Fresh lemon is a loved ingredient in sweet treats and savory dishes, and you may wonder how long it lasts and how to tell if a lemon is bad. In this guide, I will give you an in-depth look at signs that show spoilage and how to choose the freshest lemons. This way, you can ensure you always use the best, tastiest, and juiciest lemons possible.
And, if you are looking for some lemon recipes to try, my Brazilian Lemonade is a must-try! And, for a tasty bite, you can try this Lemon Fennel Salad or my Air-Fried Lemony Falafel. They are easy to make and perfect for spring or even a hot summer’s day!
Can You Eat Bad Lemons?
This is a question I get a lot. And I completely understand! Nobody wants to throw away food that has gone bad. But yet, there are too many risks involved with eating bad food.
With lemons specifically, there is some wiggle room. The answer to whether or not you can eat bad lemons depends on how bad they are.
If a lemon only starts showing white mold on the outside peel (skin), it is still edible. The mold can simply be wiped off, and the lemon can be squeezed. In this case, I wouldn’t recommend using or eating the peel. But the juice should still be perfectly fine.
However, if the lemon shows severe signs of mold (or multiple signs of spoilage), you should rather chuck it instead. The risks involved with eating very moldy and spoiled lemons are simply too high.
If you are ever unsure about their safety, it is always best to toss them out instead.
How To Tell If A Lemon Is Bad
Okay, let’s get to the good part: how do you know when a lemon is bad?
Lemons (and citrus fruits in general) can be pretty tricky to diagnose. That’s why it is good to first know that, generally, fresh lemons only last about 1-2 weeks in the pantry. If you leave them on a counter, their shelf life shortens to roughly one week only. And, if you store lemons inside the fridge, they can last between 3-4 weeks.
Cut lemons should always be stored inside the fridge and will only last 3-4 days. They won’t necessarily grow mold, but they will have dried out significantly after this time, rendering them pretty useless.
Signs Of Mold
This is probably the first sign you will come across. To get this straight: a very moldy lemon is a spoiled lemon.
Citrus fruit has a very thick skin which protects the inside from external bacteria that cause spoilage. So, if the mold growth on the skin only starts showing up, as in brown spots, you can wipe it off.
But, if there is a lot of mold growth, especially around the stem area, it is better to toss the lemon. And, if you have moldy lemons with another sign of spoilage (like soft, mushy textures), you definitely have to toss the lemon to avoid food poisoning.
As you may know, like other fruits and veggies, lemons change their texture (structure) as they age and become weaker and weaker, eventually leading to rot.
But “rot” doesn’t necessarily look like the black, mushy, sludgy substance you see in the movies. In the beginning stages of rot, an ingredient first becomes soft as it loses its texture. Even at this point, the lemon is no longer fine to use.
So, if your lemons or citrus becomes soft or you completely press through the thick skin, the lemon is bad.
Bruised Or Discolored
Another way how to tell if a lemon is bad is to look at its color. Fresh lemons should have a bright yellow color, while old lemons have bruises or discoloration.
So, if you see pale areas or brown-black spots, the lemon is going off and should rather be tossed.
People laugh when I say this, but fruit flies are a dead giveaway that some fruit in your home is going off or has already gone off.
But you will only see these when you store lemons on the counter or inside the pantry. Don’t ignore them, and don’t take them lightly. If they grow out of control, they can be very difficult to get rid of.
So, it’s best to immediately locate the source that is causing their presence. And get rid of it asap!
Now, believe it or not, lemons actually don’t smell when they go bad. So, it is very rare that you will pick up on any strange aromas before the other signs show themselves.
But, just to be safe, I’ll say it: if your lemons smell funny and taste funny, throw them out.
How Long Does Lemon Last
Now you may be curious how long lemons last in different temperatures. Lemon products have a different shelf life from each other. You may have whole lemons, fresh or store-bought lemon juice, lemon zest, or lemon slices. To give you a better idea, I’ll break it down for you.
Whole Fresh lemons
Whole lemons last about 1-2 weeks in the pantry and about one month in the fridge.
Fresh lemon juice and Store-bought lemon juice
Fresh lemon juice lasts a day at room temperature and four days in the fridge in an airtight container.
Unopened store-bought lemon juice bottles last 3-4 months in the pantry, while opened ones could stay fresh in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
Lemon zest or rind and lemon slices
Zest and lemon slices go bad after a day at room temperature but maintain flavor for a bit longer, up to one week, in the fridge in a freezer bag. Lemon slices last a maximum of five days in the fridge in a plastic wrap or freezer bag for your lemonade drinks needs.
FAQs – How To Tell If A Lemon Is Bad
Fresh lemons are uniformly bright yellow in color without any bruises and blemishes. They feel heavy for their size, which indicates that they are nice and juicy. They should also be firm in texture but not rock-hard. And finally, the best lemons are smooth and don’t have wrinkly edges.
Storing lemons in the fridge, away from other fruits that go bad easily, is the best way you can do. You can store them together with limes and other citrus fruits.
Many people think the acidity of lemons kills bacteria. This is not true. There are actually about 25 kinds of bacteria (some even deadly) that can grow in and on lemons. And remember, even if they grow on the outside, that doesn’t mean they cannot contaminate the inside and get on your food.