There are two main types of milk – shelf-stable and refrigerated. They’re the same, except pasteurized milk has been pasteurized, and it’s packaged differently. There is another difference – unopened pasteurized milk can be stored at room temperature, while fresh milk that has been refrigerated has to stay in the fridge all the time.
We all want our milk to stay fresh as long as possible, but to preserve it, you must know how long can you store milk at room temperature without spoiling (of course, like all other dairy products, milk can spoil too).
As milk belongs to perishable foods, food safety specialists recommend not keeping it out of the fridge for more than two hours, as a general rule.
In the summer, 2 hours rule is cut in half – you can leave milk at room temperature for 1 hour. After one hour, bacteria start to grow, and using it would be a bad idea.
To stay on the safe side, follow a couple of advice from food safety specialists about milk storage and shelf-life:
- When grocery shopping always put milk last in the shopping basket, so it can stay as cool as possible until you get home. Once you get home you should be immediately putting milk in the fridge.
- Store milk at 40 degrees F temperature. That way it will be safe to use the longest.
- Milk should be kept in the fridge, but not in the refrigerator door, where temperature fluctuates everytime someone opens the door.
- Even pasteurized milk shouldn’t be left out of the fridge for longer than two hours due to food safety issue.
- Opened carton of milk will be good for four to seven days.
- 1 Can milk sit out for 3 hours?
- 2 Is it safe to drink milk that was left out overnight?
- 3 How long can milk sit out of the fridge unopened?
- 4 Does milk need to be refrigerated? How to store milk?
- 5 How long does it take for milk to spoil?
- 6 How long can shelf-stable milk stay out?
- 7 How long can breast milk sit out before being refrigerated?
- 8 Why is milk in Europe not refrigerated?
- 9 Citations:
Can milk sit out for 3 hours?
Now that milk can stay out for two hours, let’s clear up another misconception. What if you accidentally leave milk out for more than two hours – for example, 3 hours. Is it reasonable to use?
According to the US Food Safety and Drug Administration, refrigerated foods, such as milk should never be left at ambient temperature for more than 2 hours. Maybe milk won’t spoil after an additional hour at room temperature, but bacteria in it could multiply and make it unsafe for your health.
We’d go with FDA on this one – don’t use milk that’s been out of the fridge for more than 2 hours.
Is it safe to drink milk that was left out overnight?
If you accidentally left milk overnight at ambient temperature, do not use it. It’s easily possible that you have on your hands spoiled milk. Rotten dairy can cause many health issues, so it would be best to throw it away and replace it with a new carton.
How long can milk sit out of the fridge unopened?
Unopened refrigerated milk can sit out of the fridge for 2 hours.
You should store milk at 40 degrees F or lower. If you keep it at a temperature above 40 degrees, F milk will begin to show signs of spoilage – weird smell, changed taste, and curled texture.
Does milk need to be refrigerated? How to store milk?
Refrigeration is most important for keeping milk safe. The “best by” date on its package assumes that milk has constantly been refrigerated—store milk on the lower shelf in the refrigerator – not in the door.
The temperature on the refrigerator shelves is always more stable and lower than in the refrigerator door, where it frequently changes due to constant opening and closing.
Keep milk in the fridge in its original packaging to save its flavor and nutritional value.
Avoid exposing milk to the light, as light destroys essential vitamins in milk.
Once you use it, please return it to the fridge as soon as possible.
Also, keep milk containers tightly closed and away from other food with strong smells. Milk quickly picks up odors.
If you have more than one milk container, remember to open them in the same order you bought them. Always look at the “best by date” on the package before opening milk and opening the bottle with a most further date.
Once opened, milk will be good for up to four days. It’s a better idea to buy smaller amounts of milk regularly than to buy a significant amount which will spoil if you don’t use it in time.
Tip: To avoid spoiling, never return milk from serving pitchers to the original container.
How long does it take for milk to spoil?
|Type of milk||Storage method||How long will it last|
|Opened carton of milk||Room temp. up to 90°F||2 hours|
|Opened carton of milk||Room temp. >90°F||1 hour|
|Opened carton of milk||Refrigerator, <40°F||4 to 7 days|
|Unopened reduced-fat milk||Refrigerator, <40°F||Up to 7 days|
|Unopened skimmed milk||Refrigerator, <40°F||Up to 7 days|
|Unopened whole milk||Refrigerator, <40°F||5 to 7 days|
|Unopened non-fat milk||Refrigerator, <40°F||7 to 10 days|
|Unopened lactose-free milk||Refrigerator, <40°F||7 to 10 days|
|Unopened organic milk||Refrigerator, <40°F||15 to 17 days|
“Spoiled foods will develop an off odor, off-flavor, or texture due to naturally occurring spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such spoilage characteristics, you shouldn’t eat it,” says the United States Department of Agriculture.
Tip: Keep in mind that organic milk lasts longer than other types of milk. According to the dairy council, the only milk with a longer shelf life is an ultra-pasteurized one.
How long can shelf-stable milk stay out?
Shelf-stable milk is milk that is pasteurized at ultra-high temperatures. That’s sterilization of liquid by heating it at 160°F for 15 seconds, which is enough to kill all bacteria growth. Milk is rapidly cooled before it curdles. That way, shelf-stable or pasteurized milk can last longer.
Unopened pasteurized milk can last at room temperature for six months. Once it’s opened, you should store it in the refrigerator, and it can last 5 to 7 days.
How long can breast milk sit out before being refrigerated?
Use breast milk within four hours, especially in warm environments. After 4 hours, breast milk should be refrigerated. You can leave freshly expressed breast milk at room temperature for six hours.
Breast milk storage in the refrigerator or freezer is the best idea. Keep it refrigerated in clean conditions for up to 4 days, but if you don’t use it in 3 days, freeze it to preserve it for an extended period.
You can freeze expressed milk in zip lock bags or ice packs. You can use thawed milk within 24 hours. Frozen breast milk can last up to 12 months, but it’s best to use it in 6 months.
Tip: Expressed milk is one of the readily perishable items, and you should always check is it spoiled before you bring it close to the baby’s mouth.
Why is milk in Europe not refrigerated?
Europeans buy milk that has not been refrigerated and store it also out of the refrigerator. How is that possible? While American and Canadian milk producers pasteurize milk at 160°F for 15 seconds, Europeans heat it at much higher temperatures – up to 300°F but only 3 seconds. After being exposed to such high temperatures, milk is bacteria-free for the next six months, while American dairy has a shorter expiration date.
European milk also has a different flavor – since they heat it at high temperatures, most of the sugars in milk burn. American milk is a lot sweeter than European.