Sun pickles are not safe pickles

Avoid potential foodborne illness by using research-based pickle recipes.

If you have a garden or frequent the local farmers market, you’re aware that this time of year is the height of vegetable harvest. Tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and more are all in great abundance. One way to make this harvest last into the winter is to preserve the food through canning, dehydrating, freezing or pickling. This year, I’ve been hearing a lot about “sun pickles” or “solar pickles.” A quick internet search came up with 13.6 million hits for sun pickles! Most of them are similar and involve combining cucumbers, pickling spices, salt, and either water or vinegar, then setting the jar out in the sun for three days to ferment.

Unfortunately, this is a very unsafe way to make pickles. While fermentation can be a safe way to make pickles, temperatures inside a jar sitting in full summer sun exceed that at which fermentation occurs (below 72 degrees Fareheit). Above this temperature, the yeast dies and fermentation won’t take place.

Another danger is that the ratios of salt and water to pickles vary by recipe. If the ratio is incorrect, harmful bacteria could grow in the absence of acid and cause illness. Science-based pickle recipes ensure the growth of good bacteria that create acid, and therefore, a safe product.

While making pickles in the sun sounds simple and fun, it can lead to serious illness from bacteria like E. coli, Clostridium botulinum (botulism) and Listeria. Michigan State University Extension recommends using science-based pickling recipes from one of the following resources to prevent spoilage or food-borne illness:

Enjoy our harvest this fall, and if you have questions about foods, their preservation, or food safety, contact your local MSU Extension office.