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Why Does My Milk Go Bad Early?

A man in front of an open fridge, smelling a milk bottle with a repulsed expression.
Mike Focus/Shutterstock

Whether there’s a half a gallon or half a cup left, when milk goes bad, it’s not fun. There are a few reasons why your milk might not make it to the expiration date. Let’s take a look.

Improper Refrigeration Temperature

Proper refrigeration is the key to keeping your milk past the expiration date without it going sour or lumpy.

The USDA recommends you keep things below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for all refrigerated foods to prevent bacteria from growing and milk from turning. It’s best to store your milk between 35 and 40 degrees. This keeps it pleasantly chilled and prevents you from getting food poisoning.

Where to Keep Milk in the Fridge

Even if your refrigerator is at the right temperature, it doesn’t mean everything in there is being equally chilled. The door is not the coldest part of the fridge, so avoid storing your milk there.

Depending on the style of refrigerator you have, you have a few options. Hot air rises, and that’s generally true in your fridge, as well. So, the bottom shelf should be the coldest place in the fridge. But if your refrigerator has a freezer above it, the top shelf will be coldest.

Curious about the conditions in your fridge? Well, you don’t have to be—fridge thermometers are dirt cheap.

How Long Is Too Long?

Does it frustrate you when someone pulls the milk from the fridge and leaves it on the counter for the duration of breakfast? You might think this allows the milk to adjust to room temperature and start growing bacteria immediately.

However, you can leave milk out of the fridge safely for up to two hours. Of course, that also depends on the ambient temperature. For example, it’s a lot safer to leave milk out for a while during a chilly winter in Maine rather than a toasty summer in Arizona.

The safest bet? Don’t leave the milk out for more than an hour (and preferably less) on a hot summer day.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow has been a professional writer for almost two decades. Yvonne has worked for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and much more as a writer and editor. She's also a published poet and a short story writer. Read Full Bio »

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