Kimchi is a tangy Korean staple made by fermenting vegetables like napa cabbage, ginger, and peppers in a seasoned brine (1).

Yet, because it’s a fermented food, you may wonder whether it spoils.

This article tells you whether kimchi goes bad — and discusses best practices for storing it safely.

How long does kimchi last?

Before it ferments, seasoned kimchi is typically packed into a sterile, airtight jar and topped with brine. Some people may add a bit of rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar.

Proper sterilization is crucial for preventing the unwanted growth of E. coli, Salmonella, and other pathogens that could cause food poisoning (2, 3).

It ferments in 3–4 days at room temperature or 2–3 weeks in the fridge. During this process, it develops lactic acid bacteria, as well as other beneficial bacteria (1).

Kept at room temperature, kimchi lasts 1 week after opening.

In the refrigerator, it stays fresh much longer — about 3–6 months — and continues to ferment, which may lead to a sourer taste. Be sure to refrigerate your kimchi at or below 39°F (4°C), as warmer temperatures may accelerate spoilage.

If you prefer a milder flavor or crunchier texture, you may want to discard your kimchi after 3 months. After this point, its taste may change significantly — and it may become mushy.

Yet, kimchi may still be safe to eat for up to 3 more months, as long as there’s no mold, which indicates spoilage. If you don’t want to throw it away but dislike the sourness, try mixing it into dishes like fried rice or stew to mellow out its flavor.

summary

At room temperature, opened kimchi lasts 1 week. When properly refrigerated, it can last 3–6 months. It continues to ferment as it ages, becoming sourer and softer — which may render it unappealing.

How to tell whether kimchi has gone bad

As long as it smells normal and doesn’t have mold, kimchi is good to eat.

While good-to-eat kimchi is naturally pungent, kimchi that has gone bad may smell “off,” meaning sourer than usual or even alcoholic.

Mold typically prefers warmer temperatures but can grow in refrigerated food as it ages, especially if it has been improperly stored. It forms a fuzzy mass or small dots and ranges in color from black to blue to green.

Mold is dangerous because it not only rots food but also may harbor bacteria that cause food poisoning or allergic reactions. If you see mold on your kimchi, refrain from smelling it — as inhaling its spores may trigger respiratory problems.

If your kimchi contains seafood like oysters or fermented fish (jeotgal), check it more carefully, as eating pickled seafood that has spoiled is linked to more severe foodborne illnesses (4).

While vegan and non-vegan kimchi may age similarly due to a comparable makeup of friendly bacteria, further studies are needed (5, 6, 7, 8).

If you’re ever unsure whether your kimchi is still good, it’s safest to trash it.

summary

Kimchi is naturally sour and pungent. As long as you don’t see mold or notice any foul odors, your kimchi should be safe to eat. That said, if you’re ever in doubt, throw it out.

Dangers of eating bad kimchi

Eating spoiled kimchi may lead to foodborne illness.

In particular, the mycotoxins in mold may cause nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. People with weakened immune systems are especially susceptible (4, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14).

Furthermore, if your dish contains pickled seafood that has spoiled, it may cause botulism, paralytic shellfish poisoning, or anisakis infections. These conditions are characterized by nausea, vomiting, respiratory distress, and even bowel blockage and bleeding (4, 13).

Notably, several ingredients regularly used in kimchi, such as cabbage and shellfish, are frequently associated with food poisoning. Foods that accompany this dish, such as rice and sprouts, are common culprits as well (15, 16, 17, 18).

Thus, you should always wash ingredients thoroughly and practice proper food preparation techniques if you make kimchi on your own. If you prefer to buy it premade, make sure to purchase it from a seller you trust.

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Eating spoiled kimchi — especially if it includes seafood — may cause food poisoning, which can trigger symptoms like nausea and vomiting.

Proper storage

Once opened, kimchi should be refrigerated to help it last longer.

Kimchi is not considered shelf stable because of its numerous healthy bacteria, so you shouldn’t keep it at room temperature. In fact, store-bought kimchi tends to be fermented and stored at a constant temperature of 39°F (4°C) (7).

A good rule of thumb is to ensure that all of its ingredients are entirely submerged in the brine before you reseal it.

Moreover, you should use clean utensils anytime you handle kimchi in its container, as used or dirty utensils may introduce unwanted bacteria that can cause spoilage.

Additionally, you should avoid constantly opening and closing the container. The exposure to air may welcome undesirable organisms that can also spoil your kimchi.

If you have a large jar of kimchi, it may be preferable to transfer portions, such as a week’s worth, into smaller containers as you go. This will help preserve it.

summary

It’s best to keep kimchi in the fridge to prevent spoilage. To extend its shelf life, be sure that all its ingredients are submerged in brine, always handle it with clean utensils, and limit how often you open and close the container.

The bottom line

Kimchi is seasoned, fermented napa cabbage that’s popular in Korean cuisine and may provide several health benefits, including lower bad (LDL) cholesterol.

When prepared properly and refrigerated, it can last up to 6 months.

Nonetheless, you should never eat kimchi that smells off or has visible mold. If you’re ever unsure whether your dish is safe to eat, it’s best to toss it out.