See how long milk really lasts - and how you can keep it longer (2023)

We interviewed dairy and food safety experts to find out how long milk can last past its expiration date.

HUNDREDS OF KITCHEN SCENARIOS - You wake up wanting a big bowl of cerealCookies Need a Dipping Buddy—they all end the same way: you stand by the fridge, fingers crossed, nose in a carton of milk, praying it's not as old as you think, and hoping it doesn't have that telltale rotten smell. Oh we've all been there wonderingHow long can milk be stored after the best before date?

Let's be honest:Best before datesit can be confusing and doesn't necessarily indicate when food has gone bad. (It's hard to treat them as gospel whenbottling dates for bottled waterthey're a thing, too!) So it's no wonder so many people doubt whether their milk really passed the sniff test and ultimately make an emergency trip to the nearest grocery store to trade in the questionable package.

Deeply confused by the many expiration dates stamped on your gallon of moo juice? We consulted dairy experts for definitive answers on how long milk keeps, whether date labeling is required or required by federal agencies like the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) or the Food and Drug Administration. (FDA), how to tell if the milk has run out. bad and how to prolong its lifespan. Well, it turns out that you can follow some of the recommended onesMeat Storage Guidelinesor similar strategies to avoidexpired eggs, but there are also a handful of standards and practices specific to dairy products.

How long can milk be stored after the best before date?

There are many factors that affect how long milk can be kept after the best before date. The bigger question is whether the milk has been pasteurized, which John A. Lucey, director of the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, defines as "the process of heating each particle of milk or milk product in a properly designed and operated. ." one of specified pasteurization time/temperature combinations designed to destroy all human pathogens," in a 2015 article published in the journalnutrition today.

See how long milk really lasts - and how you can keep it longer (1), Getty Images (3)

How long does raw milk last?

Because raw milk "hasn't been put through a heat step to reduce the bacteria count, it will spoil and spoil more quickly," says Amit Shah, senior director of quality at Maple Hill Creamery in New York. He points out that pasteurization is regulated and necessary to sell bulk milk in the United States.

According to Alex O'Brien, food safety and quality coordinator at the University of Wisconsin Dairy Research Center, that means raw milk can be drunk for seven days.

Until the early 20th century, milk was a common vector of foodborne diseases such as typhoid fever, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis. In 1938, O'Brien says, dairy products accounted for 25% of recalls. He compares that to the current 1%. For this reason, the sale of raw milk to the general public is illegal in many situations and states. “It significantly increases the risk of foodborne illness because pathogens, includingListeria monocytogenes,Salmonella spp.,CAmpylobacter jejuniyMycobacterium bovis, they were not destroyed,” he says.

How long does pasteurized milk last?

Pasteurized milk will generally keep for three weeks to a month after processing, as long as it is properly refrigerated. It doesn't matter if it's fat-free, low-fat, healthy, or lactose-free. The Cornell University Department of Food Sciences estimates that unopened milk has a shelf life of two to five days past its expiration date, although experts say it should be good for a week. The university recommends drinking an open container of milk as soon as possible (say, within a few days) for the freshest taste. O'Brien says that opened milk generally has a shelf life of seven days after the printed date.

Buy aseptic milk and your package will last even longer, between 30 and 90 days if stored properly and unopened. This type of milk undergoes ultra-high temperature pasteurization and is packaged in sterile containers in a sterile environment "to ensure that no bacteria or pathogens are introduced to contaminate the milk," according to Maple Hill co-founder Julia Joseph. "Aseptic milk has a shelf life and doesn't need to be refrigerated until it's opened," she says. "It tastes the same, it's perfectly safe to drink, and Maple Hill guarantees [their milk] will last 50 days."

Ultra-high-temperature pasteurization increases the shelf life of milk in a sealed container, but once it's opened, the clock starts ticking, too. According to the Department of Food Sciences at Cornell University, you should drink it within 7-10 days of opening.

Are there other factors that influence how long milk can be kept after the best before date?

