Q: How long can I keep my homemade jams and jellies on the shelf?
A: For best quality, it is recommended that all home-canned foods be used within a year. Most homemade jams and jellies that use a tested recipe, and have been processed in a canner for the recommended time, should retain best quality and flavor for up to that one year recommended time. All home-canned foods should be stored in a cool, dark, dry place, between 50-70°F. Over extended periods of time, however, changes in color, flavor, texture and nutrient content of home-canned jams and jellies is inevitable. A typical full-sugar fruit jam or jelly should be safe to eat if the jar seal remains intact and the product shows no visible signs of spoilage from molds or yeasts.
Additional reading about processing jams and jellies and storing home-canned foods:
Some jams and jellies may have a shorter shelf life than others for optimum quality. For example, lighter-colored jams and jellies may noticeably darken faster than others and not remain appealing for a whole year. Though this is not a safety concern, it may reduce the visual appeal of the product for many people. The type of fruit used will also affect other quality characteristics over time.
Reduced sugar jams and jellies may deteriorate in color and texture more quickly as they lack the full preservative effects of the sugar. Some fruits may darken more quickly with less sugar present. Flavor changes that occur over time become more evident if they are usually otherwise masked by the sugar.
Freezer/refrigerator jams and jellies are a distinct category of products that have to be stored in the refrigerator (usually up to 3 weeks) or frozen for up to a year.
It is always a good practice to carefully examine all home-canned jars of food for signs of spoilage
prior to opening and eating. If there is any mold on a jar of jam or jelly, or signs of other spoilage,
discard the entire contents of the jar or container. Follow the links below for additional reading on
testing jar seals when you first process jams and jellies and then identifying spoiled foods in storage:
Q: How long can I keep my homemade jams and jellies once I open them?
A: Opened home-canned jams and jellies should be kept in the refrigerator at 40°F or lower. “Regular” – or pectin-added, full-sugar – cooked jams and jellies are best stored for 1 month in the refrigerator after opening. They may last longer depending on the specific product and how it is used. The expected shelf life will be shortened by keeping the container frequently open and/or out at room temperature for long periods of time during use. At each use, you can spoon out the quantity of jam or jelly that you may require into a bowl, and replace the jar in the refrigerator quickly - this would ensure minimum exposure to sources of microbial contamination during use. Do examine the container regularly during storage for any signs of spoilage like molds, yeasts and off odors (including a fermented, “yeasty’,” or “alcohol” odor), once it is opened. Discard the entire contents of the container if these are detected.
Lower-sugar or no-sugar-added spreads may have a shorter refrigerated shelf life than those made with the traditional amounts of sugar. Natural flavor changes in the fruit base are more noticeable without the sugar to mask them; for example, some lower-sugar spreads may taste more tart or acidic over time. Light-colored spreads may also darken more quickly with less added sugar.
Freezer jams also have to be stored in the refrigerator after thawing and will only retain good quality for 3 to 4 weeks after opening. They are subject to more syneresis (“weeping” or separation of liquid from the gel) than cooked jams and jellies.
Note: For safe eating practices, store your opened jar of jam or jelly in the refrigerator until consumed, and examine it frequently for signs of spoilage (like mold or yeast growth, or off-odors, including “fermented,” “alcohol” or “yeasty” odors). Discard the product immediately if any signs of spoilage are detected.
This document was prepared by the National Center for Home Food Preservation, October 2005.