Keeping Your Dairy Foods Safe: What You Need to Know
The hot days of summer bring questions about how to keep perishable dairy foods safe. Many stakeholders work together to help ensure the safety and quality of dairy foods, making milk and milk products some of the safest and highest quality foods in the U.S. By becoming educated on how to buy, transport, and store milk and milk products, you can help extend food safety precautions taken by government, dairy farmers, dairy processors, transporters, and retailers. The following are tips to help maintain the quality and safety of dairy foods. To avoid foodborne illness and dairy food waste, it’s important to think about dairy food safety at each step, from buying and transporting to storing.
Buying milk and dairy foods:
- Place milk and milk products in your cart just before checking out of the grocery store, especially in hot weather.
- Check the “sell by” date, “use by” date, or “best if used by (before)” date for the best quality. Don’t buy milk or other dairy foods if you can’t use them before the “use by” date. For information about food product dates, refer to the blog, “Food Product Dates: Clearing Up the Confusion.”
- Choose milk in cardboard cartons or non-translucent jugs. Translucent containers allow light in that can cause milk to spoil more easily and more quickly.
Transporting dairy foods:
- Take dairy foods straight home from the store and immediately put them in the refrigerator or freezer. In the summer, use insulated bags to transport dairy foods home in the car or pack frozen food around dairy foods for even better insulation and less cooling of both. If left in a hot car, some perishable foods may only remain safe for 30 minutes. Never leave perishable foods such as milk out of the refrigerator for more than two hours, depending on the outside temperature.
Storing and using dairy foods at home:
- Refrigerate milk and milk products (yogurt, cheese) at 40º F or below as soon as possible after purchase. Store milk in its original container. Immediately store ice cream and other dairy foods that can be frozen in the freezer set at 0º F or below.
- Never store milk in the refrigerator door where it is susceptible to warmer temperatures from opening and closing the door.
- Return milk to the refrigerator immediately after use. Unused milk poured out of its container should never be returned to its original container.
- Keep milk containers closed to prevent the absorption of other flavors. Although this could change the taste, the milk is still safe.
Knowing how long dairy foods can be stored helps keep you and the others who consume dairy foods healthy. Many consumers ask how long refrigerated or frozen dairy foods can be stored. Below are guidelines for storing dairy foods to help maintain their quality and safety, excerpted from the Food Marketing Institute’s The Food Keeper.
(below 40º F)
(at or below 0º F)
|Milk, plain or flavored||1 week||3 months|
|Buttermilk||1–2 weeks||3 months|
|Cheese, hard (Cheddar, Swiss)||6 months unopened;3–4 weeks opened||6 months|
|Cheese, processed slices||3–4 weeks||Does not freeze well|
|Cheese, shredded (Cheddar, etc.)||1 month||3–4 months|
|Cheese, soft (Brie)||1–2 weeks||6 months|
|Cottage cheese, ricotta||2 weeks unopened;1 week opened||Does not freeze well|
|Cream, half & half||3–4 days||4 months|
|Cream, whipping, ultrapasteurized||1 month unopened;1 week opened||Do not freeze|
|Sour cream||7–21 days (follow date on package)||Does not freeze well|
|Yogurt||7–14 days||1–2 months|
|Ice cream||2–4 months|
You can play a critical role in helping to maintain the quality and safety of milk and milk products by keeping these perishable foods at proper temperatures and by following recommended handling practices. For information about home food safety in general, visit www.homefoodsafety.org.