Do Olives Need To Be Refrigerated? – Essential Guide

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You might have seen unrefrigerated and unopened jars of olives being sold at stores, but can you keep olives without refrigerating them? 

Do olives need to be refrigerated? While unopened jars of brined or preserved oils can be stored at room temperature until the expiration date, you should always store opened jars of olives or fresh olives in the fridge to maintain their quality and freshness. 

Read below to learn more about how to store olives, how long they can last, and how to tell if they have gone bad.

Olives and the Human Diet 

Olives are a highly popular and widely consumed fruit (yes, it’s a fruit) that has been repeatedly mentioned in ancient manuscripts and is beloved for its salty and mildly sweet flavor.

Olives can be paired with beverages, salads, savory ingredients, and even dessert recipes – perhaps their most prevalent use is as a pizza topping! 

Olives come from the European olive tree that produces this green fruit which is harvested and brined to give it its distinct flavor.

The fruit is available in many varieties and usually comes with a single stone seed inside that is removed before the olives are eaten.

The best thing about olives is that they are not only incredibly healthy, but they are also very delicious and versatile.

They can be used in several ways and can completely uplift the overall flavor of any dish they are added to.

Did you know: Raw olives are actually inedible? They are very bitter due to the presence of a compound called oleuropein. 

Raw olives can be harvested at different stages. For example, when the fruit is unripe it starts with a dark green color that begins to lighten as the fruit matures.

If the fruit is left to mature even further then it can take on a darker shade and become dark purple or black!

Regardless of how they look, olives are brined and prepared using the same methods.

There are primarily three methods to make olives taste less bitter.

The first method involves soaking the olives in water, when soaked overnight, the oleuropein in the fruit washes away which makes it less bitter. The second method is to use a brining solution to cure the olives.

Brining is the default method for preparing olives. The raw olives are washed and added to a high-salt solution that causes chemical reactions within the fruit. This significantly lessens the bitterness of the olives and allows for their subtle flavors to shine through.

Olives usually take about 1-2 weeks to brine, which is quite a lot of time considering the constant demand for the fruit. This is why farmers use a chemical brining solution based on lye to quickly cure the olives and make them ready for packaging. 

Don’t worry, lye doesn’t end up in the fruit as it is thoroughly washed before it is packaged and shipped to consumers.

Most olives are either packaged in jars or canned which gives them a very stable shelf life when unopened. You don’t even need to refrigerate an unopened jar of olives because the packaging and brine solution protects the olives from oxidization, moisture, and bacteria.

Characteristics of Olives 

Now that you know the basics about olives, let’s take a look at their characteristics:


Olives have a predominately salty flavor but depending on the type and quality of the olives, they can also be a bit sweet.

Once the olives are brined and the bitter compounds are rendered, the favorable and subtle fruity flavors also shine through. 

Cured olives that are stored properly have a subtle briny aroma that is quite pleasant.

Every type of olive shares more or less the same flavor characteristics with only a slight difference depending on the type and quality of the fruit.


The texture of olives is a big part of what makes them so popular. Olives have a smooth and firm surface with an opening at the top. The top side of every olive leads to the stone seed at the center of the fruit. 

Most people like to chew around olives until they clean up the stone in their mouth but there are also “pitted” varieties that have the stone removed.

Olives are also available sliced so that they are easier to use in recipes like pizza.

Pitted olives can also be stuffed with ingredients to make tasty little finger snacks! 

How to Store Olives 

Storing olives is very easy since they are usually packaged in a brine which helps preserve their flavor and texture. 

An unopened container of brined olives can be left at room temperature for up to the expiration date printed on the back of the packaging which is usually around 1-2 years.

As long as you store the olives in a cool, dark, and dry environment, they will stay fresh until the container is opened.

Opening the container allows air, moisture, and bacteria to swarm inside. This is made worse when you use a regular kitchen utensil to scoop out the olives from the container as most utensils contain some bacteria no matter how clean they look.

Introducing these negative environmental factors to the olives significantly lowers their shelf life. How much? Well, the shelf life goes down to about 1-2 weeks! That’s right, as soon as you open the container and expose the olives, they will begin to deteriorate very slowly.

In the case of liquid-free olives, they can last only about 3-4 days! This is why it is recommended that you always refrigerate opened jars of olives. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a temperature of 40F can significantly slow down the decay in foods as lower temperatures reduce the activity of bacteria.

How to Refrigerate Olives

The best way to prolong the shelf life of the olives is to leave them in the brine they came in. As long as the olives remain submerged in the brine, they will maintain their freshness.

But if you regularly take them out of the fridge or insert dirty spoons in the container, then the olives can go bad quickly.

Here is the right way to store olives:

Step 1) Open the jar of olives and use a clean spoon to as many olives as you like. We recommend that you keep the brine in instead of draining it.

Step 2) Tightly close the lid of the jar and place the opened olive container at the back of the fridge at 40F. Avoid storing the olives near the door as the difference in temperature may affect the quality and texture of the olives.

Step 3) Use the olives within the “use by” date printed on the packaging. Look at the label around the bottle, you should see a sentence that reads “once open use by…” this is the date that the manufacturer suggests after which the olives are likely to go bad. 

Signs of Spoilage

Olives are just like any food and can go bad if they are not stored properly. Here are the top signs of spoilage to look out for:


Despite the brine solution, it’s very common for the olives to go bad and grow mold over the surface of the brine.

This happens when the olives are regularly exposed to warm air and are not stored properly – however, please keep in mind that mold will eventually grow if an opened container goes beyond its “use by” date.

If you notice a whitish, grayish, or greenish layer at the top of the container, then it’s safe to assume that the olives have gone bad.

Sometimes, you might even see a thin film that floats above the brine which is an indication that the olives are about to go bad.


When olives go bad, they become mushy and very soft. In many cases, you might not be able to pick up a whole spoiled olive without it breaking in your fingers. 

A change in texture means that the olives have gone bad and you should throw them away with the container. In severe cases, some olives may also become gelatinous which is another sign of spoilage.  

Aroma and Flavor

If the olives don’t show the above signs, then you can go ahead and smell the container for any foul odor.

Olives that go bad will have a rancid smell that is easily detectable.

If there is no smell then you can proceed by tasting a small piece of the olive.

If the olive tastes like regular olives, then they might be okay to use, but if they have an overly salty, bitter, or foul flavor then they have likely gone bad. 

Related Questions 

Olives are one of the most important fruits in the world due to their nutrition and versatility, now that you know how to store them properly, here are some related questions:

Can you freeze olives?

Yes, you can freeze olives by draining the water and storing the olives in a clean, airtight, and freezer-safe container.

Do not wash the olives or the added moisture may cause them to develop freezer burn.

Store the container with raw or brined olives at 0F at the back of the freezer.

An open jar of frozen olives can last up to 6 months if stored properly. 

Can you reuse the glass jar if the olives go bad?

It’s a great idea to recycle glass or plastic containers.

But if the container was contaminated with bacteria, then we highly recommend that you wash it properly a couple of times with anti-bacterial soap. Let it dry and reuse it as needed! 

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