Can fresh lemon juice go bad?

Lemons are a versatile citrus fruit that can add bright, fresh flavor to many dishes and drinks. While the lemon itself has a relatively long shelf life, lemon juice is a different story. The juicing process introduces oxygen and releases enzymes that cause the juice to deteriorate more rapidly. So can fresh lemon juice go bad? Here’s what you need to know about storing and using lemon juice.

Does Fresh Lemon Juice Go Bad?

Yes, lemon juice can go bad, even if it is freshly squeezed. Lemon juice is acidic, with a pH between 2 and 3, which helps prevent bacterial growth. However, oxygen exposure and enzymes cause chemical changes over time, compromising flavor and quality.

After juicing, lemon juice will start to degrade within a few days and develop signs of spoilage. The exact shelf life depends on storage conditions. Proper refrigeration and air-tight containers help slow the rate of spoilage.

How Can You Tell if Lemon Juice Has Gone Bad?

Here are some signs that lemon juice has gone bad:

  • Cloudy appearance
  • Bitter, unpleasant flavor
  • Fermented smell
  • Growth of mold
  • Fizzing or bubbling

Freshly squeezed lemon juice should be translucent and may have a slight pale yellow color. It should smell citrusy and bright. As it starts deteriorating, the color, smell, taste, and texture changes significantly.

What Causes Fresh Lemon Juice to Go Bad?

There are a few factors that contribute to the relatively short shelf life of fresh lemon juice:

  • Oxidation: Exposure to oxygen starts a series of chemical reactions that degrade the flavor and quality of the juice. Ascorbic acid, vitamins, and antioxidants that give lemons many of their health benefits also make the juice prone to oxidation.
  • Enzymes: Juicing releases pectic enzymes that continue the ripening process. This causes the juice to deteriorate faster.
  • Microbes: Yeasts and molds can grow in lemon juice over time, causing fermentation and spoilage.

Proper storage helps slow these effects, but cannot prevent lemon juice from going bad eventually.

How Long Does Fresh Lemon Juice Last?

The exact shelf life depends on storage conditions:

Storage Method Shelf Life
Refrigerator (40°F or below) 3-5 days
Freezer (0°F or below) 6-8 months
Pantry or Countertop 1-2 days

For maximum freshness, lemon juice should be refrigerated and consumed within 3-5 days. It can last up to 8 months in the freezer. At room temperature, it will start to go bad after just 1-2 days.

How to Extend the Shelf Life of Lemon Juice

Here are some tips for getting the longest shelf life out of fresh lemon juice:

  • Use freshly squeezed juice: Don’t pre-juice lemons if you won’t be using the juice right away. The juicing process starts the clock on freshness.
  • Store in airtight containers: Minimize exposure to oxygen by keeping lemon juice in containers that have a tight seal.
  • Refrigerate: Keep lemon juice stored at 40°F or below.
  • Freeze for long-term storage: Frozen lemon juice stays fresh for up to 8 months.
  • Add acid: Mixing in a tablespoon of lemon juice or vinegar per cup of lemon juice can help lower the pH and inhibit microbial growth.
  • Store juice in ice cube trays: Freezing juice in ice cubes helps preserve freshness and makes it easy to use a little at a time.

What’s the Best Way to Store Lemon Juice?

For short-term storage of up to a week, the best way to store lemon juice is in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Glass jars or plastic containers with tight-fitting lids work well. Make sure there is little to no air space at the top as oxygen can degrade quality over time.

Freezing is ideal for long-term storage of several months. Frozen juice may separate, but will still retain its flavor once thawed and shaken. Fill ice cube trays or freezer bags, removing as much air as possible. Frozen juice cubes can be individually thawed for convenience.

Can You Freeze Fresh Lemon Juice?

Yes, fresh lemon juice can be frozen successfully. Freezing stops the chemical reactions and enzyme activity that causes juice to go bad at refrigeration temperatures. Frozen properly, lemon juice can last up to 8 months before quality starts to decline.

