Milk is one of those nearly perfect foods: it's super nutritious, great for drinking and cooking, a good value for the money and usually on-hand when you need it. But you may have questions about storing and handling your milk, such as "Can I drink milk past its sell-by date?" "Can I freeze milk to use at a later time?"
Dairy farmers go to great lengths to produce clean, fresh milk, but that doesn't mean it's not a delicate product. After some time, milk will go sour in the fridge, leaving us with a dry bowl of cereal or an un-dunked cookie. Read on for ways to keep milk fresh longer and extend the shelf-life past the milk sell-by date.
Buying and Storing Milk
It starts with grocery shopping. When buying milk, check the sell-by date, which is usually stamped at the top of the carton. Make sure the date hasn't already passed (most grocery stores ensure their stock is up-to-date) and then decide whether you will be able to finish the milk within a few days of the sell-by date.
Drive straight home from the grocery store and as soon as you get home, get your milk into the refrigerator, storing it away from the door, which lets in warm air every time it's opened. Your refrigerator should be kept between 38 and 40 degrees F, or as cold as possible without freezing your fruits and vegetables.
If the milk in your refrigerator is a few days past its sell-by-date, drink it with confidence as long as it smells good.
Store milk in its original container, and get it back into the refrigerator as soon as you are done using it. Leaving it on the counter for too long will make it warm, allowing bacteria to grow and spoiling the milk. Returning unused milk to the container is tempting but can contaminate the rest of the container, so toss any leftover milk in the glass.
Milk is pasteurized to kill bacteria, but it's still a fresh product that can spoil if it's not kept cold and covered. Low temperatures in the fridge slow bacterial growth. Closing the carton or gallon jug every time prevents contamination and absorption of flavors from other foods in the fridge.
One of the most common questions we are asked is "Can I freeze milk?" Yes, it's ok to freeze milk! If you know you won't finish your milk by the sell-by date, it's fine to freeze it for later use. It can be thawed in the refrigerator or in cold water and is safe for consumption. However, be aware that the flavor and texture of the milk may be affected. Also, because milk expands when you freeze it, make sure there is room in the container so it won't burst!
Using up Milk
If milk is near or just past its expiration date, plan a few meals to use up your milk in cooking:
- Replace water with milk in soups for a creamier and more nutritious meal.
- Cook your morning oatmeal in milk instead of water for more protein, calcium and vitamin D.
- Make a milky treat like rice pudding. Simply bring 3/4 cup long-grain rice to a boil, drain, add 5 to 6 cups of milk, 1 cup of sugar, 1 split vanilla bean and a large pinch of salt and simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally. After an hour, add a cup more milk, allow it to absorb, and serve. Instant pudding from a box mix is even quicker and uses 2-4 cups of milk.
- Find more recipes using milk.
If you find yourself frequently stuck with out-of-date milk, buy smaller containers of it or try shelf-stable milk. Advances in processing and packaging have led to new milk products with extended lives that don't need refrigeration until after they're opened.
It's never fun to find out-of-date milk in the fridge, right when you need it. But following these tips should ensure that you always have fresh, cold, delicious milk on hand, ready for anything and everything you want to use it for!
Click here for more tips on safely storing and handling yogurt and cheese.