You are likely reading this article because you are wondering if jam or jelly can go bad and if you should eat that jar which has been sitting around on the shelf for some time. Or, maybe you are thinking of making your own homemade preserves and need to know how far in advance you can make it. Either way, I hope I can be of help.
How long does jelly and jam last? Government guidelines state that jelly or jam can be stored unopened for up to 12 months. However, homemade preserves canned in a boiling water bath can be stored in a cool dark place for up to two years. Once opened, jam should be refrigerated and stored for up to three months and jelly for up to one year.
I come from a long line of jelly makers. Fortunately, I never really had to worry much about how long jelly or jam lasts since the stuff usually gets eaten long before it can go bad. Even so, occasionally it will sit around for a while. This seems like an important topic and I’ve often wondered about the shelf life of unopened, sealed, or opened preserves, so I did a bit of research. This article will cover my findings along with the knowledge I have obtained from a lifetime of preserving.
How to Tell If Jam/Jelly Is Bad
Here are some things to look for when checking whether jam/jelly has gone bad:
Is mold growing on the surface?
If mold is present, discard the jar immediately. Unlike cheese that you can just trim the mold off and eat the rest, mold on jam and jelly can produce toxins that can leach into the product and make the entire jar unsafe to eat.
Do you detect an “off” odor that could smell like yeast or alcohol, a fermented odor?
This jar should also be discarded immediately as this type of odor will indicate spoilage.
Has the jam or jelly changed color, usually to a brownish shade?
This jam/jelly will still be good if the other indicators are not present. Even though over time the jam/jelly may change color, it will still taste good and will be safe to eat. Just scoop the top off that has changed color and enjoy the rest.
Has liquid formed on top and around the sides of the jam/jelly?
This will still be good as long as there is no mold or strange odor. I’ve noticed homemade jam/jelly over time will begin to discolor and change texture a little, but it will still be good.
There should be few problems with jam/jelly that is processed with the correct amount of sugar. Low sugar and sugar-free products are more likely to spoil as they do not have the benefits of sugar acting as a preservative.
What Is the Shelf Life of Homemade Jam/Jelly?
According to the National Center For Home Food Preservation, an unopened jar of homemade jam or jelly should maintain maximum quality if stored properly for up to one year. If you have purchased or made homemade jam/jelly, the date it was made should be added to the label. This will help you to use up the older products so you don’t run the risk of having to discard any. Too good to throw away, right?
Even though the guidelines recommend that homemade jam or jelly should maintain maximum quality if stored properly for up to one year, as a jelly maker for many years, jelly will still be good for as long as four or five years from now if stored properly, if the jar is intact, and if the seal is undisturbed. The jelly may start to darken slightly and have some liquid forming on top or around the sides after about two years, but it should still taste good and be safe to use.
For homemade jam, however, I would be more hesitant to use after being stored for about 2 years.
I make it a habit to occasionally check my stores of canned and preserved products to make sure the seals are still good. All you have to do is touch the middle of the lid and if the lid is still concave and doesn’t give when you gently press on it, the seal is still intact.
What Is the Shelf Life of Commercially Produced Jam/Jelly?
- For Commercial Jam, an unopened commercially produced jar of strawberry jam should maintain its best quality for a period of 6 to 12 months past its printed use by date.
- For Commercial Jelly, an unopened commercially produced jar of grape jelly should maintain its best quality for a period of two years past its printed use by date.
A commercial product will be marked with a date that signifies the length of time the manufacturer estimates you can expect maximum quality from that product. That doesn’t mean that an expired product is no longer good or safe to use. It just means that at some time after the expiration date, the product may begin to change color slightly, the flavor may not be as intense, and the texture may be somewhat altered and you may begin to see some liquid on the surface.
Pro Tip: If the jam/jelly has been opened, as long as it has been stored properly, the jar is undamaged, and there is no sign of spoilage, it is safe to eat after the expiration date indicated.
