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Is it Safe to Drink Milk After the Expiration Date?

written by: Laura Jean Karr • edited by: Rhonda Callow • updated: 3/15/2010

The dates on milk containers can vary, as can the freshness of the milk depending on where it comes from. Learn a bit more on how you can judge the drinkable state of milk.

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    Can You Drink Milk After the Expiration Date?

    Gallon of Milk There are times when we've all reached for the milk in the fridge only to find that it expired a day or so ago. Some people, when noticing the date will toss the container out immediately while others will take a sniff just to see if it still smells good. The real question that no one seems to have a definitive answer to is: can we still drink it after expiration?

    The answer to that question is not a simple one. There are several factors to consider when trying to figure out if your milk is safe enough to drink. The marked dates can show either the "sell-by", "expiration" and or "best used by" dates (for more on this, please click here). The date itself depends on the type of milk you buy, what store you purchase it from and how long it took the milk to get to the store in the first place. Some milk containers will have all three dates stamped and some will only have one date stamped on them. If you have milk that does only show one stamped date, then that is the expiration date. If you purchase milk with two or three dates stamped on the container then the expiration date is the latest date showing. For example, if there are two dates and one is 6/1 and the second one is 6/5, then 6/5 will be your expiration date.

    Milk, in essence begins to break down as soon as it is "milked" from a cow. Commercially farmed milk is run through a homogenization and then pasteurization process to break up the fats in the liquid and to rid the milk of harmful bacteria. Once those processes are complete milk is considered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to only be good for five to seven days if kept as cold as possible. Grocery stores on average keep milk at around 37 degrees to preserve the "freshness" for those five to seven days. Most refrigerators, however, will keep milk at around the 40 degree temperature which can speed up the spoiling process, as does transporting the milk home in the car with no stable refrigeration.

    Once home, if you can keep your milk at 37 degrees or lower you may be able to keep the milk past the printed expiration date up to four or five days. If you cannot keep your milk at a lower temperature, then the milk should still be safe to drink for a couple of days past the expiration date. In either case, use your sense of smell to test the rate of the milk spoiling. Always remember, "When in doubt, throw it out"!