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Do I Need to Refrigerate Citrus Fruits?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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There is no defined need to refrigerate citrus fruits, but chilling can prolong their shelf life. All varieties of citrus are stable at room temperature. Refrigeration often adds a week or more to the fruits’ ripeness, but is by no means required.

Extending Shelf Life

There are many varieties of citrus fruits, from the familiar lemon and grapefruit to the blood orange or the pomelo. No matter how different they may look or taste, all share certain characteristics and commonalities, particularly when it comes to storage.

Fruit growers and greengrocers often recommend that consumers refrigerate citrus fruits, especially if bought in bulk. Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (about 10 degrees Celsius) help to stall the ripening and eventual decay of citrus fruits, making refrigeration an ideal way to preserve their shelf life. A refrigerated citrus fruit usually stays fresh for about a week and a half, while that same fruit on the counter might last only three or four days.

Proper Storage Techniques

Choosing to refrigerate citrus fruits is not a guarantee of longer life, however. If stored improperly, the fruits can actually spoil faster in the cold than they would simply sitting out. Citruses should be placed either individually on a refrigerator shelf or in a crisping drawer, else held in a perforated plastic bag.

Storing citrus in paper can cause gas to build up, which leads to mold and taste variances. Sealed plastic bags are usually no better, as they promote condensation and moisture, even in cold settings, often leads to decay. For this reason, washing citrus fruits before storage is not usually recommended.

Placement can also be a concern. Most of the time, one should not refrigerate citrus fruits alongside vegetables. Fruits in the citrus family tend to have a very high acid content, which can spoil certain vegetables — particularly leafy greens — if stored in close proximity. In some cases, low does of gas emitted from these same greens can also alter the fruit’s taste. Keeping citrus segregated in the fridge, either in a bag, on a shelf, or in a dedicated drawer, is usually the best policy.

Considerations for Peeled Citrus

The only instance in which one might legitimately need to refrigerate citrus fruit is if the fruit has already been unpeeled or cut. Once a citrus has lost its peel, the fruit is vulnerable and very susceptible to drying and spoilage. Opened citrus must usually be covered, either with tight-fitting plastic or in a sealed container, and chilled in order to prevent contamination. Aluminum foil is usually discouraged, as the acids in the fruit react negatively with many metal alloys.

Downsides to Refrigeration

The choice to refrigerate citrus fruit has but one major tradeoff: juiciness. When fruits are chilled, their juices tend to run more slowly, and they may taste drier. It is often harder to extract juice from chilled fruit, even with a juice press, as the flesh tends to hold onto moisture when cold.

Most of the time, juiciness is restored when the fruit is returned to room temperature. Sometimes, rolling a chilled fruit can also release some of its moisture. When juice is on the agenda, it is usually best to pull fruit out of the refrigerator about 12 hours in advance.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon202096 — On Aug 01, 2011

I usually try to stick to a rule of storing food at home the way it was displayed at the grocery store. If it was refrigerated at the store, it gets refrigerated at my house. If it was at room temperature at the store, I keep it out of the refrigerator, and so on. But that rule doesn't always work with citrus fruit. By and large, unrefrigerated citrus fruit seems to taste better, unless I plan on turning it into cold juice soon. To me, it's like putting potatoes in the refrigerator.

Eventually all of the natural sugar of a citrus fruit converts to something less sweet, like the starch in potatoes eventually converts to something less flavorful when refrigerated.

The first time I visited an ALDI no-frills grocery store, I was surprised to see almost all of their fruits and vegetables displayed in a regular, non-refrigerated aisle. I'd been raised to believe that fresh fruits and vegetables had to be kept in special refrigerated display cases with a regular supply of water sprayed on them. Apparently that's not the case, since the fruit at ALDI is good and fresh-tasting without the added refrigeration or watering.

By Catapult — On Jan 07, 2011

I try not to refrigerate oranges, apples, bananas, or really any other kind of fresh fruit. I don't think they taste as good cold, so I try not to unless they are starting to get overripe. I am the same way when storing carrots or other fresh vegetables. I would rather keep peppers, tomatoes, and other fresh vegetables at room temperature if I am planning on using them in the first three days or so after I purchase them.

By helene55 — On Jan 06, 2011

I have kept some citrus fruits out of the refrigerator for close to two weeks, though for me it also depended on the size of the fruit. Large oranges can keep for awhile, either in or out of the refrigerator. Smaller varieties, like tangerines, don't keep for as long unless they have some sort of coating on their peel, which they sometimes do when you buy them in a store or order them from a delivery company.

The amount of time also depends on whether or not they are ripe. Fully ripened fresh citrus fruits will last way less time that fruits that were picked a little too early.

By obsessedwithloopy — On Jan 03, 2009

Lemons will hold well at room temperature, away from heat and sun for up to a week. However, stored in the refrigerator sealed in a plastic bag they will keep up to three weeks.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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