How Long Does Milk Last? Here’s the Real Answer

OK, we need to settle this once and for all: how long does milk last?

Some sources say it’s good past its expiration date, while others say to toss it out after just a few days of being open. So how long does milk last? We got to the bottom of it.

These are the foods you should never eat past the expiration date.

Sell By vs. Use By vs. Expiration Dates

Let’s clear some things up. There’s a huge difference between milk date labels that say “sell by,” “use by,” “best if used by” and “expires on.”

“The phrase, ‘best if used by’ is used to indicate quality only—even after this date, food is safe to eat,” says Lindsey Pasieka, an investigator for ConsumerSafety.org. “Another phrase, ‘expires on,’ is used to indicate the day that deterioration begins, after which a product may become unsafe to consume.” She goes on to explain, “‘Sell by’ dates tell a milk seller, like a grocery store, when the product should leave the shelves—either in a customer’s arms or in the trash. For many, ‘use by’ and ‘sell by’ are essentially marketing terms. These allow milk producers to tell consumers when the peak freshness of the product is. They do not indicate the exact date the milk will go bad.” Just like milk, you can eat these foods past their use by date, too. 

These labels vary from state to state, so it’s not unusual for things to get a little confusing and for milk to be thrown out while it’s still safe for consumption. However, it’s important to note that expiration dates vary based on what kind of milk you’re purchasing, how it’s stored and how it’s packaged. For example, “With raw or unpasteurized milk, these spoilage rates increase, as with milk made without preservatives,” says Pasieka. “Contamination can also jump-start bacteria growth, leading to sour milk.”

By the way, these non-food items have expiration dates, too.

How Long Can Milk Last After the Expiration Date?

Types Of Milk And How Long They Last Chart UdTaste of Home

How long milk lasts past its expiration date can depend on a number of factors—whether it’s opened, what kind of milk it is and if it’s refrigerated.

How Long Does Unopened Milk Last?

According to Eat By Date, if unopened, whole milk lasts 5-7 days, reduced-fat and skim milk last 7 days and non-fat and lactose-free milk last 7-10 days past its printed date, if refrigerated.

How Long Does Milk Last After Opening?

Once opened, all milk lasts 4-7 days past its printed date, if refrigerated.

How Long Can Milk Sit Out?

And of course, where and how you store your milk is pivotal to its freshness. According to the FDA, if milk is left unrefrigerated for more than two hours, it’s considered unsafe to consume. 

How to Tell If Milk Has Gone Bad

If you think that your milk might have prematurely expired, use your senses’ best judgment. “Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, flavor or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If food has developed such spoilage characteristics, it should not be eaten,” says the United States Department of Agriculture.

On the flip side, you’ll never have to worry about these foods ever expiring.

How to Store Milk the Right Way

Believe it or not, there’s a specific location in your fridge where you should be keeping your milk—and it’s not on the door’s shelves.

According to Jen Giambroni, Director of Communications at Real California Milk, milk should be stored at 38° to 40°F in the same container it came in, and far away from the door. When milk is stored on the refrigerator door’s shelves, it’s being exposed to warm air each time it’s opened, which encourages bacterial growth. “Also, be sure to tightly close the lid to your milk cartons,” Pasieka adds. “This helps reduce accidental contamination and odors from other refrigerated products.”

Can You Freeze Milk?

If you have a batch you haven’t used up in time or just have too much milk for some reason, you can freeze milk! For best results, freeze it in an ice cube tray to make milk cubes. You can also freeze it in an airtight container.

Milk can last for several months in the freezer, but for best results, we recommend using it in the first month. After that, it starts separating and becomes grainy.

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