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Drinking Milk After the Expiration Date

Question: Can I Drink Milk After The Expiration Date?

Answer: This is a common question we receive at Healthline and there’ve been plenty of headlines over the past year to keep food safety issues on everyone’s minds. Chances are most of us can confess to pulling a carton of milk out of the fridge, frowning when noticing the expiration date has passed and then unscrewing the lid to subject it to the “smell” test.

When milk is pasteurized, most of the truly harmful bacteria are destroyed. But even pasteurized milk begins to deteriorate pretty quickly and really only remains “fresh” for a couple of days after the expiration date. Keep in mind that other factors, such as leaving the milk out at room temperature for too long, can cause the milk to spoil faster. Even the temperature of your refrigerator, which is typically lower than that of the cases at the supermarket, can have an impact.

While the bacteria that causes milk to turn sour and spoil can cause food poisoning and be dangerous for young children or those with compromised immune systems, it is unlikely that drinking spoiled milk could kill an adult, but that’s assuming you can get past the smell and taste to drink it.

If you have drunk milk past the date on the carton and are concerned, remember that the FDA gets involved in regulating package expiration dates in a surprisingly few number of instances. That’s not because they aren’t keenly interested in public safety, but instead that in most cases, the dates have to do with the quality of the food and aren’t indicators of safety.

The Bottomline: Use common sense. It isn’t likely to kill you, but drinking smelly milk a couple days past the expiration date has some obvious health risks.

What Package Terms Mean:

“Sell By” – This is really meant to be used as guidance for the store or market to direct them when to remove items from the shelf. Lots of shelf-stable products, like canned fruits and vegetables, have sell-by dates and you really shouldn’t purchase these products after their respective dates.

“Best If Used By” or “Best Before” – This term refers to the flavor or quality of foods and in most cases, products will be safe for some length of time after their best-before dates. Packaged baked goods, for instance, often use a best-before date to indicate when the product will start to taste stale.

“Use By” – Products display a “use by” date as more of an expiration date. This should be treated as a slightly less formal expiration date and is also the last date that manufacturers are going to vouch for a product’s quality.

“Expiration Date” – It is safer to discard products after their expiration date. While other terms have some ambiguity, treat this one as what it says.

Read more about food safety.
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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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