Juice is a refreshing and nutritious beverage that many people enjoy. However, there are some important food safety considerations when it comes to drinking juice that has been sitting out unrefrigerated.
How Long Can Juice Sit Out?
The shelf life of juice depends on a variety of factors, including the type of juice, whether it has been pasteurized or not, and how it was stored. Here are some general guidelines on how long different types of juice can sit out before they become unsafe to drink:
|Type of Juice||Unpasteurized||Pasteurized|
|Fruit juice||1-2 hours||8 hours|
|Vegetable juice||4 hours||10 hours|
|Juice blends||2 hours||10 hours|
As you can see, pasteurized juices last significantly longer than unpasteurized versions. Pasteurization is a process that uses heat to kill harmful bacteria in juice, extending its shelf life. Unpasteurized juice can harbor dangerous bacteria like E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonella.
Dangers of Drinking Juice That Sat Out Too Long
So what exactly happens if you drink juice that has been sitting out too long? Here are some of the risks:
- Food poisoning – Juice that has been unrefrigerated for too long can grow harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. Symptoms may include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and fever.
- Spoilage – As juice sits out, mold can start to grow, especially if there is contact with oxygen. You’ll be able to tell the juice has spoiled if you notice strange colors, textures, or foul odors.
- Nutrient loss – Over time, exposure to light, air, and higher temperatures can degrade nutrients like vitamin C and certain antioxidants in juice.
Some people may be more vulnerable to the risks of drinking spoiled juice, including young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems. So it’s important to be extra cautious about juice handling for these groups.
How to Tell if Juice is Bad
If you’re not sure how long juice has been sitting out, here are some signs that indicate it may no longer be safe to drink:
- Changes in color or texture -Separation, clumping, fuzziness, or an unusual hue can be red flags.
- Strange smell – If it smells sour, moldy, or rotten, it’s best to discard.
- Fizzing or bubbling – Fermentation due to exposure creates carbonation.
- Changes in taste – An excessively acidic, bitter, or strange taste is cause for concern.
- Mold – The presence of fuzzy mold spots is a clear sign of spoilage.
When inspecting juice, use your senses. Look for visual changes, take a whiff, and take a small taste test if you’re unsure. Your senses are usually the best judge in determining if juice is over the hill.
Tips for Handling Juice Safely
To get the most enjoyment and nutrition out of juice while minimizing food safety risks, here are some handy tips:
- Store juice properly – Keep refrigerated after opening at 40°F or below. Don’t store in the fridge door where the temperature fluctuates.
- Check sell-by dates – Don’t purchase or consume past the recommended date.
- Keep juice cold – Serve over ice or chilled to help prevent bacterial growth.
- Portion it out – Once opened, divide juice into small containers to limit air exposure.
- Never leave juice out – After pouring a glass, promptly refrigerate the container.
- Consume within 3-4 days – Drink opened juice relatively quickly for maximum freshness.
Following basic food safety practices helps juice retain its nutrients and flavor, while reducing the risk of illness. When in doubt, remember the old adage – when in doubt, throw it out!
Should You Give Kids Juice That’s Been Sitting Out?
It’s generally not recommended to give children juice that has been sitting at room temperature. Kids’ young immune systems are still developing, making them more susceptible to foodborne pathogens. Here’s why extra care should be taken with kids and juice:
- Higher risk – Children under 5 are at greater risk for infections and serious complications from bacteria in spoiled juice.
- Still developing immunities – Their defenses against dangerous pathogens aren’t yet fully formed.
- Lower body weight – Any toxins or germs can be more concentrated in their small bodies.
- More likely to drink more – Kids tend to drink a lot when juice is in front of them, consuming more of any bacteria.
While drinking expired juice may just cause an upset stomach in healthy adults, the impact on children can be more severe. Kids with underdeveloped immune function are more prone to complications like vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and hospitalization from juice-borne bacteria.
What About Nutrient Loss?
When juice sits out for extended periods, the nutrients start to break down. Here’s an overview of how the nutrient content declines over time and exposure:
- Vitamin C – This water-soluble vitamin starts degrading within a few hours. Within a day, up to 50% can be lost.
- Antioxidants – Polyphenols and carotenoids deteriorate with prolonged air and light exposure.
- Vitamin A – This slowly degrades over time but generally persists longer than vitamin C.
- Enzymes – The enzymes naturally found in fresh juice will start to denature and lose activity.
While nutrient loss may be accelerated at room temperature compared to refrigeration, decay does still occur at colder fridge temperatures as well. For highest nutrition, it’s ideal to drink juice as freshly made as possible.
Can You Put It Back in the Fridge?
What should you do if you pour a glass of juice but don’t finish it? Is it safe to put juice back in the refrigerator after it’s been sitting out?
As a general rule, juice should not sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours total. If you can’t finish your glass within this window, it’s best to discard the remainder. Some exceptions include:
- If less than half a glass was poured and immediately refrigerated, it may be safe if consumed within a day.
- For pasteurized juices and blends, up to 4 hours total time is permitted according to food safety recommendations.
- Juice just opened from a freshly refrigerated container has lower risk as long as no backwash contamination occurred.
When returning partially consumed juice to the fridge, be sure to let it cool down first. Adding warm juice can raise the temperature inside the refrigerator, compromising other items. It’s also advisable to pour any remaining juice into a separate container if available.
Can You Freeze Juice Instead of Refrigerating?
Freezing is an option for longer-term storage of juice. Here are some pros and cons to freezing juice versus refrigerating:
|Shelf life||6-12 months||3-5 days|
|Texture changes||Can become watery||Minimal|
|Convenience||More planning required||Ready to pour|
Freezing is ideal for keeping juice fresh for extended periods. However, the thawing process can result in some texture changes. If enjoying juice freshly made is preferred, refrigeration may be a better option.
Can You Safely Reheat Juice?
It’s generally not recommended to reheat juice after it has been sitting out at room temperature. Reheating won’t destroy the bacteria that can grow in juice left out too long. However, it is possible to safely reheat pasteurized juice in certain circumstances:
- If chilled immediately after pouring, pasteurized juice may be safe to reheat within 6 hours.
- Only reheat small amounts or single servings rather than a full container.
- Discard reheated juice leftovers rather than refrigerating again.
- Bring juice just to a simmer, not a full boil which degrades nutrients.
When possible, it’s best to pour fresh glasses of juice as needed. But for pasteurized varieties handled properly, reheating can extend the drinkable window slightly.
Can You Make Juice Safe to Drink Again?
Once juice has clearly spoiled or been left out too long, there is no way to make it safe to drink again. All you can do is toss it out. However, here are some methods that may help extend the shelf life of freshly opened juice:
- Add lemon juice – The acidity helps inhibit bacterial growth.
- Transfer to smaller containers – Limit oxygen exposure by dividing juice into smaller portions.
- Keep very cold – Store at coldest section of the refrigerator, around 34-36°F.
- Watch for signs of spoilage – Discard at first sight or scent of contamination.
While these tips can help maximized freshness, they cannot recover contaminated juice. The bacteria and toxins released from microbes cannot be reversed. When juice goes bad, there is no way to safely drink it.
Drinking juice that has been sitting out, especially unrefrigerated, does carry risks like food poisoning. Babies, children, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems should be especially careful. While the shelf life varies based on the type of juice and other factors, most juice should not sit at room temperature for more than 2 hours total before discarding. Checking for changes in appearance, texture, and smell can help determine if juice is still safe and nutritious to drink. When possible, freezing or refrigerating juice immediately after opening is ideal for both food safety and preserving nutrients. With proper handling, storage, and caution, juice can be enjoyed safely even after the container has been opened.