Orange juice is a breakfast staple for many people. It’s tasty, nutritious, and easy to grab on-the-go. But what if you reach into the refrigerator and find an expired carton of orange juice? Should you drink it or pour it down the drain?
What happens when orange juice expires?
First, let’s look at why orange juice expires in the first place. Freshly squeezed orange juice only lasts about a week before it starts to degrade in quality. That’s because the natural enzymes found in oranges start to break down the flavor compounds and nutrients. This happens more slowly when the juice is pasteurized and stored in air-tight containers, but it still occurs over time.
Manufacturers typically stamp expiration dates about 3 to 5 weeks after packaging. This gives the juice some shelf life, knowing it will slowly lose quality after being processed. But an expiration date doesn’t mean the orange juice transforms immediately from a healthy drink to toxic sludge. It’s more nuanced than that.
Here are some of the changes that can happen to expired orange juice:
- Loss of vitamin C – This nutrient breaks down over time when exposed to air and light.
- Off flavors – The natural citrus taste gets progressively weaker.
- Bitterness – Enzymes create limonin, which has a bitter taste.
- Separation – Liquid separates from the pulp and floats to the top.
- Microbial growth – Yeasts and molds can multiply, creating a bad aroma, taste, or appearance.
The degree of change depends on how long past the expiration date and how well the container was sealed. Refrigeration slows the process but doesn’t stop it completely.
Is expired orange juice safe to drink?
While orange juice won’t make you sick immediately after hitting its expiration date, there are certain risks associated with drinking it past its prime.
One concern with expired OJ is foodborne pathogens. Perishable foods like juice can grow bacteria over time, such as salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. This is especially true if the container or carton was left open. Contamination is rare with pasteurized juices but still possible.
Bottled orange juice typically has more acidity than other juices, which helps limit microbial growth. But over time, the pH rises, making it possible for dangerous bacteria to multiply if introduced. This risk increases the longer it’s stored after expiration.
You may see mold growing in an old carton of orange juice. This fuzzy growth can come in various colors – blue, green, black, or white. Consuming moldy juice can cause allergic reactions or respiratory irritation in some cases. If you see visible mold, it’s best not to drink it.
Mold also produces mycotoxins as metabolites. These toxins can cause illness in humans, although very large amounts are typically required. Still, it’s smart to avoid eating or drinking foods with mold present.
Over time, the vitamin content in orange juice declines. One of the biggest losses is vitamin C. An eight-ounce glass of fresh OJ contains around 124 mg of vitamin C. After three months, it loses around 20% of the vitamin C. After six months, around 30% is gone.
Other vitamins like folate, thiamin, and vitamin A also start to break down past the expiration date. Enzymatic activity also causes the juice to lose some nutritional value.
So while expired orange juice won’t usually make someone acutely ill, its nutritional quality slowly drops off over time.
How to tell if expired orange juice is bad
To check if your expired OJ is still drinkable, examine the container and juice.
Check for leaks
Make sure the container isn’t punctured or leaking, which allows microbes and oxygen to contaminate the juice. A compromised container increases the chance of spoilage.
Look at the color
Freshly squeezed orange juice has a bright orange hue. As it ages, it starts to turn progressively darker. A brown or muddy color likely means the juice is oxidized and degraded. Separation of liquid and pulp is also a red flag.
Smell the juice
Take a whiff of the orange juice. It should have a pleasant citrusy aroma without any off odors. If it smells sour, fermented, or rotten, it’s best not to drink it.
Take a sip
Taste a small sample if the juice otherwise looks and smells normal. You’ll likely notice weakened orange flavor, increased bitterness, and a flatter mouthfeel if it’s gone bad. But if it tastes relatively normal, the juice may be safe to consume.
How long past expiration is orange juice still good?
As a general rule, unopened orange juice stays fresh one to two weeks past its printed expiration date if refrigerated. After opening, it’s best consumed within five to seven days.
Here are some guidelines based on different scenarios:
|Juice Type||Unopened||After Opening|
|Shelf-stable carton from concentrate||2-3 weeks past date||7 days|
|Refrigerated carton from concentrate||1-2 weeks past date||5-7 days|
|Not from concentrate||1 week past date||3-5 days|
|Freshly squeezed||Don’t buy past date||3-5 days|
Note that these ranges are estimates only. Certain factors like storage conditions and container integrity can shorten or lengthen the times. Use your best judgment based on appearance, aroma, and taste.
Does expired orange juice make you sick?
Drinking orange juice a few weeks past its printed date is unlikely to cause food poisoning or severe illness in most people. However, some individuals may experience:
- Allergic reactions – From mold spores or other contaminants
- Nausea/vomiting – From undesirable microbes multiplying or toxins
- Diarrhea – From inflammation caused by bacteria strains or mold
These symptoms are more likely in juice stored for many months past its expiration. But if consumed in normal quantities, even spoiled OJ probably won’t cause extreme sickness in otherwise healthy adults. Children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with comprised immune systems are at higher risk of illness though.
Can expired orange juice make you vomit?
Drinking significantly deteriorated orange juice can cause vomiting in some cases. This is the body’s natural reaction to expel problematic substances from the digestive tract. Possible causes include:
- Natural toxins created by microbial fermentation
- Biogenic amines like histamine that trigger a reaction
- Mycotoxins from mold growth
- Bacteria strains that irritate the gastrointestinal lining
If the orange juice tastes very bitter, smells rotten, or shows signs of fungus, it’s wisest to avoid it. The older juice gets, the more likely it may contain compounds that induce vomiting. But generally, drinking a small amount of expired OJ that tastes relatively normal is unlikely to make you throw up or get very sick.
Can you freeze expired orange juice?
Freezing is an option for storing expired orange juice longer, but it doesn’t stop the nutritional decline. Here are some key points about freezing OJ past its prime:
- Freezing prevents microbial growth – This puts spoilage on pause.
- Thawed juice may taste different – Flavor and aroma can degrade.
- Nutrients continue breaking down – Vitamin C and other vitamins still diminish over time.
- Quality loss will resume – Enzymes react again after thawing juice.
- Use within 3-6 months – Flavor and nutrition will progressively worsen.
So while freezing extends the shelf life, it’s best to thaw and drink expired orange juice within several months. The juice shouldn’t be relied on as a nutritious beverage after more than 6 months in the freezer.
Tips for storing orange juice correctly
To get the most shelf life out of your orange juice, be sure to store it properly:
- Refrigerate after opening – Keep refrigerated at all times once container is opened.
- Seal the container – Screw lids on tightly and close cartons completely after pouring.
- Minimize exposure to air – This oxidizes and degrades the juice over time.
- Keep away from light – Light accelerates vitamin C breakdown.
- Avoid temperature fluctuations – Don’t let juice get warm repeatedly.
- Use clean utensils – Don’t introduce bacteria through dirty cups or spoons.
- Check expiration dates – Buy juice with the furthest out dates.
Proper refrigerated storage gives you the best chance of enjoying orange juice before it expires. But if you do find an outdated carton, give it a look, smell, and taste before dumping it down the drain.
Drinking expired orange juice that’s a few weeks past its printed date likely won’t cause harm for most healthy adults, if it was stored sealed in the refrigerator. However, the risk of foodborne illness increases the longer juice is kept past its expiration. Older OJ may also have an undesirable taste and diminished nutritional value.
Inspect juice that’s expired for any signs of leakage, odd odors, color changes, separation, or mold. Discard it if the condition seems poor. But juice stored properly may still be palatable and safe if it’s just slightly expired. For best quality and freshness though, it’s ideal to drink orange juice before its expiration date.