Lemon Juice as a Preservative to Improve Shelf Life

By Nannette Richford

Preserving your own food gives you control of the ingredients and lets you take advantage of a bumper crop of fruits and veggies from your garden. When preserved properly, they can last for months in the pantry, providing your family with a source of wholesome foods minus the additives and preservatives found in commercially prepared foods. But, fruits and veggies do require some preservatives to maintain their color, texture and flavor and to prevent the growth of bacteria. Lemon juice can be used as a natural preservative to keep your canned or dehydrated produce fresh and flavorful.

freshly squeezed lemon juice in small bowl
credit: rez-art/iStock/Getty Images
Small bowl of lemon juice.

Benefits of Lemon Juice

Lemon juice prevents fresh fruits and vegetables from discoloring due to oxidation, prevents or slows the growth of botulism bacteria and adds minimal amounts of vitamin C to your preserved food. It works by lowering the pH of the preserved foods to create an acidic environment that is not hospitable to bacterial growth. You can use bottled lemon juice, or cut open a fresh lemon and use the juice in canning or dehydrating your foods.

Lemon Juice in Canning

Canning refers to the process of packing fresh produce into sterilized canning jars and boiling them in water. Although the water is boiling, all botulism spores are not killed in the process unless you increase the acidity level of the fruits and veggies. That's where lemon juice comes in. Adding it to low-acid fruits and vegetables increases the acidity in the jars and stops botulism in its tracks. This extends the life of your canned good to many months. Canned fruits and vegetables remain safe to eat for 1 to 5 years, depending on the fruit or veggie. However, for best flavor and texture, they should be eaten within 12 months.

Lemon Juice in Dehydrating

Dehydrating fruits and vegetables produces dried foods that are lightweight and easy to store. They, of course, must be rehydrated in water or other liquid to restore them to their shape and size for cooking. To retain the best color and flavor, and to ward off the growth of bacteria in storage, treat the fruit or veggie sections with lemon juice before drying them. Dehydrated fruits and vegetables can be stored in a cool, dry area for up to a year.

Meats, Poultry and Seafood

Lemon juice is not used as a preservative when canning or dehydrating meat, poultry and seafood. These foods are typically cooked before canning or dehydrating and do not require the protective action of lemon juice. Sugar or salt work as a food preservative with meats, poultry and seafood. They also require processing in a pressure canner to subject them to higher temperatures to kill bacteria.