In today’s world, citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges are abundant and easily accessible. However, it’s important to remember that they were once considered rare and luxurious. Over time, we have forgotten how to properly care for these fruits to ensure their lasting flavor. In this article, we will explore some best practices for storing lemons, limes, and other citrus fruits.


Citrus fruits belong to a diverse family of hybrids, including lemons, limes, grapefruits, and oranges. These fruits are descended from a few core species such as pomelos, citrons, and mandarin oranges. With numerous cultivars available for consumption, it becomes challenging to provide specific storage advice for each one. However, we can establish some general guidelines for the most commonly found citrus fruits in supermarkets.


The question of whether to store whole citrus fruits in the refrigerator or on the counter depends on your timeframe for consumption. For optimal quality, lemons, limes, oranges, and grapefruits can be kept at room temperature if you plan to consume them within a week of purchase. It is best to store them in an unlidded container with airflow vents, such as a colander or fruit basket, away from direct sunlight.


Citrus fruits are non-climacteric, meaning they do not continue to ripen once harvested. Many citrus fruits are picked when they are still green on the outside, even though they are perfectly ripe within. To ensure a uniform color in the peel, citrus growers use a process called de-greening, exposing the fruits to ethylene gas post-harvest. Storing citrus fruits next to ethylene producers like bananas will not affect their flavor or accelerate their spoilage on the countertop.


If you plan to store citrus fruits for longer than a week, it is advisable to place them in the refrigerator. This helps prevent bacterial fermentation and the growth of molds like penicillium. According to UC Davis, keeping uncut fruits in perforated plastic bags in the produce drawer provides the optimum shelf life. Different cultivars have different temperature preferences. For instance, some Florida oranges are best stored between 32 and 34 degrees Fahrenheit, while Arizona-grown Valencia oranges prefer a warmer temperature of 48 degrees. If you have locally grown citrus, it is best to consult the producer for specific storage recommendations.


When it comes to cutting citrus, the situation changes. Citrus juice is highly perishable, and once you cut open the fruit, its flavor, and texture begin to degrade rapidly. Volatile aroma compounds start to dissipate, while oxidation and microbial contamination set in, resulting in off-flavors. Even exposure to light can alter the flavor of orange juice, creating an oxidized or cooked taste.


Therefore, it is recommended to use freshly cut or juiced citrus as soon as possible to avoid unnecessary food waste and ensure the best flavor. Freshly squeezed orange juice usually lasts two to three days in the refrigerator but will never taste as good as the day it was juiced. Beyond a few days, there is also a risk of harmful bacterial overgrowth, including listeria and salmonella, which are commonly found in citrus. Freezing fresh citrus juice is an option, but it may result in a reduction in flavor and potential foodborne illness if the juice wasn’t pasteurized.


If you find yourself with cut or zested citrus that needs storage, it is important to refrigerate it to prevent microbial overgrowth. One study discovered that salmonella can survive on the peel of lemons and limes for up to 24 hours at room temperature. Storing the wedges on ice or in the refrigerator reduces bacterial growth.