Did you forget the milk on the counter? This is a frequently used staple food, and trust me you’re not alone! You’re probably wondering how long can milk sit out before it goes bad. Keep reading to find out the shelf life for various types of milk, best storage practices, and signs of spoilage. You’ll surely have an easier time keeping your milk fresh for longer!
Milk and other dairy products are foods that can easily go bad when not kept in the fridge.
The USDA defines the “danger zone” as the range of temperatures between 40°F and 140°F. At these temperatures, bacteria grow fast leading to food spoilage.
If you left milk on the counter on previous occasions and it was still good, you might be tempted to think this is a safe practice. It’s not!
Food poisoning affects 1 in 6 Americans every year and roughly 128,000 cases require hospitalization according to the FDA. Luckily, if you’re careful, it’s pretty easy to keep milk fresh and tasty.
How Long Can Milk Sit Out?
Let’s get back to the burning question: how long can milk sit out?
Short answer: Don’t leave milk at room temperature for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the temperatures are 90°F or higher.
It’s recommended you follow USDA’s “two-hour rule” for all cooked food, raw meat, and dairy products, milk included.
When kept in the “danger zone” (temperatures between 40°F and 140°F), bacteria can double in number in 20 minutes.
Ideally, you shouldn’t leave milk on the counter at all.
What Happens When Milk Is Left Out?
At room temperature, bacteria will start to multiply and ferment the lactose naturally present in milk, turning it into lactic acid.
As the amount of lactic acid increases, the milk’s PH will lower. This changes the structure of milk’s proteins making the milk curdle.
How Long Does Milk Last In The Fridge?
It’s obvious that milk kept in the refrigerator will last a lot longer than left on the counter. How long it lasts depends on the type of milk, the “sell-by” or “best-by” date written on the package, and whether it’s opened or not.
Don’t mistake the “sell by” and “best by” dates with the expiration date. The sell-by date indicates how long the store can sell the milk. The best-by date shows how long you can enjoy the milk at its best.
Here’s how long milk lasts in the refrigerator (at 40°F or lower) based on the type and whether it was opened or not:
|Type of milk||Refrigerator (past printed date)|
|Whole milk (unopened)||5-7 days|
|Reduced fat milk (unopened)||7 days|
|Skim milk (unopened)||7 days|
|Non-fat milk (unopened)||7-10 days|
|Lactose-free milk (unopened)||7-10 days|
|Aseptic milk (shelf-stable, unopened)||1-3 months|
|Aseptic milk (shelf-stable, opened)||7-10 days after opening|
|Whole milk (opened)||5-7 days|
|Raw milk||up to 7 days after purchase|
How To Store Milk And Keep It Fresh For Longer
When stored correctly, you will be able to enjoy any type of milk for the recommended time and avoid waste. Follow these tips to keep your milk fresh:
- When purchasing milk, add it to your cart toward the end of your shopping session so it stays as cool as possible until it reaches your home fridge.
- Place milk in the refrigerator as soon as you get home.
- The temperature in your fridge should be 40°F or lower. You can verify this with the help of a thermometer.
- Store the milk in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Ideally, this should be as far away from the door as possible to avoid sudden temperature changes that happen every time you open it.
Can You Freeze Milk?
Yes, milk stays safe to eat in the freezer for up to 6 months. I recommend you consume it within 1 month for the best quality.
You can freeze milk in an airtight container but make sure you leave at least 1 inch of head space because it expands when frozen. It’s also possible to freeze milk in an ice cube tray.
When freezing milk, it can separate and the texture might become grainy. It won’t be suitable for drinking but will work for cooking and baking!
Once you thaw milk in the refrigerator, use it within 2 days.
Tip: I frequently freeze foods to make them last for longer and so can you! Use our free printable freezer food storage chart to learn how long various types of food last in the freezer. It’s one of the easiest ways to make sure you get to use frozen food while they’re still fresh!
How To Tell If Milk Is Bad?
Knowing how long can milk sit out, the shelf life for the most popular types of milk, and how to store it, will help you consume it while it’s still fresh.
