Do Lemons Go Bad?

Love lemons? Refreshing, zesty, and nutrient-rich, lemons add a delightful zing to everyday dishes, desserts, and drinks.

But like with other fruit, it’s possible to go overboard and buy too many. So what if you’ve purchased more lemons than you can handle? Do lemons go bad?

Or maybe you’re debating the best way to store lemons. You usually keep them on the countertop, where they look really nice. But since you’ve bought a big bunch on a sale, you’re thinking about refrigerating them so they keep for longer.

Does refrigeration help lemons? And if so, what’s the difference between the shelf life of a fruit stored at room temperature and one chilled in the fridge?

If any of these questions and doubts sound familiar, this article is for you. In it, we go through storage, shelf life, and going bad of lemons. If that’s something you’d like to learn a bit more about, read on.

Lemons
Image used under Creative Commons from Sharon Mollerus

How to Store Lemons

Like with all fruits and veggies, to store the food products for the longest, you start by choosing the best ones possible.

In the case of lemons, that means choosing yellow fruits that are firm to the touch, and avoiding somewhat squishy ones with browned or blemished rind. Of all three, the blemished rind is the least of a problem, so if there aren’t any perfect ones, choose ones with the not-so-perfect rind.

Now let’s talk about how we store these bad boys. Many people just put them on the countertop in the kitchen. And that’s definitely a valid option if you plan on using them up within a week or so. If you choose a cool and dry area, away from sources of heat, like the pantry or a cabinet in the kitchen, that’s a bit better, but still definitely not perfect.

Lemon halved
Lemon halved

The fridge is the best place to store lemons if you want to store them for the long term. The easiest way is to simply put the bag with the fruits in the crisper drawer.

Tip

If you want some extra storage time, you can transfer the lemons to an airtight container or freezer bag and store them sealed. The bag or container seals in some of the moisture and lemons take longer to dehydrate, thus extending their shelf life.

When it comes to cut lemons, the fridge is where you should store them. The chilly air will dry out the cut fruits, so to prevent that you need to wrap them tightly. Use plastic wrap or aluminum foil for that.

Alternatively, you can put the fruit into a freezer bag and squeeze out the air before sealing. That method works best for lemon halves. So if you needed one half to make some lemon juice for a dish, put the second half to a freezer bag and refrigerate it.

Lemon with a silicone stretch lid
Lemon with a silicone stretch lid

How Long Do Lemons Last

Any type of fruit will go bad when it’s been stored long enough. Lemons are no exception. But, because the lemon’s rind is quite thick, it will take a while before this citrus fruit goes bad. Just like it does with limes.

A whole lemon should last about a week on the countertop, and a few days longer in the pantry. If you transfer it to the fridge, you can expect it to last for about 3 to 4 weeks. And if you decide to go the extra mile and seal the fruits tightly, you can assume they will keep for 5 weeks or even a bit more.

When it comes to cut lemons, they retain quality for about 3 to 4 days in the fridge. They won’t go bad after that period, but they will inevitably shrivel and dry out.

 CountertopPantryFridge
Whole lemons1 week1 – 2 weeks3 – 4 weeks
Cut lemons  3 – 4 days

Please note the periods above are estimates only.

Lemon prepped for juicing
Lemon prepped for juicing

How To Tell If Lemons Have Gone Bad

At their freshest, lemons have a bright yellow rind, tart taste, zesty aroma, and are quite firm to the touch. Over time, they will lose some of the aroma, become squishy, or sometimes even slimy.

Unless you’re seeing any signs of mold, it’s really up to you to choose if the lemon is still good enough to use or not. If the rind looks really bad, just throw the fruit out. But if it looks okay-ish, cut it up and see how the flesh is doing before you make your decision.