How Long Does Milk Last? Sell By vs. Use By vs. Expiration Dates

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If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the mysteries of milk expiration dates, you’re not alone. It’s a topic that often leaves us scratching our heads in the dairy aisle. Fear not, though, because in this article, we’re going to demystify the world of milk longevity, from sell-by to expiration dates and everything in between.

Sell By, Use By, and Expiration Dates – What’s the Difference?

First things first, let’s get these dates straight. You’ve probably seen “sell by,” “use by,” and “expiration” dates on milk cartons. But what do they actually mean?

Sell By Date: This is more of a guideline for the store, telling them how long they should display the product for sale. It doesn’t mean your milk is bad the day after.

Use By Date: This is the date recommended by the manufacturer for the best quality of the product. You can often enjoy your milk for a little while beyond this date.

Expiration Date: This is the date after which the manufacturer can no longer guarantee the quality and safety of the product. But here’s the good news – your milk might still be perfectly fine!

How Long Can Unopened Milk Last?

So, you’ve got a carton of milk with a use-by date a few days away. Can you still enjoy it after that date has passed? Absolutely! In many cases, unopened milk can stay fresh for up to a week past its use-by date if stored properly.

How About After Opening?

Once you crack open that carton or bottle, the clock starts ticking. Generally, milk is good for about 5-7 days after opening if you keep it in the refrigerator at or below 40°F (4°C). Remember to tightly seal the container to prevent any funky odors from affecting the taste.

How Long Can Milk Sit Out?

Leaving milk out on the countertop is a big no-no. Bacteria love the warmth, and they’ll throw a milk party if you’re not careful. So, rule of thumb: don’t leave milk at room temperature for more than two hours. Always pop it back in the fridge as soon as you’re done pouring that cereal or making coffee.

source: iStock

How to Tell If Milk Has Gone Bad

Alright, you’ve been diligent with your storage, but now you’re wondering if your milk has gone south. Here’s how to tell:

Smell Test: Give it a good sniff. If it smells sour or off, it’s time to say goodbye.

Visual Inspection: If there’s any chunkiness, curdling, or mold growth, it’s a clear sign that your milk has gone bad.

Taste Test (Optional): If you’re feeling brave, take a tiny sip. Trust your taste buds; if it tastes sour or spoiled, don’t finish it.

How to Store Milk the Right Way

To maximize the shelf life of your milk, follow these tips:

  • Keep it in the back of the fridge where it’s coldest.
  • Store it in its original container to maintain freshness.
  • Don’t transfer milk to the fridge door – it’s warmer there.
  • Always keep the lid tightly sealed.
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations by not leaving the fridge door open for extended periods.

You can also freeze milk to extend its shelf life. For more details on freezing milk, check this out.

So there you have it, folks – the lowdown on milk’s shelf life and how to keep it fresh. Remember, those dates on the carton are guidelines, not gospel. Be vigilant with your storage, and your milk will be ready to complement your cereal or coffee whenever you need it. Cheers to milk that’s always moo-velous!