Is it safe to drink orange juice that was left out overnight?

Many of us have accidentally left a glass or carton of orange juice sitting out on the counter overnight. When you wake up the next morning and see it sitting there, is it still safe to drink or should you pour it down the drain? In this article, we’ll examine the risks of consuming orange juice that has been left unrefrigerated overnight and help you determine if your OJ is still potable.

How Long Can Orange Juice Sit Out Before It Goes Bad?

Freshly squeezed orange juice that has not been pasteurized has a very limited shelf life, and should be consumed or refrigerated within about an hour of juicing. Store-bought orange juice that has been processed and pasteurized in a sealed container can be left unrefrigerated for a bit longer before it is considered unsafe to drink. Here are some general guidelines:

  • Unopened pasteurized orange juice – Up to 7-10 days unrefrigerated
  • Opened pasteurized orange juice – Up to 2-3 days unrefrigerated
  • Fresh squeezed orange juice – Up to 1 hour unrefrigerated

So if you accidentally left a full, unopened carton of orange juice out on the counter overnight, it should still be safe to consume as long as it has not exceed 7-10 days since the printed expiration date. However, if the container was already opened, has been opened for more than 2-3 days, or was freshly squeezed juice, it is at higher risk of spoilage.

Signs Your Orange Juice Has Spoiled

If your OJ has been sitting out too long, there are usually visible and olfactory clues that it has spoiled and may not be safe to drink. Here are some signs to look for:

  • Change in color – Fresh orange juice is bright orange. As it starts to turn bad, it may turn darker brown or slightly gray.
  • Clumping/Separation – Spoiled OJ may develop slimy clumps or film floating in it, and the liquid may separate out.
  • Mold – If you see fuzzy mold growing in or on your orange juice, it is well past safe drinking quality.
  • Bad smell – Orange juice that has spoiled will have an unpleasant sour, bitter, or chemically smell.
  • Fizzing/bubbling – Fermentation causes carbonation, so bubbles or fizz can indicate OJ has turned into alcohol.

If you notice any of these signs in your glass of OJ, it is best to err on the side of caution and throw it out. Even if it looks and smells normal though, prolonged unrefrigerated storage allows bacteria growth.

Why Refrigeration is Important for Orange Juice

To understand why refrigeration is so critical for orange juice storage, we have to consider what happens inside the juice over time. Here are the top reasons OJ needs to be refrigerated:

  • Microbial growth – Bacteria, mold, and yeast naturally occur in orange juice. Refrigeration slows their growth way down. Without it, they multiply rapidly.
  • Enzyme activity – Enzymes naturally present in orange juice can cause deterioration in color, flavor, aroma, and nutrition when activated by warmer temperatures.
  • Vitamin degradation – Nutrients like vitamin C and folate break down much faster when orange juice is left unrefrigerated.
  • Provides an anaerobic environment – Putting orange juice in the fridge creates an airless environment that prevents oxidative reactions.

By keeping orange juice chilled, all of these stability and quality threatening processes are slowed down significantly. Refrigeration preserves the fresh taste, vitamin content, and safety of orange juice.

Potential Risks of Drinking Spoiled Orange Juice

Consuming orange juice that has been left unrefrigerated for too long carries some health risks including:

  • Foodborne illness – Outgrowth of bacteria like salmonella, listeria, streptococcus and staphylococcus can lead to nausea, fever, cramps, and diarrhea.
  • Vitamin deficiency – Loss of folate, vitamin C and other nutrients can occur, resulting in nutrition deficiency over time.
  • Toxic mold exposure – Mold growth produces mycotoxins that can cause allergic reactions and other health issues for some.
  • Botulism – The bacteria Clostridium botulinum thrives without air and can cause paralysis, breathing trouble, and even death from toxins.

While the risks are relatively low, there is a possibility of becoming ill from drinking OJ that has sat out too long. Those with compromised immune systems and underlying health conditions are most susceptible.

Tips to Maintain Juice Safety

To get the most freshness and nutrition out of your orange juice, while minimizing the risks of foodborne illness, here are some handling tips to keep in mind:

  • Refrigerate orange juice promptly after opening. Don’t let it sit on the counter.
  • Check expiration dates and don’t purchase/use juice beyond its shelf life.
  • Keep refrigerators below 40°F to slow microbe growth.
  • Drink juice within 2-3 days of opening.
  • Don’t return unused juice from glass back into the container.
  • Rinse containers before pouring to avoid contamination.
  • Keep refrigerators and counters clean.

Following these basic food safety practices will help prevent orange juice spoilage.

Should You Drink Orange Juice After Leaving it Out Overnight?

So should you chance it and drink that glass of OJ you accidentally left out on the kitchen counter all night? Here are some factors to consider:

  • If the container was unopened and still within the expiration date, it is PROBABLY SAFE to drink if it looks and smells normal.
  • If it was opened, has been opened for more than 2-3 days, or is beyond the printed expiration date, it is RISKIER to drink.
  • If it has changed color, separated, formed clumps, fizzed, or smells funny, it is NOT SAFE TO DRINK.

Our recommendation would be if in doubt, throw it out. Orange juice is fairly inexpensive and easy to replace. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to foodborne risks.

For maximum safety and quality, it is ideal to refrigerate orange juice within an hour of opening and consume it within 2-3 days. Leaving it out overnight should not be a regular practice.


Drinking orange juice that has sat at room temperature overnight does carry some risk of foodborne illness, but it depends on several factors. An unopened, properly stored carton should still be relatively safe. However, OJ that was already opened or beyond its prime is more likely to cause health issues if consumed. Your best bet is to refrigerate orange juice promptly after opening, avoid leaving it out for prolonged periods, and enjoy it within 2-3 days for optimal freshness and safety.

Orange Juice Type Safe Unrefrigerated Time
Fresh squeezed OJ Up to 1 hour
Unopened pasteurized OJ Up to 7-10 days if within expiration date
Opened pasteurized OJ Up to 2-3 days

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