Food Safety Focus Team • May 07

According to the National Restaurant Association's 2018 “What’s Hot” culinary survey, housemade pickles are the third most popular restaurant condiment trend and the twelfth most popular food trend overall. Pickling is a food preservation process, and it’s important not to land your restaurant in a food safety pickle during the flow of food.

When a vegetable is submerged in a vinegar and water solution, the food’s pH and flavor changes. What’s critical is the amount of vinegar; if you don’t have the proper vinegar-to-water ratio with a pH of less than 4.6, you can’t preserve.

Depending on your intent for the food product, adjust your prep to ensure pathogens don’t get introduced. Remember to select fresh ingredients and confirm your equipment is ANSI- or NSF-certified. Here are three different pickling scenarios and how to carry them out in your restaurant, according to ServSafe best practices:

  • Canning pickles for dry storage. To set up a canning operation, FDA review is required. Canning involves removing oxygen to create an anaerobic atmosphere, which can breed conditions for botulism, and getting the food’s pH below 4.6. A third-party laboratory ould need to conduct an accelerated shelf life test as well. If you purchase canned goods, verify that they are from a reputable supplier that meets all regulatory requirements, including inspections, as the food code dictates.
  • Refrigerating pickles for quality. If you would like to use vinegar to change food’s acidity to a pH below 4.6 so it’s no longer a TCS food, you need to obtain a variance, develop a HACCP plan, and get it approved by your local health department before proceeding. Place in the refrigerator at 41° or below to reduce spoilage and maintain food quality.
  • Enhancing flavor. If your goal is to add an acid taste to cucumbers, you can place them in a vinegar-water solution and store at 41° or below in the refrigerator. Treat them as TCS foods.