How can you tell if milk is fresh?

A bottle of milk is a major refrigerator staple in households across the US. Whether it’s for our morning coffee or bowl of breakfast cereal, many of us use milk on a daily basis.

But how often do you end up throwing out a half-full bottle — just because it’s past its use-by date? Liters of fresh milk are poured down the drain every day because of expired use-by dates. 

But they don’t have to be.

Dairy companies tend to lean on the side of caution when it comes to putting use-by dates on milk. Why? Because they need to be absolutely certain that the milk won’t go off before the date that’s printed on the bottle.

Did you know that there are actually loads of other ways to work out if your bottle of milk is still fresh enough to drink? Let’s take a look.


What date labels on your milk actually mean

There’s no doubt about it: date labels can be confusing. In fact, confusion over food date labeling accounts for around 20% of food waste in the USA.

When you’re food shopping, you’ll come across a variety of terms on food date labels. These include, but aren’t limited to, “best by”,  “use by” and “best if used by”.

There’s no universally accepted guideline for date labeling, so it’s very easy to get confused by the different phrases used by manufacturers.

The FDA supports the use of the phrase “best if used by”. Generally, date labels using this phrase all serve the same purpose: they indicate when the product will be at its best quality and flavor.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t drink milk that has exceeded its “best if used by” date.

If this date has passed, checking for signs of spoilage (e.g. changes in color, consistency, odor, or texture) is the best way to work out if your milk is still safe to drink.

It’s also worth noting that most store-bought milk has been pasteurized to help get rid of potentially harmful bacteria, so will generally have a longer shelf-life than raw milk.

If it still smells and looks fresh — and you bought it from the grocery store — you may be able to get a few more days’ use out of your milk!

Can milk go sour before the expiration date?

Of course, expiration dates do rely on the milk being stored in the correct conditions.

If you accidentally left your milk out on the side overnight instead of putting it back in the refrigerator or found the bottle sitting in the sunshine hours after making your morning coffee, there’s a chance that the milk might go off before the date on the label.

Always store your milk in the correct conditions to make sure it stays fresh for as long as possible!

4 ways to tell if your milk is still fresh

Let’s dive into the signs that milk is still fresh enough to drink — as well as how to tell when it isn’t…


Smell is the easiest way to judge whether your milk is still fresh.

Milk that is fresh enough to drink will have barely any odor. It will generally smell clean and slightly sweet, but will not have a noticeable scent.

On the other hand, milk that has gone off has a very noticeable smell. It will have a strong, sour odor that will immediately put you off drinking it.

So, smell is a pretty easy way to judge whether or not you should be tipping your milk down the sink!

Consistency and texture

Fresh milk will have the same consistency and texture as the day you bought it: thin, smooth, and creamy.

If milk has gone bad, the consistency and texture will have changed dramatically. You’re likely to spot lumps in gone-off milk, and it will probably look a lot thicker too.



Milk that is yellow or off-white in color has gone off and should be thrown away.

In contrast, fresh milk will be pure white in color.

If you’re finding it hard to judge the color of the milk in the bottle, pouring some into a transparent glass is an esier way to see the color clearly. If there are any signs of the milk being anything but a clean white, it’s not safe to drink.

Microwave some of the milk

If you’re still a little unsure about whether your milk is safe to drink, why not try microwaving a sample?

Pour some of the milk into a microwavable container and pop it in the microwave for a minute.

If the milk comes out of the microwave looking smooth and white, then it’s still fresh enough to drink.

But if it comes out looking slightly lumpy and/or has changed color, then the milk has gone off and should be thrown away!

Buffalo Market can answer all of your food and drink questions

If you’d like to find out more about other food and drink products in your refrigerator, we’re here to help!

Check out the Buffalo Market blog for everything from “What does Fairtrade actually mean?” to “Are Eggs Good for You?”