Smoothies make for a delicious and nutritious breakfast or snack. They’re packed with fruit, vegetables, protein powder, and other healthy ingredients. But like any perishable food, smoothies need to be consumed or refrigerated quickly to prevent bacterial growth.
How Long Can a Smoothie Sit Out at Room Temperature?
The exact shelf life of a smoothie depends on several factors, including:
- Ingredients used
- Blend thickness
- Room temperature
As a general rule, store-bought or homemade smoothies should not sit at room temperature for longer than:
|Maximum Time at Room Temperature
|Smoothies with vegetables and/or low-acid fruit like melons
|Up to 2 hours
|Fruit-based smoothies with high-acid ingredients like citrus, pineapple, berries
|Up to 4 hours
|Up to 4 hours
|Up to 3 hours
Why Shouldn’t Smoothies Sit Out Too Long?
Leaving smoothies or any perishable food sitting out at room temperature for too long allows bacteria like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria to grow to dangerous levels. These bacteria can cause foodborne illness with symptoms like:
- Abdominal cramps
Some people are at higher risk for foodborne illness. This includes pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with compromised immune systems. But anyone can develop symptoms if they consume a smoothie that’s been left out too long and has high levels of bacteria.
How to Tell if a Smoothie Is Bad
Watch for these signs that a smoothie has been left out too long and may have dangerous bacteria growth:
- Change in consistency: Smoothies that have separates or become runnier.
- Change in color: Browning, graying, or duller colors.
- Mold growth: Fuzzy mold visible on the surface.
- Curdled milk: Milk-based smoothies look curdled.
- Strange odor: Smells sour, rotten, or unpleasant.
When in doubt, remember the old adage “When in doubt, throw it out.” Don’t taste test a smoothie that shows any odd signs.
Does Blending or Ingredients Impact Smoothie Safety?
Certain ingredients and preparation methods can impact how long a smoothie lasts unrefrigerated:
- Low-acid ingredients like melons, cucumbers, and tomatoes have a higher safety risk if left out too long.
- Leafy greens also fall into the higher risk category for bacterial growth.
- High-acid fruits like citrus, berries, pineapple, and mango are safer for a bit longer.
- Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and ice cream have a shorter room temperature time before spoiling.
- Smooth pureed texture allows for faster bacterial growth compared to chunkier blends or juices.
- Added ice helps keep smoothies chilled longer when sitting out.
- Alcohol content above 10% can inhibit bacterial growth in boozy smoothies.
How to Store Smoothies Safely
To get the most out of your smoothies without the risk of food poisoning, follow these safe storage methods:
For Short-Term Storage
- Keep smoothies refrigerated until ready to drink. Only take out portions as needed.
- Use a thermal bottle or insulated cup to keep smoothies chilled if taking them on-the-go.
- Add extra ice cubes just before serving to help keep cold.
- Stir before drinking to evenly distribute ingredients and temperature.
For Long-Term Storage
- Smoothies can be kept frozen for 2-3 months for longer storage.
- Use freezer-safe containers or ice cube trays to freeze individual portions.
- Cover blenders while blending to reduce added air and oxidation.
- Freeze smoothies as soon as possible after blending.
- Thaw overnight in the fridge or for a few minutes at room temperature before serving.
Can You Reblend Separated Smoothies?
If left sitting out too long, smoothies start to separate with the denser ingredients like pulp and protein powder sinking to the bottom. While reshaking or reblending brings the smoothie back together, it won’t get rid of any bacterial growth that occurred while it was sitting out.
Only reblend and consume separated smoothies if they’ve been refrigerated the entire time. Smoothies left out at room temperature that have separated need to be discarded.
Does the Type of Blender Matter?
The type of blender used can impact smoothie safety in a couple ways:
- Blending temperature: High-powered blenders like Vitamin or Blendtec reach higher temperatures while blending, which helps inhibit bacteria growth.
- Blending time: Quick blender times gives less opportunity for ingredients to warm up.
- Blender material: Glass or stainless steel containers have less risk of bacterial harborage compared to plastic.
But even smoothies made in the fanciest, highest-tech blender need to be consumed promptly or refrigerated. No blender can make up for improper food safety practices.
Should Kids Drink Smoothies That Have Been Sitting Out?
Children under age 5 are at higher risk for foodborne illnesses. Their immune systems are still developing. So kids’ smoothies that have been sitting out unrefrigerated absolutely should not be consumed.
Serve kids smoothies immediately after blending. Or if storing or transporting, keep smoothies chilled in a thermos or cooler bag. Discard any smoothies that have sat out at room temperature for more than an hour.
Can You Get Food Poisoning from Smoothies?
Yes, while smoothies are made from healthy ingredients, leaving them sitting out allows foodborne pathogens to grow. If contaminated smoothies are consumed, they can cause food poisoning.
Symptoms depend on the particular bacteria or virus, but may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps and diarrhea
- Fever and chills
- Fatigue and body aches
At-risk groups like pregnant women, infants, elderly, and immunocompromised individuals have higher chances of developing complications from foodborne illness. But even healthy people can get sick from drinking bad smoothies.
Should You Put Smoothies in the Fridge Right After Blending?
Ideally, yes – smoothies should be refrigerated immediately after blending. The exceptions are if the smoothies contain only ingredients like citrus, berries, and high-acid fruits that inhibit bacterial growth.
But green, vegetable, dairy-based, or protein smoothies are prone to spoiling and should be chilled right away. Even keeping smoothies at room temperature for the recommended 2-4 hours should be a maximum.
Signs a Refrigerated Smoothie Has Gone Bad
Smoothies that have been continuously refrigerated can keep for around 3-5 days. Signs a chilled smoothie has still managed to spoil include:
- Mold around the lid or sides
- Separation with clear liquid at the top
- Strange gassiness or bubbling when shaken
- Foul, rotten, or sour smell
- Change in texture like extreme thickness or thinness
- Discoloration like graying or darkening
Trust your senses – if a refrigerated smoothie displays any odd textures, colors or smells, it’s best to discard.
Does Freezing or Reheating Make Smoothies Safe to Drink Again?
Unfortunately, no. Freezing and reheating cannot reverse bacterial growth that occurs as smoothies sit out at room temperature. Any dangerous pathogens present will remain in smoothies even after reheating.
Only consume smoothies that have been kept chilled below 40°F during storage. Do not reheat or refreeze smoothies left out more than 2 hours.
Tips for Smoothie Safety
Here are some final tips for handling smoothies safely:
- Refrigerate smoothies immediately after preparing.
- Never leave smoothies out over 2 hours, or 1 hour if containing leafy greens, vegetables, or dairy.
- When transporting, use an insulated mug or cooler bag.
- Don’t let smoothies sit at room temperature when adding mix-ins like supplements, chia seeds etc.
- Consume refrigerated smoothies within 3-5 days.
- Discard immediately if any odd appearance, texture changes, or sour smell.
With proper food safety practices, smoothies can be a nutritious and safe meal or snack option. But leaving them sitting out too long at room temperature can allow dangerous bacteria to multiply. For best quality and food safety, limit smoothie’s time spent unrefrigerated. When in doubt, remember it’s far better to be safe and discard smoothies than risk getting sick from contaminated drinks.