Over the years, my sister has often kept a jar of jelly on the table for breakfast. No one ever thought much of it. Then, one day I noticed that the manufacturers put on the label that the product should be refrigerated after opening. In fact, it seems as if they put that same message on every single type of food sold in a can or jar.
So do jams and jellies have to be refrigerated after opening? No, even though most commercially produced jams and jellies have instructions on the label to refrigerate after opening. However, they will certainly last much longer when kept cold. Jam or jelly will generally keep up to 30 days unrefrigerated and at least 6 months refrigerated.
Here is the shelf life of a few common types of preserves:
|Type||Shelf Life In Fridge||Table Shelf Life|
|Homemade Jam or Jelly||6-12 Months||1 Month|
|Low Sugar Jam or Jelly||8-9 Months||Do not leave out|
|Sugar-Free Jam or Jelly||6-9 Months||Do not leave out|
|Apple Butter||2-3 Months||1 month|
|Freeze Jam||1 month||Do not leave out|
Now let’s explore the subject in greater detail.
How Long Does Jam and Jelly Last Once Opened?
How long jam and jelly lasts depends on many things including the ingredients, how it was processed, and how it is stored, before and after the jar is opened.
Jam and jelly that has sugar as a sweetener, was made with a boiling water bath, and was stored before opening in a cool dark place should have a shelf life of at least 2 years before being opened. And, most people agree that any type of jam or jelly stays good for at least a year after opening if it has been refrigerated, if it has been kept tightly covered, and if the jar is undamaged.
It is easy to tell that it is still good as there should be no obvious signs of spoilage. Even after the jam or jelly has been opened and kept refrigerated for a year, it should still be good and safe to eat even if there are some changes in color, taste, and texture. If the jam or jelly develops an odd odor, appearance, or has mold growing on it, discard it right away.
But, the question is, how long does jam or jelly last after it has been opened. Most sources agree that these types of food should last at least 30 days if handled properly. Here is a recommended chart for how long jam and jelly lasts after opening with refrigeration and without:
- Homemade Jam or Jelly: Lasts 6 Months to 1 Year with refrigeration and 1 month without refrigeration.
- Low Sugar Jam or Jelly: Lasts 8-9 Months with refrigeration. It is not recommended that low sugar jam and jelly be left unrefrigerated after opening as reduced sugar will not preserve sufficiently.
- Sugar-Free Jam or Jelly: Lasts 6-9 Months with refrigeration. It should be refrigerated after opening because it does not have the preservative benefits of sugar.
- Apple Butter: Lasts 2-3 Months with refrigeration. It should last up to 1 month after opening without refrigeration.
- Freezer Jam: Lasts about 1 month in the refrigerator after opening, and should not be left unrefrigerated as they normally would not go through the canning process.
How to Tell If Jam/Jelly Has Gone Bad
If your jams and jellies are processed correctly and contain the right amount of sugar, there should not be any problems with them going bad. Jam and jelly that is made using a low-sugar or sugar-free process will be much more likely to spoil. They do not have the benefit of the preservative properties of sugar.
Even so, here are a few things to look for:
- Mold- There could be mold growing on the surface. If you see mold growing on the food, just discard the entire contents of the jar immediately. Canned food is not like cheese. You can’t just scoop the mold off and eat the rest. Mold on canned food can produce toxins that could leach into the product and ruin the entire container. Some mold is not toxic, but it is better not to take a chance. Just dispose of the food in the jar and recycle your good canning jar.
- Smell- If you detect an “off” odor that smells like yeast or alcohol, this food should be discarded right away.
- Color- If the jam or jelly changes color, but none of the other indicators are present, usually this jam or jelly will still be good. Over time jam or jelly may change color but will still taste good and will be safe to eat. Just scoop off the discolored part and enjoy the rest.
What If There Is Excess Liquid?
If liquid has formed on the top and around the sides of the jam or jelly but no other indicators are present, the food should still be good to eat. I’ve noticed the texture of homemade jam/jelly over time will begin to change a little, but it will still be good.
Things That Help Jam and Jelly Last Longer
- Refrigerate after opening.
- If not refrigerated after opening:
- Keep jar lidded to avoid airborne contamination.
- Use a spoon or other utensil that is dedicated solely to the jar of jelly to avoid cross-contamination with other food.
- Keep outside, rim, and jar lid clean to avoid contamination.
- Store jar in a cool, dry place.
What to do if You Have too Many Opened Jars of Jam or Jelly
Jam and jelly that has been opened can be re-processed if you don’t plan to use it for a while. Just scoop the contents into a pot and bring to a full rolling boil. Pour into jars that have been sterilized and prepared as you do for any jam/jelly, and use new lids to seal. After it has cooled and sealed, it can be stored in your pantry until you are ready to use it.
- Make Cookies
There are many cookie recipes that call for a jam topping. You could use any basic sugar cookie recipe, form into 1 inch balls, use your fingertip to make a small well in the center of the ball, fill the well with 1/2 teaspoon of any flavor jam, and bake at 375 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!
- Make a Jelly Cake
My mother used to make a plain yellow cake in 3 or 4 layers and use jelly as a frosting. She would allow the cake to cool slightly and spread the jelly while still warm. She also had a recipe for a last-minute fruitcake that called for a jar of blackberry jam.
- Make Sandwiches
Make a lot of peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese with jelly sandwiches. You can also spread it on biscuits.
- Use it in sauces
Sweet and sour meatballs prepared in the crockpot by adding the meatballs to a sauce made of grape jelly and chili sauce are out of this world, and pork loin with a mayhaw jelly sauce will get rave reviews!
Refrigerator and Freezer Jam
Most recipes for refrigerator and freezer jam do not require the full canning process and would not be safe to eat if left unrefrigerated after opening.
Preserving Jams & Jellies Was Invented to Make Fruit Keep Longer
The canning process was developed at a time when there was little or no refrigeration, so those people who first started making jam and jelly certainly did not refrigerate. That was the purpose of the development of this process.
People needed to be able to “put up” their food when it was ripe so that it could be eaten all year round. They were putting up or preserving their food for the winter, sometimes in a root cellar. Not only does this process allow the food to be stored until needed, but the sugar content acting as a preservative will certainly allow the food to stay good after it is opened. And many people today do not refrigerate their jam, jelly, and other condiments after they have been opened.
But, having said that, we all have refrigerators now, so why not use them. Your jam and jelly that will last approximately 30 days after opening without refrigeration will last 6 months to a year if refrigerated. That means if you eat a lot of jam or jelly or other preserved fruit products, it would be fine to just leave them on the table, kitchen counter, or cabinet after they are opened.
However, if you are like me and just eat a spoonful every once in a while, it would be better and the jams and jellies will last a lot longer if you store them in the refrigerator after opening. If you decide not to refrigerate these foods after opening, there are some things you can do to make sure the food stays good as long as possible and certain things to look for to make sure you are not eating spoiled food.
There are many people on both sides of the controversy of whether jam and jelly and many condiments should be refrigerated after opening. Jam and jelly will most certainly stay good for a longer period of time after opening if refrigerated, but it can be left unrefrigerated safely for approximately one month if handled properly so that contamination does not occur.
If not refrigerating this food, it is a good idea to check it carefully before eating to make sure it doesn’t have an odd smell and does not have any mold growing on it. If you have opened too many jars of jam and jelly over the holidays to fit into your refrigerator, there are some suggestions listed above of things to do with some of those sweet treats. To each his own, so they say, but as for me, I’m refrigerating my jam, jelly, and condiments after they have been opened.
For more, don’t miss Do Eggs Really Need to Be Refrigerated? | Storage Guide.
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