Is orange juice safe to drink if left out overnight?

Many people enjoy a glass of orange juice in the morning to start their day. But what if you accidentally left your orange juice out on the counter overnight? Is it still safe to drink?

How Long Can Orange Juice Sit Out?

Freshly squeezed orange juice that has not been pasteurized has a shelf life of only about a day if left unrefrigerated. The reason for such a short shelf life is due to the high acidity level of orange juice. The ideal pH level for growth of bacteria and mold is 4.6 or higher. The pH of orange juice averages around 3.3-4.2, which prohibits microbial growth. However, over time the acidity level will rise as the juice oxidizes, making it hospitable to bacteria.

For store-bought orange juice that has been pasteurized, it can be left unrefrigerated for 2-3 days before spoiling. The pasteurization process helps stabilize the juice by removing bacteria and enzymes that can cause it to deteriorate quickly at room temperature. Pasteurized juice will last a bit longer, but not indefinitely.

Dangers of Drinking Spoiled Orange Juice

If orange juice is left out too long, harmful bacteria like mold, salmonella, or E. coli can begin to multiply to unsafe levels. Consuming spoiled orange juice can cause foodborne illnesses with symptoms like:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache

Some of the most common bacteria and mold that can contaminate orange juice include:

Bacteria/Mold Effects if Consumed
Salmonella Salmonellosis causing diarrhea, fever, cramps
Escherichia coli Gastroenteritis
Aspergillus Allergic reactions, lung infections if inhaled
Penicillium Allergic reactions, hypersensitivity

Consuming contaminated orange juice can be dangerous for anyone, but those with compromised immune systems like young children, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases are at higher risk of infection from these bacteria and molds.

How to Tell if OJ has Spoiled

If you left a carton of orange juice out on the counter and are wondering if it’s still safe, check for these signs of spoilage:

  • Changes in smell – Fresh OJ has a bright, citrusy smell. Spoiled juice will have an off or rancid odor.
  • Changes in color – OJ naturally darkens as it oxidizes, but severe lightening or darkening of color can indicate mold.
  • Clumps/chunks – Growth of bacteria and mold can cause clumping.
  • Fizzing/bubbling – Fermentation due to bacteria results in carbonation.
  • Mold growth – Surface mold is a clear sign juice has spoiled.
  • Sliminess – Bacteria growth causes an increase in viscosity.

If you notice any of these changes in your orange juice, it is best to err on the side of caution and throw it away. The potential risks of foodborne illness outweigh the benefits.

Tips to Keep OJ Fresher Longer

To get the most shelf life out of your orange juice and keep it safe from bacterial growth, follow these storage tips:

  • Refrigerate after opening and consume within 5-7 days.
  • Check the use-by/expiration date and don’t drink past it.
  • Store in a tightly sealed container.
  • Keep OJ away from light to prevent oxidation.
  • If separating, give bottle a shake before pouring.
  • Keep refrigerator below 40°F.
  • Clean surfaces and containers that contact juice to limit mold.
  • If concerned about contamination, boil juice briefly before drinking.

The Bottom Line

Drinking orange juice that has sat at room temperature overnight is risky business. The high acidity of orange juice helps limit bacterial growth initially, but over time spoilage can occur. Consuming contaminated OJ can cause foodborne illness. If your orange juice has been left out, check for changes in smell, color, texture, and other signs of spoilage. When in doubt, remember it’s better to be safe than sorry. Stick to refrigerated OJ to enjoy your tangy drink to the last drop.

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