How long will fresh squeezed lemon juice last?

In this brief article, I will answer the question “How long will fresh squeezed lemon juice last?” and provide you with more details on how to effectively preserve and conserve the product.

How long will fresh squeezed lemon juice last?

Freshly squeezed lemon juice will keep for about 2 to 3 days. 

According to the US Department of Agriculture, Wwhen stored in the refrigerator, lemonade has a shelf life of roughly a week, whereas the frozen juice can last up to a year (1).

Why does lemon juice spoil easily?

Fresh lemon juice will not last long because of oxidation reaction, microbiological growth and the loss of aromatic molecules:

  • Lemon juice contains carbon compounds (citric acid). When squeezed, these molecules degrade releasing carbon. When carbon comes into contact with air, it undergoes a process known as oxidation which causes the juice to turn darker and alter its taste drastically. This phenomenon is called non-enzymatic browning. Browning takes place during processing and storage leading to brown coloration of juice due to chemical reactions such as caramelization, Maillard reaction and ascorbic acid degradation. It causes loss of nutrients and the formation of intermediate undesirable compounds like furfural and 5-hydroxymethylfurfural (1).
  • Fresh lemons contain water which is a favourable environment for bacterial growth. When left at room temperature or in a hot room, bacteria can multiply rapidly and cause the spoilage of the juice producing off-flavors which results in the degradation of the product. A study investigated the microbial spoilage of lemon juice. The juice was prepared and exposed for 24 hours for bacterial contamination and 7 days for fungal contamination. The bacterial count of lemon juice ranged between 4.0 and 5.0 x103 cfu/ml and the following microorganisms were found: Bacillus sp, Lactobacillus sp and Staphylococcus sp (Bacteria) and Aspergillus niger, Fusarium sp, Penicillium digitatum, Rhizopus delemar and Muccor vouxii (fungi) (2).
  • When squeezing lemons, trace volatile compounds contributing to the overall aroma of the juice fade away within a few hours causing the deterioration of the juice flavor. The presence and consequent oxidation of ascorbic acid in the lemon juice leads to the the production of aldehydes from amino acids, which include ethanal (fruity, sweet aroma), methylpropanal (malty) and 2-phenylethanal (flowery/honey like aroma (1).

What are the dangers of consuming spoiled lemon juice?

Bacteria from the lemon can get into your juice when it’s freshly pressed. Food poisoning can be caused by consuming spoiled lemon juice, which is both unpleasant and hazardous.

To ensure your juice is safe, check the following indicators:

  • The organoleptic aspect of your juice: when you notice a change in color or flavor, it is probably an indicator that your juice has been spoiled. Avoid drinking lemonade when it lacks the usual citrus aroma or if the color tends to be darker.
  • Molds growth: if stored in improper conditions, molds can develop in the lemon juice. This is not only harmful to consume, but the mold spores can also infect other foods in your kitchen.
  • Signs of food poisoning: if you have one of these symptoms: abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, changes in body temperature, etc., this means that you have probably consumed contaminated lemon juice. You should consult a doctor in case of severe or persistent symptoms.

How to keep lemon juice for longer?

Here are some tips to better preserve your lemonade:

  • Keep your freshly squeezed juice in an air-tight bottle or container in the refrigerator. It will last for 3 days. It is better to use opaque containers to prevent the light from breaking down the liquid.
  • Store your juice in the freezer: Lemon juice can be stored in the freezer for a longer shelf life. Place it in an ice tray and freeze. Once the lemon cubes have frozen, remove them from the trays and place them in a resealable plastic bag. You may use ice cubes in any of your dishes without fear of losing their flavor or taste.
  • You can also use the canning method for an extended shelf-life. It works easily: boil the juice for 5 minutes and pour it in canning jars. Seal the jars and put them in boiling water for 15 minutes. Carefully remove the jars from the water and set them aside to cool. Finally, store them in a cool, dry place. This will, however, destroy the vitamin C of the juice and accelerate the browning degradation processes due to Maillard reaction, leading to the production of off-flavor compounds (1).

Why store-bought juice lasts longer?

Store-bought lemon juice can last up to one year if it’s properly stored. This is due to the fact that lemons are processed and highly concentrated. The concentrate is processed by briefly heating it at a high temperature before bottling it. All of this contributes to the juice’s longer shelf life. Industrialized juices are pasteurized, which means the bacterial contamination has been reduced to a safe level for the product´s storage conditions. Thermal pasteurization is quite efficient in preventing microbial spoilage of many types of beverages, but the applied heat may also cause undesirable biochemical and nutritious changes that may affect sensory attributes of the final product. Therefore, other methods are preverently used to pasteurize juices, such as gamma irradiation, ultrasound, ultrahigh hydrostatic pressure and high-voltage pulsed electric fields (3).

The extended shelf life is also linked to the use of additives. In fact, Sodium Metabisulphite (E223) and Potassium Metabisulphite (E224) are common preservatives in bottled lemon juice (E224). Metabisulphites are used to keep food’s natural color and protect it from bacterial growth (5).

Is it better to consume bottled lemon juice?

Despite the fact that industrial juice may be stored for a long time, it is not necessarily safe to consume. Most of the products available in the market contain sulfites. If you are sensitive to sulfites, consuming bottled lemon juice might cause you headaches, stomach pain, and other malfunctions. This is why it is of paramount importance to read the product’s label carefully to make sure of the absence of harmful substances or allergens.

On the other hand, chemical compounds (ie: Bisphenol A) used in the plastic bottles can leach into the food product causing harmful effects. For instance, BPA has been demonstrated to interfere with the endocrine system’s function in previous studies. In order to avoid these harmful chemicals, it is better to look for the plastic identification code in the packaging. Prefer other types of packaging that don’t represent health risk (ie: glass or carton packaging, bag-in-box, stand-up pouch bags, etc.). The FAO and the WHO reported negative effects of BPA on animals in concentrations lower than 5 mg/kg. BPA has been found in infant food, soft drinks, and energy drinks (4).

Other contaminants commonly found in fruit juices are heavy metals (Fe, Mn, Cd, Pb, Ni, Cr, Cu), pesticides residues, amines, bisphenols and phthalates (4).

Other FAQs about Lemon that you may be interested in.

Can you eat lemon zest?

How to preserve lemon juice

How to counteract too much lemon?

Conclusion

In this guide, I answered the question “How long will fresh squeezed lemon juice last?” and provided some methods to preserve fresh juice. I have also outlined the difference between fresh lemonade and store-bought juice.

If you have any questions related to this subject, I’d be happy to answer them.

References:

  1. Bharate, Sonali S., and Sandip B. Bharate. Non-enzymatic browning in citrus juice: chemical markers, their detection and ways to improve product quality. J food sci technol, 2014, 51, 2271-2288. 
  2. Chuku, E. C., and N. P. Akani. Determination of proximate composition and microbial contamination of fresh juice from three citrus species. J Biol Gen Res, 2015, 1.8.
  3. Ortega-Rivas, Enrique, and Iván Salmerón-Ochoa. Nonthermal food processing alternatives and their effects on taste and flavor compounds of beverages. Crit rev food sci nutr, 54, 190-207.
  4. Pelegrín CJ, Flores Y, Jiménez A, Garrigós MC. Recent Trends in the Analysis of Chemical Contaminants in Beverages. Beverages. 2020; 6, 32. 
  5. Silva, Maria Manuela, and Fernando Lidon. Food preservatives–An overview on applications and side effects. Emir J Food Agric, 2016, 366-373.