The taste of fresh garlic flavors foods in a way that jarred garlic can't begin to match. Unpeeled garlic stores in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated location for three to five months, says food safety specialist Linda Harris of the University of California-Davis, but peeled garlic cloves will spoil faster. Olive oil does not make a good storage liquid for garlic. Left at room temperature or in the refrigerator for too long, garlic in olive oil provides a perfect breeding ground for bacteria that cause botulism. Fortunately, you have alternatives for safe garlic storage.
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Olive Oil Risks
Clostridium botulinum spores infect many foods, especially low-acid vegetables such as garlic, according to Harris. But because the bacteria needs oxygen to reproduce, it generally doesn't causes any problems. When you submerge peeled garlic cloves in oil, however, you cut off the oxygen supply. This allows the spores to reproduce, producing a toxin that doesn't change the look, smell or taste of the food. Refrigeration slows the growth of spores but won't stop it altogether; the longer you store the peeled cloves in the refrigerator, the higher the chance that the spores will grow.
Storing Peeled Cloves in Liquid
Store peeled garlic cloves in vinegar, wine or wine vinegar. You can safely store peeled garlic cloves in vinegar at room temperature; garlic in wine or a wine-vinegar mix requires refrigeration. Discard if you notice any mold or yeast growth on the garlic, according to Washington State University Extension.
Refrigerating Peeled Cloves
You can safely store peeled garlic cloves by refrigerating in clear plastic containers at temperatures of between 32 and 41 degrees Fahrenheit for up to two to three weeks, according to Marita Cantwell of the University of California-Davis. Storage above these temperatures can cause the cloves to discolor or to develop roots or sprouts.
Commercial Garlic in Oil
You might wonder how commercial manufacturers produce garlic cloves in oil without increasing the risk of botulism. The answer lies in the preservatives they add to acidify their products such as citric or phosphorus acid, Harris explains. It's difficult if not impossible to acidify garlic at home. Follow manufacturers direction for safe storage of these products. Do not purchase or use homemade garlic-in-oil, even if sold in specialty stores.