The milk products in your local supermarket or convenience store will nearly always be marked with a “sell by” date. Generally, the date is determined by the producer, although in some areas it may be regulated by a local authority. A common standard for setting an expiration date is eight to 12 days from the time the milk is pasteurized.
Since the lower part of a refrigerated display case is colder than the top, select a carton from the bottom of the display if possible. Try not to buy more milk than you need. A larger size is no bargain if it goes bad before you finish it. If you’re not sure you’ll be able to use a full half-gallon, you’re better off buying two quarts and leaving the second carton unopened until needed. Opening milk and exposing it to warm air activates bacteria, causing the milk to spoil more quickly, even if it is re-refrigerated.
It’s less common to find milk in glass bottles these days, but translucent plastic jugs are the norm. Some studies suggest that milk in translucent plastic containers is more susceptible to significant losses of riboflavin and vitamin A from the effect of the fluorescent lights in supermarkets. Low-fat and fat-free milks are particularly sensitive to light. Cardboard containers, however, seem to protect against the light.
How to store milk and cream
All fresh dairy products should be promptly refrigerated; otherwise they will turn sour within a matter of hours. Dairy products last longer and taste better when kept cold—at 45°F or below. If the temperature of milk is allowed to reach 50°F, the shelf life is cut in half. In fact, just a 20-minute trip by car on a hot day can raise the temperature of milk by as much as 10°F.
Milk containers should be kept closed or covered because milk readily picks up flavors and aromas from other foods. It’s best to leave fresh milk in its original container and protect it from exposure to strong light, since light can reduce its riboflavin content and cause off-flavors.
If you prefer to serve milk or cream in a pitcher or creamer rather than from the carton, pour just the amount you need into the serving container, and avoid returning leftover milk or cream to the carton. Cover and store any that’s left over separately, since it will spoil sooner.
Canned evaporated or condensed milk can be stored at room temperature for a year. Invert the cans every two months. Once opened, the milk should be transferred to a clean, opaque container, covered tightly, and refrigerated. Then the milk should keep for three to five days.
Aseptically packaged UHT ("ultra pasteurized") milk has a shelf life of about six months at room temperature. For the best flavor, refrigerate it in the sealed package to thoroughly chill it before serving.
Unopened packages of nonfat dry milk should be stored in a cool, dry place. Reseal opened packages, as moisture will make powdered milk lumpy and eventually cause it to spoil. Discard nonfat dry milk if it smells scorched or rancid.
We don’t recommend freezing milk because it causes undesirable changes in the milk’s texture and appearance. It’s okay to microwave milk to warm it, but don’t use the microwave as a means of pasteurization or to extend the milk’s shelf life.
How to reconstitute dry milk
If you are reconstituting dry milk, use ½ cup less water than suggested on the package instructions. You’ll get a richer-tasting milk, with more concentrated nutrients. For best flavor and texture, mix the milk in a blender, and prepare it far enough in advance to allow for thorough chilling before you serve it.
7 recipe ideas for milk and cream
- Use buttermilk as the base for a cold vegetable soup.
- Evaporated milk can substitute for heavy cream in many recipes and provides the same rich texture.
- Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of nonfat dry milk to 1 cup of fat-free milk to make it thicker and richer-tasting.
- Add a few spoonfuls of nonfat dry milk powder to soups, sauces, and gravies.
- Mix nonfat dry milk into burger, meatloaf, or meatball mixtures.
- Add the powder to a shake or smoothies made from fat-free milk or yogurt.
- Combine the powder with hot cereal before cooking.