How long does milk last? Opened milk lasts for one week after the sell-by date, while unopened milk can last for more than a week, depending on the type of milk.

cereal with milk

Milk completes our day. A bowl of cereal with milk for breakfast starts off a day perfectly. It’s also the main star of creamy dishes and desserts. For delicious and nutritious dishes, milk is a perfect ingredient!

Most dairy products last for only 1-4 weeks. Unless you refrigerate it, you should consume milk immediately, because it lasts for only a couple of hours at room temperature.

Before you plan your meals and grocery shopping, it’s best to know how long you can store milk in your fridge. You should also watch out for milk spoilage signs and learn how you can prolong its shelf life.

How Long Does Milk Last?

How long is milk good for? Once opened, all milk can last for 4-7 days after the milk expiration date, refrigerated. If unopened, the shelf life differs, depending on the type of milk:

  • Whole milk: 5-7 days.
  • Reduced-fat milk and skim milk: 7 days.
  • Non-fat milk and lactose-free milk: 7-10 days.

Can You Still Drink Milk After Its Sell-by Date?

Yes, you can still drink milk after the sell-by date. That date only indicates that stores should already have sold the milk by then. When you drink the milk a few days after its sell-by date, and it tastes sweeter than before, you have one more day before it turns sour. This sweetness is a subtle aftertaste from the transfer of molecular energy during the chemical reaction in milk. It’s still safe as long as it hasn’t gone sour yet.

Why Does Milk Spoil?

Every time you open a milk container, air allows the growth of lactobacillus bacteria, which convert the lactose in the milk to lactic acid, turning milk sour after the use-by date or best-by date.

Milk proteins are broken by bacteria that enter the milk through the air, causing milk spoilage. Some molds can use the lactic acid to break the protein or attack the fat content. The bacterial growth causes the sour milk aroma from bad milk.

Adding milk to coffee

Signs of Milk Spoilage

Not all bacteria are killed during the pasteurization process. Your milk is not 100% safe from bacterial growth. Keep an eye out for these signs of milk spoilage:

  • Discoloration – off-white or yellowish tinge
  • Thick, lumpy texture
  • Sour smell

Your senses are the most reliable instruments to tell if your milk has gone bad. Do a simple sniff test!

milk and chocolate

Tips on Handling Milk

To prolong milk’s shelf life, if you won’t use it immediately, keep these points in mind for food safety:

  1. Put your milk in your fridge as soon as possible after buying.
  2. Store milk in the main body of the fridge. On the fridge door, warm air enters every time you open it, causing the bacteria to grow more rapidly in the milk.
  3. Keep your fridge’s temperature below 40°F.
  4. Always keep the milk carton closed tightly to prevent contamination and absorption of other bad smells from the fridge.
  5. It’s recommended to add a teaspoon of baking soda or a pinch of salt to your milk when you open it. This neutralizes the lactic acid content and keeps the milk fresh for a week more after its expiration date.
  6. Do not return leftover milk to the carton or container.
  7. Freeze milk to prolong its shelf life for four more months. However, the quality of thawed milk isn’t as good as fresh milk. You get fatty chunks and watery parts, which are not appetizing at all. But you can use thawed milk for cooking or baking, or make milk ice cubes for your smoothies.

To freeze milk, use a large aluminum or freezer-safe plastic container and leave 1.5 inches of headspace. Milk expands in the freezer. You can also use glass containers, but please note that glass containers will crack or shatter if you don’t leave enough room for the milk to expand.

Ways to Use Milk Before It Goes Bad

  • Drink milk as your protein boost in the mornings! Add it to your coffee or make smoothies with it.
  • Cook your oatmeal in milk instead of water for more protein, calcium, and vitamin D.
  • Make hot chocolate. Heat the milk and add some cocoa.
  • Use it as an ingredient for your next meal—a soup, pasta, pie, or some creamy desserts. Need some inspiration? Try out these street-smart simple recipes!

Cream of Chicken Soup Recipe

Chicken Primavera Crescent Bake

Turkey Pot Pie

How long does milk last? Opened milk lasts for one week after the sell-by date, while unopened milk can last for more than a week, depending on the type of milk.

About the Author

Sharon Chen is an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, an author and a sous vide fanatic who believes food not only brings healing but also connection. As the creator of StreetSmart Kitchen, she's on a mission to help you find balance, ease, joy, and simplicity in the kitchen as you improve your well-being.