7 things to know about storing milk

Most of us take the milk out of the fridge and if it’s good (we might give it a whiff), we use it. If it smells a little funky, we dump it. But that milk might be less nutritious and not taste nearly as good long before it’s time to discard it. Here are some ways to maximize the freshness of your milk for the longest time.

two glass jars of milk sit in the back of a refrigerator
  1. Put milk in your basket right before checkout when shopping. The colder you keep milk, the longer it will last and the better the quality. In fact, bacteria in milk begins to grow at 45 degrees F. For every hour you leave milk above 45 degrees, it loses a day of life. This includes shopping time and travel time from the grocery store to your home. 
  2. Bag your milk with other cold items (or in a cooler bag) to keep it as cool as possible on the way home.
  3. Put your milk in the fridge right away when you get home. (Well, maybe right after the ice cream!)
  4. Store milk in the coldest part of the refrigerator. That’s usually the back middle shelf. Never store milk on the door of the refrigerator, which is the warmest place. Every time you open the door, you’re warming up your milk! (Condiments do fine on the door, though.) A refrigerator setting of 37 degrees F maximum is perfect.
  5. Keep the container closed except when pouring. BTW, an unopened container of milk will last about two weeks if properly refrigerated. 
  6. Put the container right back into the refrigerator when you use milk. If you want to set some out for a while (to serve with coffee or cereal, for example), pour some into a little serving pitcher and put the carton or bottle in the refrigerator. When you’re finished, put the leftover milk back in the refrigerator to use later, but don’t put it back in the carton of milk. 
  7. Discard milk if it sits out for more than two hours (one hour if the temp is 90 degrees F or above). 

Can I freeze milk?

Yes, you can freeze milk at 0 degrees F (standard refrigerator-freezer temp) for up to three months. Make sure there’s room in the carton for the milk to expand. Otherwise, it can burst the carton or jar and make a mess. Thaw it in the refrigerator (it’ll take a day or two), or in a bowl of cold water. The texture won’t be the same, but it’s safe to drink and still contains the same nutrition. Defrosted milk is good for baking. 

Use milk within a couple of days after defrosting. 

How long should milk last?

Dairy milk (as well as buttermilk, half and half, whipping cream, and sour cream) should keep, if properly refrigerated, for five days past the “sell-by” date. Goat’s milk and sheep’s milk should also be fresh, if properly refrigerated, for five days.

What about shelf-stable milk?

Shelf-stable or UHT milk,  which has been treated using ultra high temperatures, can be stored up to six months if unopened, whether or not you refrigerate it. Once opened, it needs to be refrigerated and used up within a week. UHT is a method of pasteurization. The milk is heated up to 300 degrees for two to six seconds. (Regular milk is heated to 161 degrees for 15 seconds.) In both cases, the heating is done to kill harmful bacteria.

How can I tell if milk is bad?

Well, the tried and true way is to smell it. Usually you can tell right away. It’ll have that distinctly sour smell — and taste, too, if you take a sip. Milk also gets a lumpy texture when it’s past its prime, and the color might also be off. 

A jar of milk sits beside a small stack of books

How should I store non-dairy milk?

Non-dairy milks, such as soy, almond, rice, coconut, and oat, will last about a month unrefrigerated if it’s unopened. Just make sure that it’s kept at a temp between 50 and 70 degrees F.

Once opened, place the milk in the refrigerator and use it up within a week to 10 days. Like dairy milk, opened nut milk is best stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator. That’s the back of the middle shelf.

Non-dairy milk can also be frozen, but it should be used within a couple of months. Defrost in the refrigerator and use within a few days. While the texture won’t be the same, it’s still good for baking, and for blending (smoothies, for example). 

Are you a milk drinker? There are so many options, from animal milk of many varieties (cow’s, goat’s, sheep, full-fat, low-fat, or skim) to nut milks and oat milk. My favorite milk is homemade cashew milk. I refrigerate it right away in the blender and give it a whirr when it comes out of the fridge. (I find that it’s best if I use it within a few days, though honestly, it’s usually gone in one day!)

You might also enjoy: 

Eggs — How to keep them fresh and how to tell when they’re not

Salad Greens — How to make them last

How to clean and store strawberries

How to store cheese — Keep cheese fresh and mold-free

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