How Long Does a Jar of Commercially Produced or Homemade Jam/Jelly Last Once Opened
Most sources agree that any type of jam or jelly stays good for at least a year after opening if it has been refrigerated, has been tightly covered, the jar is undamaged, and there are no obvious signs of spoilage. The product should be at peak flavor for that period of time. Even after the jam/jelly has been opened and kept refrigerated for a year, there may begin to be some changes in color, taste, and texture, but it should remain safe to eat for quite some time. If the jam/jelly develops an odd odor, appearance, or has mold growing on it, discard it immediately.
Refrigerated Jam or Jelly Typically Lasts
- Homemade Jam or Jelly: 6 Months to 1 Year
- Low Sugar Jam or Jelly: 8-9 Months
- Sugar-Free Jam or Jelly: 6-9 Months
- Apple Butter: 2-3 Months (FYI)
How Long Does Freezer Jam Last?
According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, freezer jam only stays good in the freezer for up to 12 months. After opened, freezer jam only maintains its optimum condition and flavor in the refrigerator up to 3 or 4 weeks.
Factors That Contribute to Shelf Life
Despite the “guidelines” out there, I have kept homemade jelly, made with the recommended amount of sugar and a boiling water bath, in my cupboard for up to 5 years that was perfectly good when opened. So, as you can see there are certain factors that can either extend or shorten the life of jams and jellies. Let’s take a look at these following factors:
1. The Type of Jam/Jelly That You Have
Whether you have jam or jelly and the type or flavor of jam or jelly that you have can affect its shelf life.
- Jam or jelly made with fruit that is lighter in color has a shorter shelf life than the darker fruits. They begin to discolor after about six months and no longer look appealing. The taste should be the same, but the visual appeal is just not there.
- Jam or jelly made without sugar or with an artificial or alternative sweetener has a shorter shelf life as sugar is one of the better preservatives. Those products produced without sugar or with artificial or alternative sweeteners may begin to darken after about 3 to 6 months, and you may begin to see liquid forming on the surface. At that point, they deteriorate rapidly.
- The shelf life of jam is approximately one half the shelf life of jelly.
2. The Ingredients in Your Jam/Jelly
Commercial Jam/Jelly: Jam and jelly which is commercially produced contain fruit or juice, sugar, and pectin. However, commercial jam or jelly may also contain some additives. One such additive is a coloring agent to give lighter fruits a more appealing color. Another additive could be a preservative such as potassium sorbate, which is believed to be relatively safe. However, some producers of commercial jam and jelly use sodium benzoate as a preservative, which is potentially a carcinogen.
Homemade Jam/Jelly: Homemade jam and jelly should only contain 100% fruit or fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. However, some jelly makers add a small amount (usually ½ teaspoon per batch) of butter to reduce foaming. There is no apparent problem associated with adding the small amount of butter, and adding the butter to the jam/jelly saves a lot of time that you would spend trying to scoop all the foam off a batch of the jam/jelly you are making.
3. The Process That Produced Your Jam/Jelly
Commercial Jam/Jelly: Commercially produced jam and jelly are made by a similar process that is required by the Food and Drug Administration. This process maximizes the shelf life of all their products.
Homemade Jam/Jelly: Home canners and jelly makers have more latitude in their jelly and jam making processes. For example, most jam makers use a recipe and process that includes adding sugar, bringing to a boil for 1 minute and then a ten minute boiling water bath. However, some jelly makers forego the boiling water bath method and use a recipe similar to the one listed below. I have made jelly using both methods and over the past 10 or so years have not noticed a significant difference in the shelf life of products made by the two methods.
Interesting Fact: My favorite homemade jelly recipe foregoes the boiling water bath method and is for Mayhaw Jelly. The Mayhaw, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a Hawthorn berry that grows in the southeast and looks like a small apple. The Mayhaw berries are very tart and not good to eat, but they make a wonderful, very flavorful jelly!
Here is the recipe:
Jelly Grandma’s Homemade Mayhaw Jelly
- 5 cups prepared juice
- 7 cups sugar
- 1 package fruit pectin or 4 tablespoons bulk pectin
- ½ teaspoon butter (optional)
- Combine juice, butter, and pectin in a large pot or Dutch oven (do not use aluminum). By the way, just in case you are interested, here is the Amazon listing for my favorite pectin.
