Prune juice is a popular beverage promoted for its potential health benefits. It contains sorbitol, which is a natural laxative, and is often used to help relieve occasional constipation. However, like all juices, prune juice does eventually expire and degrade in quality over time. This article reviews whether it’s safe to drink expired prune juice and what the potential risks may be.
What happens when prune juice expires?
When prune juice expires and goes bad, several changes can occur:
- Loss of nutrients – Over time, vitamins like vitamin C and antioxidants degrade and the juice loses some of its nutritional value.
- Changes in taste and color – Expired prune juice may develop an off flavor or strange taste and its color may fade or darken.
- Growth of mold – If contaminated and expired for a long time, prune juice may begin to grow mold.
- Bacterial growth – Harmful bacteria like salmonella can grow if expired prune juice is kept at unsafe temperatures.
The expiry date printed on the packaging indicates the last date by which the manufacturer guarantees the best quality. After this date, changes will slowly begin to affect the taste, color, nutrition, and safety of the prune juice. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean the juice will be harmful to drink right after the expiry date. A few days or weeks past this date is generally still safe if the juice was stored properly.
How to tell if prune juice has expired?
Here are some signs that indicate your prune juice is expired and has spoiled:
- Foul smell – Expired prune juice will develop an unpleasant or “off” odor.
- Carbonation – If the bottle contains bubbles or fizz, this indicates fermentation and spoilage.
- Mold – Check for fuzzy mold growing in the bottle or on the surface of the juice.
- Separation – The juice may separate into watery and chunky layers.
- Clumping – You may see clumps, flakes, or particles floating in the juice.
If you notice any of these signs, it’s best to err on the side of caution and not drink the prune juice. However, if the juice shows no visual signs of spoilage, smell and taste testing is the best way to determine if it has expired. Even if expired, properly stored prune juice may still taste normal and be safe if consumed right away.
Is expired prune juice safe to drink?
It depends – if expired recently, stored correctly, and shows no major signs of spoilage, drinking prune juice after its expiry date is generally low risk. However, harmful bacteria can grow over time, so very old juice may not be safe.
Here are some factors that help determine the safety of expired prune juice:
|Safe to drink?
|Expired less than 3-4 weeks ago
|Generally safe if refrigerated
|Expired more than 3-4 weeks ago
|Higher risk, especially if not refrigerated
|Shows signs of spoilage
|Do not drink
|Expired more than 3-6 months ago
|Do not drink
As a general rule, drinking prune juice 1-2 weeks past its expiry is low risk if it was properly stored. But beyond 3-4 weeks, the safety decreases drastically. If more than several months expired, it should always be discarded.
Does expired prune juice still work?
Prune juice works as a laxative due to its sorbitol content. Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that is poorly absorbed by the intestines, which pulls water into the colon to induce bowel movements.
Even when expired, prune juice will likely still retain its laxative effect. However, its efficacy may start decreasing the longer it is expired. One study found that even after 20 weeks, prune juice still had significant sorbitol levels and laxative effects (1).
So if you’re counting on expired prune juice to relieve constipation, it may still work even several weeks past its expiry date. But the effectiveness and speed of its laxative properties can diminish over time. Drink freshly expired juice and be aware it may take a larger quantity or more time to have an effect.
What about the taste?
The taste is one of the first things that change as prune juice expires. The flavor may start deteriorating 3-6 months prior to the expiry date while it’s still on the shelves.
Expired prune juice may taste:
- Bland, watery, or diluted
- Cardboard-like, oxidized, or unpleasantly musty
- Vinegary or sour
- Fermented or effervescent
Even with some flavor defects, expired prune juice stored under ideal conditions may still be palatable. But the taste continues fading the longer it is expired. If the deterioration is too off-putting, add some cinnamon or warming spices to mask the flavor defects.
Does expired prune juice make you sick?
If only expired for a short time, properly stored prune juice is unlikely to cause illness or major side effects if consumed. However, the following risks increase the longer the juice has expired:
- Upset stomach – Irritation, nausea, diarrhea from degradation compounds or high acidity.
- Food poisoning – From bacterial growth like salmonella, listeria, and E. coli.
- Allergic reaction – Mold growth can cause allergies in sensitive individuals.
Severe illness is very rare unless the expired prune juice shows obvious signs of spoilage like mold, slime, or a rotten smell. The elderly, pregnant women, and those with weak immune systems should be especially careful drinking expired prune juice due to higher risk of severe complications.
If you experience any concerning symptoms after drinking expired prune juice, seek medical attention. Mild digestive upset may be common.
How to store prune juice properly?
To help maximize the shelf life and safety of prune juice, store it:
- In the refrigerator after opening – Keep at 40°F (4°C) or below.
- Away from sunlight – Sunlight can degrade nutrients and flavors.
- In air-tight containers – Limit air exposure that oxidizes and stales juice over time.
- For less than 7-10 days once opened – Finish opened bottles within 1-2 weeks.
Improper storage like leaving prune juice at room temperature or in the door of the fridge can significantly decrease the time it stays fresh and safe to drink.
Can you freeze prune juice?
Yes, freezing is a great way to extend the shelf life of prune juice. To freeze:
- Store prune juice in air-tight containers or freezer bags.
- Leave at least 1⁄2 inch room at the top for expansion.
- Freeze for up to 9-12 months.
- Thaw in the refrigerator before drinking.
Freezing prevents microbial growth and slows the degradation of flavors and nutrients. Thawed prune juice will taste more fresh compared to juice left continuously refrigerated or expired for weeks/months.
Drinking prune juice a short time past its expiry date is generally low risk if it was properly stored in the refrigerator. However, the older it gets, the more its safety, nutrition, taste, and efficacy decrease. Examine juice closely and smell/taste test before drinking if expired more than a few weeks. Consult your doctor if concerned or experiencing concerning symptoms after drinking expired prune juice. Freezing juice can help prolong its shelf life if you won’t finish it quickly. Overall, it’s best to drink prune juice as fresh as possible and not keep it expired for longer than necessary.