Can Lemons Go Bad

Lemons are great to have around, but it’s not like when you buy a bunch of them you have a specific plan for each one. You use them as you go.

Sometimes that means going through 3 or 4 lemons in a week, other times barely using a single one. As days go by and you find yourself with a bunch of fruits still in storage, you’re wondering how long do they last and whether or not lemons go off easily. Or what’s the best way to store them, so you can use every single one before they spoil.

If that sounds like you, this article is what you’re looking for. In it, we go through signs of spoiled lemons, storage methods, and how they affect the shelf life of these citrus fruits.

A bunch of cliced and whole lemons
(credit: Lauren Mancke)

Can Lemons Go Bad? How To Tell If Lemons Went Bad?

Maybe you’ve already seen a spoiled lemon, maybe not, but I’m pretty sure you know they don’t last forever.

In most cases, you can tell if the lemon is okay or not without even cutting it through. If the rind has started to rot or develop mold (often in the form of green fuzzy coating), discard the fruit. The same applies to cut lemons. Lemon flesh consists mostly of water, and any microorganisms can move in there quite freely. In other words, even if the body isn’t discolored, it might be infected too. Thus it’s safer to get rid of such a fruit.

If there’s no rot or mold, the lemon should be safe to use. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’d want to use it. Over time lemons lose some of their water and thus lose their firmness. If your specimen yields only slightly to pressure, it’s perfectly fine. But if it’s already shriveled, the rind wrinkly, or the whole fruit squishy, it’s probably best to throw it out for quality reasons. If it’s in between those two states, it’s up to you if you use it or throw it away. When in doubt, juice it. Get whatever juice it still offers, and discard the rest.

How Long Do Lemons Last?

Whole lemons last between a week up to even six weeks ([UN]). It all depends on how you store them.

Many people keep them on the kitchen countertop simply because they work great as a decoration. Unfortunately, lemons at room temperature last only between a week or two, depending on the temperature. If it’s a hot summer, the citrus will start to lose some moisture only after a couple of days unless you have AC. In a fairly cool pantry, the lemons can last about two weeks, but that’s about it.

In the fridge, lemons can last between 3 to 6 weeks. Read the next section for how to get this month and a half out of them.

For cut lemons, they last only 3 to maybe 5 days in the fridge. They grow mold easily and quickly, so if you won’t use the leftovers within a couple of days, it’s probably better to make lemon juice.

Lemon water in a glass pitcher
(credit: Julia Zolotova)

How To Store Lemons?

If you’re okay with the shortened shelf life, feel free to keep lemons in a fruit basket or on the countertop. To get a couple of days more of peak quality, move them to the pantry, where it’s slightly colder.

When it comes to refrigerating lemons, there are two options. The lazy one is to place the fruits in the vegetable drawer. That’s good enough for them to last around three weeks, maybe even a month.

To get the maximum mentioned shelf life of 6 weeks, you need to perform an extra step. That step is putting the lemons in an airtight bag (like a freezer bag), squeezing the air out of it, and sealing it tightly ([UN]). This way the fruit doesn’t dehydrate that quickly and therefore retains top quality for longer. The whole thing takes an extra 30 seconds, so if you’re after the longest possible shelf life, there’s no excuse for not doing it.

For cut lemons, it’s best if you store them in an airtight container or a freezer bag. Since the latter is a pain to wash, I always opt for the former. Place the fruit in a way the exposed flesh is against the bottom or side of the container, to slow down the dehydration a bit.

In a Nutshell

  • Throw out moldy or rotten lemons. If the fruit is shriveled or squishy, it’s probably best to squeeze its juice and discard the rest.
  • Whole lemons last 1 to 2 week at room temperature, and up to 6 weeks in the fridge.
  • The best way to store them in the fridge is to put them in a resealable freezer bag, which helps the citrus fruit retain moisture for longer.
  • Store cut lemons in an airtight container in the fridge. It should maintain quality for 3 to 5 days.

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