Even with all these precautions, milk will go bad at some point and it’s good to know the signs. Here’s what to look out for:
- Smell – One of the first signs milk is starting to spoil is its smell. Fresh milk has a very subtle scent while spoiled milk will smell sour.
- Taste – Milk that has gone bad will taste off or sour, unlike fresh milk which has a characteristic sweet taste. If you took just a small sip of spoiled milk you probably won’t get sick but don’t continue drinking it! Larger amounts highly increase the risk of getting food poisoning.
- Color – Milk should have a white, consistent color. A distinct yellowish color or shades of green are a sure sign it’s time to discard it.
- Texture – Any lumps or a texture similar to cottage cheese means the milk has curdled and has gone bad.
- It was out for more than 2 hours – Even if it looks okay, milk that was left on the counter for more than 2 hours is no longer considered safe to consume. If the room temperature is over 90°F, the time allowed on the counter is reduced to 1 hour.
Try The Microwave Test
If the above signs are not present and you want to make sure your milk is still good, try this easy test!
Pour a small amount of milk into a glass and microwave it at full power for one minute.
Remove it from the microwave and perform a quick visual inspection. If lumps have formed or you notice other changes in color, texture, or smell, then it should be discarded.
Why Did My Milk Go Bad So Fast?
Sometimes milk can go bad faster than the recommended shelf life and you’re left scratching your head wondering why this happened.
If you have a large family, the milk might have been taken out of the fridge and kept on the counter on several occasions. You might be aware of how long can milk sit out, but does the rest of your family know?
Even if it was out for short periods of time, each time this happens, the growth of bacteria is sped up.
Another common reason is the milk is being kept in the door instead of the back of the fridge. Every time you open it, the carton of milk will experience a sudden temperature increase which will make it spoil faster.
It’s also possible your refrigerator no longer works properly and the temperature inside is over 40°F. If other refrigerated products seem to go bad faster than they should, it’s a good idea to place a thermometer inside the fridge to check if it works properly.
In most cases, the expiration date is actually a “sell-by” or a “best-by” date and none of these are a sure indication the milk is spoiled. The best way to decide if your milk is still good is to use your senses. Check the smell, texture, and color of the milk before you decide to throw it away.
Yes, almond milk can spoil if left at room temperature for more than 2 hours, just like regular dairy milk. The signs of spoilage will be different, though.
Regardless if the almond milk you purchased was shelf-stable or stored in a refrigerator, once opened, it should be kept in the fridge.
If your almond milk is shelf-stable and unopened, check the carton for bloating or deformities. These are a sure sign it’s not safe to consume and should be thrown out.
Other signs your almond milk is spoiled include a slimy texture or clumps and if you see anything like that you should definitely discard it.
Based on USDA’s “2-hour rule” oat milk that has been opened shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than 2 hours or 1 hour if the temperature in your home is 90°F or higher. This applies to both shelf-stable and refrigerated oat milk if the carton has been opened.
The only exception is shelf-stable oat milk in an unopened carton. This type of oat milk can be stored in the pantry or a cupboard until you open it.
Unopened aseptic or UHT (ultra-heat treatment) milk can last up to 6 months at room temperature. Once you open it, keep it in the fridge like regular milk and use it within 7-10 days.
Organic milk is heated to 280°F for 2 seconds, a process called ultra-pasteurization, and can last 40-60 days in the fridge unopened. The opened carton stays good in the fridge for up to a week.
Milk and dairy products in general can spoil easily at room temperature. No need to wonder how long can milk sit out anymore.
Just remember this simple rule: if it was on the counter for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if your kitchen is warm and the temperature is over 90°F, the safest option is to discard it.
Ideally, you shouldn’t leave milk out at all. Once you make it a habit to place it back into the fridge after each use, early spoilage will be a thing of the past!
Also, it’s easy to lose track of food supplies and if you’re like me, you hate waste! This kitchen organization binder lets you keep track of food and have an easier time using it in time.
When you have a surplus of food, you’re meal planning, or you’re about to go on vacation, freezing food can help you save a lot of money! Use these editable freezer labels to include all necessary information for the food you freeze and avoid the dreaded “mystery bags”!