Regarding the type of milk, the experts agreed that only two characteristics, whether raw or pasteurized, make a significant difference when determining the time period for milk quality. You don't see much difference in shelf life between skim, low-fat, full-fat, or lactose-free milk, as long as they've all gone through the pasteurization process.

Storage details and consumer handling habits play a larger role in how long milk stays fresh. It is difficult to determine how long milk will last past the expiration date because many things can cause milk to change. "There are so many factors that affect how quickly milk spoils," says Shah. "Quality of the milk on the farm, type of processing, type of container, temperature during transport, storage temperature, how long it was open on the table, whether people drink directly from the container."

Unlike certainFoods that should never be refrigerated, Milk should be kept cold, according to Megan Holdaway, RDN, manager of nutritional science for the California Dairy Council. "The ideal storage temperature for milk is between 34 and 38 degrees, and storing pasteurized milk at temperatures above 45 degrees dramatically shortens its shelf life."

What do milk expiration dates mean?

According to the FDA, “An estimated 20% of consumers are confused about datingfood waste.” People often throw away items based on this data, believing it to indicate when food has become unsafe to eat, but the reality is more complex.

There are no federal laws or regulations that require manufacturers to put an expiration date on food or beverages, with the exception of infant formula. And there are no single or universally accepted definitions for the myriad of date types used by businesses.

The dates are a rough guide to quality, not safety, according to Holdaway. Therefore, it is not an exact science to determine how long milk will keep after its best before date. "The milk will most likely be drinkable after the date printed on the package," she says. (Although there are someFoods you should never eat after the expiration date.)

But Shah is sure of one thing: "The quality of the milk will deteriorate after the date printed on the package," he says.

So how do manufacturers determine what data to add to different products? “Products are dated in two ways: an expiration date, which gives an estimated period of time when the product will be of the best quality, or a production date, a code or series of numbers printed on the label to indicate the date. identify and production time,” Holdaway says. “Meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products often have a best before datecanned productsand non-perishable items have the production date on the outer packaging.”

Ultimately, dairies can decide whether to add a date and what text to use. O'Brien adds that some labels are aimed at the consumer, while others are more useful for retailers and stores, as they suggest when inventory should be rotated or removed from shelves.

Expiration dates explained

Below are some of the most likely dates you'll find on food and drink packaging.

  • BBD o BBD:Indicates the date on which a product should be consumed for sensory and quality reasons. This label is intended for the consumer. The FDA's preferred label is "best if used before."
  • Sell ​​for:It tells the store how long to keep the product on sale. Retailers rely on this data to manage inventory.
  • Use by:The last recommended date to use the product at its highest quality. It does not indicate food safety, according to Holdaway, except when used for infant formula.
  • Expires through:You won't see this in dairy, according to Mark Johnson, associate director of the University of Wisconsin Dairy Research Center. But you can notice it in other articles.
  • Freeze by:Indicates when to freeze a product to maintain maximum quality.

Most manufacturers also use acolor coded labeling system for milkBut colorful caps and labels have nothing to do with milk safety or drinkability programs. This is all about the percentage of fat in the milk.

How do you know if the milk has gone bad?

However, there isGroceries that never expiresuch as honey, sugar, etc.Sal, Milk definitely does not fall into this category. A buildup of bacteria, yeast, or mold will eventually spoil and spoil the milk. Fortunately, it is very easy to identify rotten milk using sensory cues.

"In general, trust your senses," says O'Brien. "If it doesn't look right or smell right, it's probably spoiled."

He says that the strange discoloration, coagulation, and separation suggest that "the bacteria are producing enough acid to precipitate the proteins." In other words, his milk has gone bad.

O'Brien adds that the breakdown of proteins and triglycerides in milk can lead to off-flavors, which some describe as "soapy, fruity, bitter or rancid baby vomit." Again, this usually indicates that it is time for your milk and drainage to meet.

Johnson of the Center for Dairy Research points to an exception to the taste test rule: "The glass [container] allows light to penetrate the milk and this could cause a chemical change in the milk fat, creating an 'unpleasant' taste that you don't like." it may taste, but it's not a safety concern [because] slight oxidation did not [affect] the microbiological quality."