To freeze lemon juice:

  • Juice lemons and let the juice settle so the pulp can separate. Strain if desired.
  • Pour the juice into ice cube trays, leaving 1⁄2 inch of headspace. Cover the trays tightly with plastic wrap.
  • Place the trays in the freezer. Once frozen solid, pop out the cubes and transfer to freezer bags or airtight containers.
  • Remove frozen juice as needed. Thaw at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

One caveat is that frozen lemon juice may separate. Be sure to shake or stir thawed juice to reincorporate before using.

Can You Refreeze Thawed Lemon Juice?

Previously frozen lemon juice that has been thawed can be safely refrozen, although the quality may start to decline. Try to use thawed juice within a day or two, and avoid repeated freeze-thaw cycles. Refrozen lemon juice is best suited for cooking rather than drinking.

To refreeze lemon juice: 

  • Thaw the juice completely in the refrigerator rather than at room temperature.
  • If the thawed juice has separated, shake vigorously or blend to recombine.
  • Pour into airtight containers or ice cube trays, leaving 1⁄2 inch of headspace.
  • Refreeze promptly, within 1-2 days for best quality.
  • Use refrozen juice within 2 months.

Other Ways to Preserve Lemon Juice

In addition to refrigerating and freezing, here are some other ways to extend the shelf life of lemon juice:

  • Canning: Lemon juice can be safely water bath canned using evidence-based, tested recipes. The high acidity allows it to be preserved at boiling temperatures. Refrigerate after opening.
  • Dehydrating: Dehydrating lemon juice into fruit leather concentrates the citrus flavor. Rehydrate in water when ready to use.
  • Vinegar: Adding vinegar provides acidity for safe water bath canning with a long shelf life. It also inhibits microbial growth through acidity.
  • Sugar: Making lemon syrup by combining juice and sugar helps increase the shelf life significantly. The sugar acts as a preservative.
  • Alcohol: Lemon juice adds bright flavor to cocktails and punches. The alcohol helps extend the shelf life of the juice.

Signs Your Frozen Lemon Juice Has Gone Bad

Frozen lemon juice remains safe to consume for up to 8 months in a 0°F freezer before quality degradation occurs. Signs that previously frozen lemon juice has gone bad and may not be safe to consume include:

  • Unusual changes in color or consistency
  • Fermented smell
  • Mold growth inside or outside the packaging
  • Strong bitterness or sourness far beyond typical lemon flavor
  • Fizzing, bubbling, or visible signs of fermentation
  • Frozen into a solid block indicating long-term thawing and refreezing

Trust your senses. Any changes that seem abnormal could indicate spoilage. When in doubt, throw it out.

Can You Use Expired Lemon Juice?

It’s not recommended to use lemon juice that is past its expiration date. Expired lemon juice may harbor higher levels of bacteria, yeasts, and molds that can cause foodborne illness. The flavor, acidity, color, and quality of expired lemon juice is also likely to be poor.

However, if lemon juice has been continuously frozen and the package has no signs of spoilage, it may still be usable past its printed expiration date. Taste and inspect thawed juice before using. Cooked applications are safest for expired frozen juice rather than raw consumption.

What Happens If You Drink Spoiled Lemon Juice?

Drinking spoiled lemon juice could potentially make you sick. Juice that has been left out too long can grow harmful bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. Consuming spoiled juice may cause food poisoning symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Fever
  • Headache

The acidic pH of lemon juice makes widespread bacterial growth unlikely. But mold and yeast overgrowth are more common. Consuming juice with fungus may cause allergic reactions and stomach distress in sensitive individuals.

If lemon juice tastes or smells unpleasantly sour, bitter, fizzy, or foul, err on the side of caution and throw it out. Rely on refrigerated juice within 3-5 days and frozen juice within 6 months for the best quality and safety.


Fresh lemon juice has a relatively short shelf life. Proper refrigeration provides around 3-5 days before the juice starts to go bad. For storage beyond a week, freezing is best. Frozen properly, lemon juice can last for 6-8 months.

Signs that lemon juice has gone bad include changes in appearance, sour or bitter flavors, fizzing, mold growth, and an unpleasant sour smell. Consuming spoiled juice can potentially cause foodborne illness.

To maximize freshness, juice lemons as needed, store juice in airtight containers, and keep refrigerated or frozen. Follow safe handling, storage, and preparation methods to get the most out of fresh lemons.

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