Whether you have freshly squeezed lemon juice or bottled lemon juice, here's everything you need to know about whether it goes bad, how long does lemon juice last, and proper storage tips to extend the shelf life of lemon juice!
Does lemon juice go bad?
The short answer: Yes, lemon juice goes bad. But how long does that take and how do you know when it's gone bad? We're going to cover all of this today so you can avoid accidentally consuming bad lemon juice and the risk of food poisoning.
Lemon juice is a very acidic substance that is often used as a natural preservative so you may be wondering how can it go bad? Lemon juice contains the powerful antioxidant, Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid), which helps to prevent spoilage. It acts in a way similar to salt, drawing out moisture that would otherwise be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, balances the pH, and prevents oxidation of the food it's added to.
As the lemon juice ages, these antioxidants degrade, reducing the citric acid's efficacy at preventing unwanted bacterial growth. That, along with its high water content, make it an ideal environment for bacteria and mold to grow.
Fresh vs Store-Bought Lemon Juice
Bottled lemon juice is usually made from lemon juice concentrate and diluted with water to mimic fresh lemon juice. It often includes lemon oil as well as preservatives.
Found in the produce aisle of the grocery store, it is initially shelf-stable if unopened. This is because store-bought lemon juice typically contains additional preservatives and has been pasteurized. This process helps the lemon juice to stay shelf stable while unopened.
It also allows the lemon juice to stay fresh for longer once opened. Most store-bought lemon juice can last 6+ months after opening if stored properly.
Fresh lemon juice, or homemade lemon juice, is pure lemon juice. At home you are most likely not adding preservatives or pasteurizing it, so the risk of spoilage occurs much sooner.
How long does lemon juice last?
Even though lemon juice is a natural preservative, it is not completely free from spoilage. Like all citrus juice and other fruit juices, lemon juice spoils and won't last forever. Overtime as oxidation occurs, its color, taste and smell will be affected. Nutrients will degrade and most of its nutritional health benefits will be lost.
This happens at varying rates depending on the type of lemon juice and the storage method.
How long does lemon juice last at room temperature?
Unrefrigerated lemon juice won't last long unless it's an unopened bottle of lemon juice. If unopened, it can last several months past its best-by date and still be safe to consume. That's because it is usually a "best by" date rather than an expiration date printed on the bottle, which according to the USDA indicates when a product will be of best quality and does not refer to a purchase or safety date.
Make sure to store unopened bottles in a cool, dark place like a kitchen cabinet away from direct sunlight and heat sources. If opened, it won't last more than 24 hours at room temperature and should be stored in the refrigerator instead.
Homemade lemon juice on the other hand won't last more than a couple hours at room temperature. This is a basic rule of thumb as perishable, preservative-free food should not be left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
How long does lemon juice last in the fridge?
Bottled lemon juice, once opened, can last 6-12 months stored in the refrigerator thanks to the preservatives and pasteurization. Make sure to reseal it tightly after each use.
Freshly made lemon juice at home poses a higher risk for contamination and therefore can't last near as long as store-bought. From the lemon peel, to the surfaces used to make it, these are all chances to introduce bacteria into your fresh juice. For these reasons, fresh lemon juice, or preservative-free lemon juice, will only lasts 2-3 days refrigerated in an airtight container. Keep it stored in a sealed container towards the back of the fridge where it's coldest for maximum freshness.
How to freeze lemon juice
If you have extra lemon juice that you can't use up before it goes bad, the best way to store it is by freezing.
Since we're usually just using small amounts of lemon juice at a time, an ice cube tray makes it easy to freeze small portions. Divide the lemon juice into the ice tray and freeze for a couple hours until it hardens. Once solid, pop juice cubes out of the tray and store in a freezer bag until you're ready to use.
This is the easiest way to freeze lemon juice so that you don't have to thaw a huge chunk at a time. When ready to use, remove a lemon juice cube from the freezer and thaw before use. Use as you normally would in dressings, sauces, baking, or even drinks.
Frozen lemon juice can last up to 6 months in the freezer. Make sure to write the date on the bag to keep track.
How to tell when lemon juice has spoiled
Here are the key things to look out for to tell if your lemon juice has spoiled:
- Change in color - It will become darker as it goes bad.
- Smells off - If it no longer smells like fresh lemons, it's time to toss it.
- Unpleasant taste - If the first two aren't noticeable, you can try a tiny sip to be sure. If the flavor has changed and no longer tastes fresh, it's time to discard.
When you notice any of these changes it's time to throw it out.
Lemon juice does go bad as it degrades. Signs of spoilage include a change in color, taste and smell. Overtime the risk of bacterial growth as well as yeast and mold can occur.
Fresh lemon juice should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and consumed within a couple of days. Commercially produced lemon juice that has been bottled should be stored in the refrigerator once opened and lasts for 6-12 months. Unopened bottled lemon juice can last for a couple months past the best-by date. If opened after the expiration date, use within 1-2 months.