Can You Drink Milk Past Its Sell-by Date?

Although some people think the date printed on your milk carton is an expiration date or a use-by date, in fact, it's the milk's sell-by date. It's probably safe to drink your milk past its date. Here are some considerations. 

  • Milk should be stored between 38 and 40 degrees F. (Learn more about refrigerator storage by clicking on the graphic to the right.)
  • After purchasing milk, drive straight home and refrigerate it promptly. 
  • Milk should not be left out on the counter or table for extended periods of time.  
  • If milk has been handled well since your purchase and it passes a quick sniff test, you can confidently drink it past its sell-by date.  

Tips for Making Your Milk Last Past Its Sell-by Date

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 you have a second refrigerator that isn't opened as regularly, storing milk there before it is used can also extend its life. 

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.

Proper Ways to Handle Milk

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. 

If  your milk is nearing its expiration date, you can consider freezing it or plan some recipes like pudding, cream soups or oatmeal to use it up!