How long does milk last?

Even though milk is a product that many of us consume on a daily basis, not everyone knows how to store it, how long can it be stored, and how to tell if it’s bad. That’s especially true because there are many types of milk available: whole, reduced-fat, skim milk or even lactose-free milk. Fortunately for us, the basic rules are the same for all types of milk. In this article, we will go through the most important shelf life and storage information about milk.

Glass of milk
Photo by Free Stock Photos on Flickr.

How to store milk?

The simplest answer is that your store unopened milk the same way it was stored when you’ve bought it and opened milk always in the fridge. If it was in the refrigerated section, it’s most likely raw (or unpasteurized) milk and should be stored in the fridge at all times. If the milk is sold from the shelf, it’s pasteurized (or shelf-stable) milk. As long as the package isn’t opened, keep it in the pantry or somewhere else that’s cool. Once the package is opened, transfer it to the fridge and keep it there.

When it comes to storing milk in the fridge, make sure it’s tightly closed after opening so it doesn’t catch any smells. Also, storing it away from the door is suggested due to smaller temperature fluctuations. If you plan on storing it opened for longer than 2 or 3 days, keeping it away from the door is a good idea. Otherwise, storing it the usual way, that is on the door, is just fine.

How long does milk last?

Shelf-stable milk lasts for about 4-5 months after production. Raw milk usually lasts for 1-2 weeks after bottling. Fortunately, you don’t need to remember that. On almost all packages of milk (both raw and pasteurized) there’s a “sell by” or “best by” date. That date informs you for how long the unopened milk should remain at best quality. Add about a week to that date and you have a pretty safe “expiration” date for the milk you’ve bought. Of course the milk in some cases can go bad earlier or, more likely, remain just fine for a few weeks longer. That varies on a case-by-case basis and is difficult to predict.

Once the bottle or carton has been opened, it’s recommended to use it within 2 days. The milk should last for about 5-7 days, but its taste might not be the best after about 5 or more days. Obviously, if you store the milk in your fridge away from the door, it’s more likely to stay fine for those 5 days than if you would store it on the door.

Cereal in milk
Photo by on Unsplash.

How to tell if milk is bad?

This one is quite simple. If the milk comes in a carton, pour some into a glass. Take a good look at the liquid, if there are some noticeable color changes, throw it out. The second thing to do is to smell it. If it smells sour, toss it.

In most cases, you’ll spot bad milk by the smell. Another sign of spoilage is change or texture. You should be able to spot it by slowly stirring the milk with a teaspoon. If it looks and smells good, it’s most likely just fine. One last thing to do is to drink a little. If the taste is good, you’re good to go.

Of course if the milk is long past its “sell by” date or opened in the fridge for about a week, you can always go with the safe option and throw it away. Please don’t feel bad about doing this. Better safe than sorry.

Is milk safe to use after “expiration” date?

As mentioned earlier, milk is sold with a “best by” or “sell by” date and that date isn’t an expiration date. It’s an indication of how long the milk will remain at best quality and it should be safe to drink for at least a week after that date. If the “sell by” date is in a few days, it’s good to thoroughly check the milk if it’s still good, just to be safe. You can find the instructions above.

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