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How to Tell if Lemon Has Gone Bad (with photos!)

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Lemons are one of the most useful ingredients you can have in your kitchen. It's helpful to know the signs of a lemon gone bad though, so you use your lemons when they are at their peak. Not all spots on a lemon mean it's unsafe to eat, so we'll show you how to different mold from dark spots.

Old lemons have an astringent flavor and less juice. They can be composted or thrown away, but lemons that have gone bad should not be consumed.

Fresh lemons should be slightly firm, heavy for their size, and have a pleasant citrus aroma. They should be free of soft spots, mold, and slippery skin.

Fresh lemons can be stored for up to a month if kept in the right conditions in the refrigerator.

Two rotten lemons on a marble background.
Molding lemons with marks.
A rotten lemon cut in half next to a molding lemon.
A molding lemon and a dry lemon cut in half.

Signs of Rot in Lemons

Look for these signs to see if your lemon has gone bad.

  1. Mold - older lemons may develop white, green, dark brown, or black mold. The mold may be furry or look wet. It usually develops on the outer skin but may be inside the lemon as well.
  2. Soft Spots - rotten lemons may have mushy spots or wet pockmarked areas. The mushy spots may be a slightly darker yellow, brown, or black.
  3. Dry Flesh - if the lemon feels light or you cut it open and it looks dry or the flesh has pulled away from the skin and feels gummy, the lemon is past its prime.
  4. Smell - if the lemon has a strong acrid or ammonia-like smell, it is past its prime and shouldn't be eaten. It won't taste good and you shouldn't use the juice (even if you are cooking it).
A rotten lemon cut in half next to a molding lemon.

The Best Way to Store Lemons

Fresh lemons are best when kept in a sealed bag in the crisper or vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. They will keep for up to a month.

You can keep them at room temperature in a fruit bowl on your counter for up to one week.

Halved or peeled lemons will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator when stored in a Ziplock bag or wrapped in plastic wrap. They may dry out slightly, so use them as soon as possible.

Lemons can be frozen whole or in slices in a freezer bag. The consistency of the lemon will change, but the juice can still be used or they can be blended whole and used in baked goods or lemonade.

Lemon FAQs

How long do lemons keep in the fridge?

Fresh lemon will keep for up to 1 month in the refrigerator when stored in an airtight bag or container.

Can you cut the moldy spots off lemons?

Mold should not be cut off lemons. When there is mold on the surface of a lemon, it has actually gone deeper into the lemon than may be visible to the naked eye.

It's best to be safe and discard any lemons with mold.

Do you need to store lemons in the fridge?

No, you don't have to store lemons in the fridge. They'll keep for up to a week at room temperature. A bowl of lemons on your counter can be both beautiful and useful!

Are lemons with a bad smell okay to eat?

Lemon with an acrid or sour smell shouldn't be eaten. Lemons have a strong citrus smell, but anything that smells "off" should be discarded.

How long do cut lemons last?

Cut lemons will keep for up to 5 days when stored in the refrigerator. Store them in a Ziplock bag, airtight container, or wrap them in plastic wrap.

Can you freeze lemons?

Yes, you can freeze lemons. They'll keep for up to 6 months in the freezer.

The consistency of the flesh changes slightly, so they won't be good for garnishes. But you can use them for their juice or blend them whole and add them to smoothies, lemonade, and baked goods.