Citrus experts share the right way to store these fruits to keep them fresh.

A decorative bowl of oranges or a fruit display piled high with juicy grapefruits, pomelos, and tangerines looks fabulous, but is this aesthetically pleasing setup really how you should store these juicy fruits? We spoke to experts to find out the right way to store citrus for peak flavor and freshness.

How to Store Oranges and Other Citrus

While different types of citrus are distinct in flavor, color, size, and texture, they all belong to the same family, meaning they can all hang out together. "Storing citrus is the same across most varieties." says Christina Ward, senior director at Sunkist Growers, a cooperative of citrus farmers. Citrus can be stored at room temperature or in the refrigerator, but there is a clear winner when it comes to keeping your fruit fresh for longer.

On the Counter

If you're planning to eat the citrus or use it in your cooking the same day you bought it or the next day, you can store it at room temperature. "Keeping citrus at its peak is all about moisture," says Sunnia Gull, director of marketing for Sumo Citrus. "It will keep at room temperature for a couple of days."

And while a fruit bowl full of plump oranges and grapefruits looks stylish, note that the room temperature display will quicken the ripening process, "especially if you are piling everything on top of one another in a small bowl, where air circulation is severely diminished," says Gull. "Make sure you leave them in a cool room without direct sunlight." And after two or three days at room temperature, you'll want to move any remaining citrus into the fridge.

In the Refrigerator

To preserve the quality of citrus fruits and to keep them at their best, they should be refrigerated. "If refrigerated between 41 and 42 degrees Fahrenheit, citrus can be stored for three to six weeks," Ward says. "Grapefruit can be stored in warmer temps, up to 48 degrees."

If you buy citrus in plastic bags, don't store the fruits in the plastic—transfer them to a mesh bag before putting them in the crisper drawer. "This allows air to circulate and slows down the growth of mold, lesions, or softened rind," says Gull. "Place them in the veggie section and turn them occasionally to allow airflow." And don't cram them tightly into your crisper drawer; airflow is essential for maintaining citrus freshness, says Gull.

What if you made a big orange purchase or were gifted a box of mandarins and there's no room in your refrigerator? Follow the guidelines for room-temperature storage and transfer the citrus to your fridge when you can.

citrus fruits such as lemons, grapefruit, oranges and limes
Credit: Janelle Jones

Ways to Use Up Citrus

To extend the life of your fresh citrus, Ward recommends zesting and juicing fruit, or even making a jelly or jam. Orange Marmalade is a great use of all types of oranges. Glacéed orange slices are a nice dessert and last up to three weeks. Preserved lemons make a beautiful gift and are also great to have on hand for using in cooking. Citrus on its way out can also be turned into citrus chips, to snack on or used to garnish cocktails.

How to Know if Citrus Is Fresh

You'll know when fresh citrus has gone bad because the texture and scent are off. "Minor discoloration on the rind is normal," says Ward. "If it has a sour or fermented taste or smell, those are good signs to discard."

Mold is an obvious sign to toss the spoiled fruit, but if you're confused, Gull has a good test: "If the fruit looks OK, give it a gentle squeeze. It should have some give, but not much. If it's super soft, mushy, or dried out, it's time for it to go." If the citrusy smell is gone, or an off smell comes out, it's also time to say goodbye.


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