Hint: It ain’t pretty.

By Corey Williams
March 19, 2020
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Welcome! You’re probably here because you’ve just consumed spoiled milk or you are considering consuming spoiled milk. Either way, here’s what you need to know: 

What Does “Sell-By” Mean?

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There’s a big difference between “sell-by” and “use-by” labels. The sell-by date exists to tell grocery stores when the carton or jug should leave shelves because it is approaching its peak freshness. This doesn’t mean it’s necessarily bad or sour, though. 

“Best-by,” meanwhile, is the date the manufacturer estimates the product will be at its most fresh. 

While “use-by” is also not a line in the sand, you should take this date more seriously when you are deciding whether to consume a product. This is when the manufacturer estimates the product will begin to lose significant quality. 

How Long Does It Take For Milk to Go Bad In the Fridge? 

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It depends on what kind of milk you’re talking about. According to EatByDate.com, if the unopened container is refrigerated: 

  • Lactose-free milk should be good for 7-10 days past the printed date. 
  • Non-fat milk should be good 7-10 days past the printed date. 
  • Reduced-fat milk should be good 7 days past the printed date. 
  • Whole milk should be good 5-7 days past the printed date. 

What If You Accidentally Left It Out? 

Unrefrigerated milk is a totally different story. 

If you live in the U.S., you likely drink pasteurized milk. This type of milk must be refrigerated constantly, or else it will quickly begin to spoil. 

We get it, though: It’s super easy to get distracted and leave a carton of milk in the car or on the counter for an extended period of time. But just how long is too long? 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the magic number is two hours at room temperature. After the two hour mark, the milk is likely not safe to drink. 

If your house or car is hot, though, the window is even smaller. 

"If the temperature is above 90°F, food should not be left out more than 1 hour," according to the FDA. 

How to Tell If Milk Is Bad

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Texture/Color: Fresh milk is smooth, thin, and white. Spoiled milk may be lumpy, thick, or slightly yellow. 

Smell: Sour milk smells like, well, sour milk. Fresh milk has barely any odor—and what odor it does have is not unpleasant. When you smell spoiled milk, you’ll definitely know. 

Taste: If your milk looks and smells weird, please don’t taste it. However, if you simply must taste the lumpy, foul-smelling liquid, it’ll have an acidic and sour flavor. 

What Happens If You Drink Spoiled Milk? 

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Spoiled milk looks, smells, and tastes bad because of an overgrowth of bacteria. 

Most people are immediately turned off once they’ve taken a sip of milk that’s past its prime. That’s a good thing, because one sip won’t hurt you. 

However, drinking a large or moderate amount of bad milk can result in digestive discomfort. Spoiled milk can cause: 

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Spoiled Milk Uses

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While you certainly shouldn’t drink a glass of spoiled milk by itself, it’s not entirely a lost cause. 

As long as the milk isn’t moldy, you can use it for baking breads and cakes, as well as marinating meats. Read more here.