If all else fails, check your milk with a "simple sniff test," Holdaway says. She claims that this is the best and easiest way to tell if the milk has gone bad.

Can you drink expired milk if it smells good?

This is a trick question! Remember that milk does not have an expiration date, and if it smells good, it probably isn't spoiled or expired. "If the milk has signs of spoilage, such as an 'off' smell, taste or texture, it should be thrown out," Holdaway says. "Otherwise, the milk can be consumed without hesitation."

In other words, if it doesn't smell, it's safe to drink.

How can you make milk last longer?

Handling habits play a role in how long milk lasts past expiration date, so shopkeepers and buyers can use milk to effectively prevent spoilage and gain extra time to enjoy a glass. cold.

smart buy

Spoilage strategies begin in the store. O'Brien recommends that you always do grocery shopping as your last errand so milk doesn't sit in your trunk. Grab the cooler box with the most recent date stamp, keep all refrigerated items side by side in the cart, and pack them in the same reusable bag at checkout. For example, your milk won't get as hot if it's tightcold butterInstead of the fried chicken you brought out for dinner.

Holdaway recommends putting the milk in the cart last and running home to put it back in the fridge. "Milk shouldn't sit out of the refrigerator or cooler for more than two hours," she says. “Reduce this time to one hour in the summer when the temperature hits 90 degrees. After that, the bacteria can start to grow and severely shorten the lifespan."

Handle with Care

Shah cautions that drinking straight from the carton, leaving the milk open, not screwing the lid on tightly, and returning spilled milk to the original container can introduce bacteria, mold and yeast into the milk and set the countdown to wrecked dairy.

Much expert advice revolves around refrigerator factors. The most important thing is that you should keep your appliance between 34 and 40 degrees and the milk should live in the coldest part of the fridge. Which, according to Holdaway, rules out the door: that's where the milk is subject to "fluctuating temperatures [which] cause it to spoil more quickly."

keep clean

It is also importantkeep your fridge cleanStay Organized Holdaway recommends cleaning coolers or refrigerators regularly before use and separating milk from strong-smelling foods so you don't lose your ability to taste when milk has gone bad.

"Odors from fruits, vegetables like onions, dirty conditions, and/or the smell of a dirty cooler can be easily absorbed and affect the taste of milk," she says. "Citrus stored in close proximity to milk is often the culprit when 'off' flavors are detected in milk."

wait until you open

Unopened milk lasts longer, so don't break the seal until you're ready to use or drink it, says O'Brien.

Switch to a different type of milk

Call it cheating if you want, but if you can't start drinking cow's milk before it goes bad, consider pouring a different kind of milk into your cereal and coffee. There is a whole world of dairy alternatives out there, including non-dairy varieties like oatmeal andalmond milk, and long-life aseptic cow's milk. (Johnson cautions that aseptic milk can look more golden or have a "cooked taste.") These tend to last longer in the refrigerator.

Or try powdered milk. "Dry milk powder has a much longer shelf life than fluid milk and doesn't need refrigeration due to its low moisture content," Holdaway says. But be warned: rehydration makes it taste a bit different, so it might be for cooking rather than drinking.

freeze milk

The milk can, of course, be frozen and used later, especially for cooking, but whether this is recommended depends on who you ask. Shah doesn't recommend freezing milk you plan to drink right away. "It affects the quality and consistency of the product," he says. "The fat and solids can separate from the water and it's impossible to re-homogenize it."

Johnson is inclined to agree. "Freezing could break down the fat globules and cause a rusty flavor to develop." His colleague O'Brien adds: "There's a reason you don't see a big frozen milk section in the store."

Holdaway, on the other hand, believes that milk can be frozen like butter orcold cutsand that it's a "great way to save it for future use." But she has some tips. "Milk expands when it's frozen, so be sure to leave room in the container so it doesn't burst," she says. “Thaw in the fridge or in cold water. It is best to freeze the milk for three to six months, no more."

You can freeze many other foods to extend their usability, and successful use of the freeze and thaw cheats can ultimately save money at the checkout.


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