How to know if kimchi is spoiled? (3 easy ways)

In this brief article, we are going to answer the question “How to know if kimchi is spoiled”, discuss the different methods of identifying spoiled kimchi and the potential side effects of eating spoiled kimchi.

How to know if kimchi is spoiled? 

Here you can find three signs that will help you to determine if your kimchi is spoiled or not:

Important: Eating spoiled kimchi and other fermented food may cause serious harm to your health and lead to different foodborne illnesses (1-3). You should not eat spoiled kimchi!

  1. Foul or Off Odor: smelling kimchi to see whether it is rotting is a common method of detecting whether it is spoiled or not. Fresh kimchi has a distinct and strong aroma due to fermentation, while bad kimchi has a foul odor and a strong smell. 

So, if your kimchi emits an unusually strong, foul, or rotten smell, it is likely spoiled. Trust your sense of smell and if it seems unpleasant or off, it is best to discard it. 

Although, kimchi already smells sour. However, if you feel a stronger sour smell than usual, then this means that the kimchi is spoiled.

  1. Abnormal Texture: kimchi typically has a crunchy and slightly crisp texture. If you observe that the texture has become excessively mushy, slimy, or overly soft, it may indicate microbial spoilage. 

Changes in texture can be a sign of bacterial growth or fermentation gone wrong, so you should not eat it!

  1. Unusual Appearance: several microorganisms damage the kimchi, causing it to lose its basic colors and develop spots. If the color of the kimchi appears to be changing, it is not recommended that you consume it.  

You should always inspect the visual appearance of the kimchi before eating it. Look for any signs of mold growth, such as fuzzy patches or discoloration on the surface. 

If mold appears on the surface of the kimchi, it is not safe to eat. Mycotoxins produced by mold are highly dangerous for your health (4)- be careful! – you should always check your food for mold before eating it.

If you realize that something is not right with your kimchi, the best advice is to follow your instincts and throw it out immediately.

Can you get sick from eating spoiled kimchi? 

Yes, eating spoiled kimchi can really make you sick due to the growth of different harmful microorganisms (1-3). 

These microorganisms can cause foodborne illnesses, resulting in various health issues such as:

  • Gastrointestinal issues: eating spoiled kimchi can lead to different gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea (5). 

These symptoms can be caused by pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella (1-3), pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli (1), and Campylobacter jejuni (3).

  • Food Poisoning: spoiled kimchi can also lead to food poisoning, characterized by symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and fever (5). 

Some examples of bacteria that can cause food poisoning include Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus cereus, and Clostridium perfringens (3-6).

  • Botulism: in rare cases, improperly fermented or stored kimchi can be also contaminated with the bacteria Clostridium botulinum, which produces a potent neurotoxin that causes botulism (7). 

Symptoms of botulism include blurred vision, difficulty swallowing, muscle weakness, and respiratory problems (7). Be careful as botulism is a severe condition that requires urgent medical attention.

  • Allergic Reactions: some individuals may be allergic to certain ingredients used in kimchi, such as shellfish or fish sauce. 

Consuming spoiled kimchi containing allergenic ingredients can trigger allergic reactions like itching, hives, swelling, or even anaphylaxis in severe cases (8).

The severity of these symptoms may differ from person to person. 

If you suspect you have consumed spoiled kimchi and experience any of these symptoms it is crucial to seek promptly medical assistance.

What should you do if you suspect you have eaten spoiled kimchi? 

If you suspect that you have eaten spoiled kimchi, it is very important that you follow the next recommendations:

  • You should monitor your symptoms paying attention to the development of any of the above-mentioned symptoms. These symptoms may occur within a few hours or up to several days after consuming the spoiled kimchi.
  • If you are experiencing severe symptoms or they persist for more than a few days, seek medical advice immediately. Your doctor may advise you to take the appropriate medication (often antibiotics) to treat any underlying bacterial infection.
  • If you are experiencing severe vomiting or diarrhea, it is best to avoid solid food for a few hours until your symptoms subside. Moreover, you should stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids like water, coconut water, or sports drinks to prevent dehydration and replenish lost electrolytes (9).
  • If you still have any leftover spoiled kimchi, discard it immediately to avoid the risk of consuming it again or contaminating other foods.

Remember that following good food safety practices (10) can help you to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.

How to properly handle kimchi to avoid spoilage? 

Here you can find some recommendations to properly handle kimchi and extend its shelf life:

  • Purchase fresh kimchi: when buying kimchi, ensure that it is fresh and properly packaged. Check the expiration date or the “best by” date on the label to ensure you are purchasing kimchi with a reasonable shelf life.
  • Refrigerate promptly: kimchi should be refrigerated promptly to slow down the fermentation process and prevent spoilage. Place the kimchi in an airtight container or resealable plastic bag before storing it in the refrigerator.
  • Maintain proper temperature: keeping the kimchi at a consistently low temperature (around 1-4°C (34-39°F)) will help you to preserve its quality and prolong its shelf life.
  • Use clean utensils: when serving kimchi, use clean utensils to avoid introducing harmful microorganisms or contaminants that can accelerate spoilage. If you use your hands, ensure they are clean and washed thoroughly.
  • Practice good hygiene: before handling kimchi, you should wash your hands with soap and water. This will help to prevent the transfer of bacteria from your hands to the kimchi and thus avoid microbial spoilage.

Freshly made kimchi, which is still in its active fermentation stage, can be stored at room temperature for a day or two to allow further fermentation. 

However, if the kimchi is exposed to warmer temperatures or if you want to slow down the fermentation process, it is best to refrigerate it within a few hours of preparation.

In your refrigerator, kimchi can generally stay good for several weeks to a few months, depending on various factors such as the ingredients used and the level of fermentation. 

Over time, the flavor and texture of the kimchi may change, becoming more sour and developing a softer texture, which is a natural part of the fermentation process.

Be aware that the actual shelf life of kimchi can vary based on factors like the recipe, ingredients, and storage conditions (11).

Finally, remember that it is important that you always inspect your kimchi for signs of spoilage before consuming it following the above-mentioned recommendations.


In this brief article, we answered the question “How to know if kimchi is spoiled”, and discussed the different methods of identifying spoiled kimchi and the potential side effects of eating spoiled kimchi.


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