

Signs of spoilage like mold, soft texture, foul odors, or a slimy appearance indicate pickled fish that should be discarded. Pickled herrings that are handled and stored with care can retain their characteristic tangy flavor and appealing texture for many months past the “best by” date.

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