Can lemons go bad?

In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question “Can lemons go bad” and ways to spot a bad lemon. 

Can lemons go bad?

Yes, lemons can go bad since they are fresh fruit and a perishable food item. They remain in their best quality for about a week. In fact, the deterioration process of the orange begins as soon as they are separated from the tree. (1)

Proper storage can keep the citrus from spoiling quickly. Lemons may be stored at room temperature for about 10 days in the pantry from the date of purchase. (2)

Lemons are best kept refrigerated and can last for up to 10-21 days. Lemons should be kept refrigerated and eaten within two days after being sliced or peeled unless otherwise specified. 

What are the factors that affect the shelf life of lemons?

The main factors that affect the shelf life of lemons are temperature and humidity;

  • Storage temperature: Is the most crucial environmental factor influencing the post-harvest lifespan of fresh fruits, primarily due to its significant impact on the rates of biological reactions, including respiration (3,4). 
  • Humidity: The lemons must be kept in a relatively dry environment. An environment too dry will lead to water loss, and an environment with too high humidity may lead to condensation and the enhanced growth of pathogens (5). 

How to tell if lemons are bad?

There are a couple of indications that point out that your lemons have gone bad. You should consider the appearance, texture, and smell of the lemons.


If you spot a mold or other type of microbial growth on your lemons, then it means that your oranges have gone bad and the best thing you can do is to get rid of them. 

If you notice fuzzy or discolored patches, it indicates spoilage. Be careful as toxins produced by molds (i.e., mycotoxins) could be very dangerous for your health. (6)

Moreover, you should check for any significant color changes, if you spot some discoloration or brown specks on your lemons, that is an indication that your lemon is spoiled.

In addition, a spoiled lemon might have dehydrated and wrinkled outer skin, indicating that it has lost its moisture. 


A lemon that feels soft and mushy, then it may be a sign that the lemon is starting to spoil. It’s important to remember that the more a lemon ripens, the softer it gets.

If you start noticing changes in the texture and hardness of your lemon, then it’s safe to assume that it won’t be long until the lemon is bad. 


If you smell something foul, musty, or something that does not quite feel like the lemon itself or if the tangy smell of the lemon has weakened then it is the indication of a bad lemon and you should get rid of it.

Spoiled lemons may emit a fermented, musty, or rotten odor. If your lemon has mold on it, you should not smell it, since mold produces mycotoxins, and if you inhale lemon’s mold, those mycotoxins enter your body and they can make you ill. (7)

How to extend the shelf life of lemons?

You can extend the shelf life of lemons by refrigerating or freezing them. Here are the factors that you need to consider.

Do lemons need to be refrigerated?

Yes, lemons do need to be refrigerated to extend their shelf life. Lemons last for 10 days at room temperature from the date of purchase if stored properly. (2).

Raw whole lemons last for about 10-21 days when they are properly refrigerated from the date of purchase (2).

Upon peeling and cutting, the outer protective layer is stripped away, revealing the inner fresh cells that are abundant in water sugars, and organic acids. 

The release of nutrients through this process encourages the growth of microorganisms, while the damaged tissue serves as an entry point for establishing a microbial colony. (9)

Cut/sliced lemons last for about 5 days when they are properly stored in the fridge at 40°C. (9)

Once fruits are cut, sliced, or chopped, they should be refrigerated in covered containers or frozen in plastic freezer containers. (8)

Can you freeze lemons?

Yes, you can freeze lemons. Freezing lemons will increase their shelf life by many months.

You can freeze whole or segmented lemons. Freezing is generally suitable for preserving most fruits; however, the quality of the frozen product may vary  depending on factors such as the type of fruit, its stage of maturity, and the packaging method. (10)

Generally, the flavor is well retained by freezing preservation. Texture may be softer than that of fresh fruit. (10)

The best way is to first wash the lemons in cold water and pat them dry using paper towels. Peel the lemons and try to remove as much pith as you can. Divide the lemons into portions or separate all the slices. 

Put them in a freezer bag, remove the excess air from it, and freeze it.

Other FAQs about Lemon which you may be interested in.

How to add lemon juice to milk without curdling?

What does lemon juice taste like?

Does lemon water lower blood sugar?

Will spoiled lemons make you sick?

Yes, if you eat spoiled lemons you can get sick due to the presence of harmful microorganisms such as Salmonella, certain strains of Escherichia coli (e.g., E. coli O157:H7), Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, Campylobacter, Shigella and molds (6,7).

Some pathogenic fungal species found in spoiled lemons are Penicillium and Alternaria. (11,12) 

Consuming spoiled fruit with bacteria or mold will usually cause illness within 1 to 3 days of eating the contaminated food. However, sickness can also occur within 20 minutes or up to 6 weeks later (10). 

Foodborne illness can sometimes be confused with other illnesses that have similar symptoms (10). The symptoms of foodborne illness can include:

  • Nausea and Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain


In this brief guide, we answered the question “Can lemons go bad” and ways to spot a bad lemon. 


  1. Nedbal, L., Soukupová, J., Whitmarsh, J., Trtílek, M. Postharvest imaging of chlorophyll fluorescence from lemons can be used to predict fruit quality. Photosynthetica 38, 571-579.
  2. United States Department of Agriculture. Food Keeper.
  3. Rygg, G.L., Wells, A.W., Norman, S.M., Atrops, E.P. Biphenyl Control of Lemon Spoilage. Influence of time, temperature, and carton venting. Marketing research report.
  4. Maxie, E. C., Eaks, I. L., Sommer, N. F., Rae, H. L., & El-Batal, S. (1965). Effect of Gamma Radiation on Rate of Ethylene and Carbon Dioxide Evolution by Lemon Fruit. Plant Physiology, 40(3), 407-409.
  5. Sharkey, P., & Peggie, I. (1984). Effects of high-humidity storage on quality, decay and storage life of cherry, lemon and peach fruits. Scientia Horticulturae, 23(2), 181-190. 
  6. Balali, G.I., Yar, D.D., Afua Dela, V.G., Adjei-Kusi, P. Microbial Contamination, an Increasing Threat to the Consumption of Fresh Fruits and Vegetables in Today’s World“, International Journal of Microbiology, vol. 2020, Article ID 3029295, 13 pages, 2020.
  7. Drusch, S., Ragab, W. Mycotoxins in fruits, fruit juices, and dried fruits. J Food Prot; 66(8):1514-27.
  8. United States Department of Agriculture. Ask USDA.
  9. Artés-Hernández, F., Rivera-Cabrera, F., & Kader, A. A. (2007). Quality retention and potential shelf-life of fresh-cut lemons as affected by cut type and temperature. Postharvest Biology and Technology, 43(2), 245-254. 
  10. Food and Drug Administration. Selecting and Serving Produce Safely
  11. Bull, C., Wadsworth, M., Sorensen, K., Takemoto, J., Austin, R., & Smilanick, J. (1998). Syringomycin E Produced by Biological Control Agents Controls Green Mold on Lemons. Biological Control, 12(2), 89-95. 
  12. Liaquat, F., Qunlu, L., Arif, S., Haroon, U., Saqib, S., Zaman, W., Jianxin, S., Shengquan, C., Li, L. X., Akbar, M., & Hussain Munis, M. F. (2021). Isolation and characterization of pathogen causing brown rot in lemon and its control by using ecofriendly botanicals. Physiological and Molecular Plant Pathology, 114, 101639. 

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