Does Lemon Juice Go Bad?

If you’re like me, you don’t use lemon juice that often. You bought two bottles some time ago, with a plan to make lemonade or use in a recipe. Now you’re organizing your pantry, and you notice that those two bottles are still there, unopened. And both of them are past the date on the label. Does lemon juice go bad?

You genuinely hate wasting food, so you would much rather use the juice than discard it. But at the same time, you don’t want to make anyone sick from drinking your lemonade. So it’s now or never. You either open and use the liquid or discard it. What’s the best course of action here? Quite possibly the way to go here is to learn about storage, shelf life, and going bad of lemon juice. With this knowledge, you will be able to make a well-informed choice about the liquid.

Squeezing a lemon
(credit: 22750018@N05)

How To Store Lemon Juice

You should store-bought lemon juice pretty much the same way you store other juices, like apple juice or lime juice. That means it should sit in a cool and dark area, away from sources of heat. If it’s a clear plastic bottle, make sure it’s away from the light too. The pantry is the perfect place, but a cupboard in the kitchen will do too.

Once you open the bottle or container, first and foremost make sure you keep it sealed tightly when not in use. Second, remember to keep it in the fridge for best results. While the store-bought variety has some additional preservatives, besides the citric acid which is a preservative itself, at room temperature the quality of the juice will degrade much faster than in the fridge.

Freezing is also an option for lemon juice. If you freeze it using ice cube trays, you can easily thaw as much juice as you need for a recipe. Or throw a cube or two into a glass of water, which makes a perfect refreshment on a sweltering day.

When it comes to fresh lemon juice, either one you squeezed yourself, or one you bought in the refrigerated section, you should always keep it in the fridge.

How Long Does Lemon Juice Last

Store-bought lemon juice sold unrefrigerated is usually made from concentrate diluted with water to resemble the taste of actual lemon juice. Two very popular brands, namely Jif and ReaLemon produce their juices this way. Besides the concentrate and water, there are also some preservatives (usually sulfites) added and the whole thing is pasteurized to kill any bacteria that might have been there. This production process makes the juice last quite some time, and not require refrigeration while unopened.

Pretty much every bottle of lemon juice comes with a best-by or best-before date. That date tells you how long, at the very least, the juice will stay fresh. Of course, that date is a rather conservative estimate, and you can expect the juice to retain quality for a few months longer. It’s impossible to tell for how long will it stay fine exactly, but you can safely assume it’s about 3 to 6 months.

Once you open the bottle, the juice should still retain its quality for quite some time. ReaLemon recommends referring to the date on the label. So unless the juice is nearing the date on the label, it should still stay safe to use for about 6 to 12 months.

Now let’s move to freshly squeezed lemon juice, and the store-bought one sold refrigerated. Such juice usually has no preservatives, so it doesn’t last that long. For homemade lemon juice, you should use it within 2 to 3 days. The store-bought one should stay safe for a bit longer, like 4 to 5 days. Ideally, you always use all of the fresh juice right away, but that’s not always feasible. Because of the really short life of fresh lemon juice, it’s an excellent candidate for freezing. Use all the juice you need for lemonade or in a recipe and freeze the rest. Next time you need some lemon juice, you just pop a cube or two from the freezer, and you’re good to go.

Pantry Fridge
Bottled lemon juice (unopened) Best by + 3 – 6 months
Bottled lemon juice (opened) Best by or 6 – 12 months
Store-bought fresh lemon juice 4 – 5 days
Freshly squeezed lemon juice 2 – 3 days

Please note that all the periods above are estimates and for best quality only.

How To Tell If Lemon Juice Is Bad

Like with other juices, lemon juice degrades in quality before it goes bad. For bottled lemon juice sold unrefrigerated the process is very gradual. Little by little, the juice becomes worse. If you were to use the juice every day, you wouldn’t notice those tiny changes at all. But if the bottle was left untouched for a few months, the changes are easier to notice. It doesn’t smell that fresh, and the taste alters a bit too. At some point, you might notice that the juice doesn’t seem good enough to use, and that’s when you should throw it out. Same thing if you notice any usual signs of spoilage, like the smell is sourer than it usually is, color has changed, mold is present, or the juice seems tasteless. That means that if you’re about to use old lemon juice in a baked recipe, better check its quality before adding it. So you don’t accidentally ruin the whole thing by using spoiled lemon juice.

When it comes to freshly squeezed lemon juice, all the guidelines above apply to it too. Except that the degradation process is much faster. Within a few days, the changes will be quite pronounced, and you might prefer to discard the juice. Also, if the liquid seems to be perfectly fine, but you already store it for over a week, throw it out. The first signs of spoilage are difficult to catch, and 7 days is quite a long time for fresh fruit juice. So it’s better to be safe than sorry.