- Turn burner to its highest setting and stir to combine the ingredients.
- When the juice mixture comes to a full rolling boil (a boil that cannot be stirred down), add sugar, stir, and bring back to a full rolling boil.
- Stir and reduce heat to medium and cook for 7-9 minutes, depending on how firm you like jelly.
- Quickly ladle into prepared jars, leaving ⅛ inch headroom at the top of the jars.
- Wipe jar rims and threads.
- Affix lids, screwing bands tightly.
- Place jars upright on a towel and allow to cool completely.
For more details, here is a full guide on making homemade jam or jelly.
4. How Long Does Homemade Jam Last Without Canning?
As an “old-fashioned” jam and jelly maker, I had never imagined making any of the sweet treats without the canning process. But, low and behold, I’ve recently read some articles written by folks who are just simply taking fresh fruit, adding sugar, and cooking it down until it has thickened and is of jam-like consistency. They then store any extra in the refrigerator or freezer.
But, on second thought, that’s exactly how my grandmother made her jam and jelly! She, however, had to put her’s in canning jars and process it because they had no refrigeration.
The jam/jelly made without canning would have a shelf life the same as freezer jam, 3 months in the freezer and 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator.
5. Sugar-Free and Artificial/ Alternative Sweeteners Affect on Shelf Life
Sugar acts as a preservative and is good for extending the shelf life of jam and jelly made with sufficient amounts of sugar. However, many people, for health and dietary reasons and to help with weight control, prefer to use sugar-free products or products made with artificial or alternative sweeteners. Some jam and jelly made without using sugar are very good, but leaving the sugar out drastically reduces the shelf life of these products. Here are some examples:
Jam/jelly made with Artificial Sweeteners – The only artificial sweetener I would recommend is the Truvia Baking Blend. Other products such as Splenda are not made to cook with and do not perform well when heated.
I must add a little note here. Truvia is not really an artificial sweetener as it is a Stevia product which is actually a natural alternative to sugar. The jam/jelly made with Truvia is delicious but is very difficult to get to gel properly, and extra pectin must be used to come close to a jam- or jelly-like consistency. The shelf life for the jam/jelly made with Truvia would be approximately 6-9 months and would last in the refrigerator after opening an additional 6-9 months.
- Honey- Keeps up to a year before opened, but only a few weeks after opening. Watch for changes in color, taste, and consistency.
- Agave- As with honey, keeps up to a year before opened, but only a few weeks after opening. Here also, watch for changes in color, taste, and consistency.
- Molasses- Should keep from 9 months to a year before opening, but as with the other alternatives will only keep a few weeks in the refrigerator after opening.
What Are the Best Possible Conditions to Store Unopened Jam/Jelly?
- All commercially produced and home-canned foods, including jam and jelly, should be stored in a cool space in which the temperature should remain between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The storage space should be dark and never exposed to direct or indirect sunlight nor bright light of any kind.
- The pantry or storage area should be dry and as free from high humidity as possible.
What Are Some Conditions that Would Reduce the Shelf Life of your Jam/Jelly?
- Canned foods should never be allowed to sit in a sunny place such as a windowsill or a porch as the light will degrade the nutrients and change the color and texture of the canned goods.
- Jam and jelly should never be left in an enclosed hot space such as the inside of a car, or an area that is subject to temperature changes.
- Jam or jelly that has been opened should not be left out of the refrigerator for an extended period of time.
How long jam and jelly lasts depends on a number of things including the type of ingredients used, the type of process used in the preparation, and the conditions under which it is stored, before and after the jar is opened.
But, jam and jelly that contains sugar as a sweetener, a cooking process that includes a boiling water bath, storage before opening in a cool dark environment and after opening in the refrigerator should have a shelf life of at least 2 years before being opened and at least another year in the refrigerator after being opened.
So grab that jar of jelly that has been hiding in the pantry since Grandma gave it to you last Christmas and enjoy that preserved sweetness!