Oat milk has become an increasingly popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. With its creamy texture and mild, pleasant flavor, oat milk can be used in many of the same ways as regular dairy milk – such as in cereals, smoothies, coffee drinks, and more. However, like any perishable food product, oat milk does have an expiration date that indicates when it may no longer be safe to consume. So what should you do if you discover an unopened carton of oat milk past its ‘use by’ date in the back of your refrigerator? Let’s take a detailed look at whether expired oat milk is still okay to drink if it’s been stored properly unopened.
How long does unopened oat milk last past its expiration date?
The shelf life of unopened oat milk depends on a variety of factors, including the type of packaging, how it was processed and stored, and the ingredients used. In general, commercially packaged oat milk stored continuously at 40°F or below should last 5-10 days past its printed expiration date while retaining peak quality.
However, oat milk may remain safe to drink for even longer – typically up to 2-4 weeks past its expiration date if the carton remains properly sealed and refrigerated. The key is minimizing temperature fluctuations and exposure to light and air to prevent spoilage.
Signs that oat milk has spoiled
How can you tell if an expired, unopened oat milk carton in the fridge has gone bad and may not be safe to consume? Here are some signs of spoiled oat milk to watch out for:
- Bulging or leaking packaging – This indicates gas buildup and bacterial growth.
- Unpleasant sour odor when opened – Spoiled oat milk will smell rancid or ‘off’.
- Change in consistency – Expired oat milk may become chunky, gelatinous, slimy, or watery.
- Unnatural color – The milk may fade, darken, or curdle.
- Mold visible inside package – This is an obvious sign to toss the milk.
If your unopened oat milk exhibits any of these characteristics past its expiration date, it’s best to err on the side of caution and discard it.
Is expired oat milk safe to drink?
While it’s possible consuming a small amount of oat milk a short time past its expiration may not make you sick, there are risks to be aware of. Harmful microorganisms like bacteria, mold, and yeast can multiply over time, producing toxins that cause foodborne illness. Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps.
One study published in the Journal of Dairy Science inoculated cartons of various plant-based milks, including oat, with common spoilage microbes. While unopened cartons had minimal microbial growth, colonies multiplied rapidly once opened and held at room temperature for 48 hours, making the milk unsafe to drink.
Young children, older adults, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk of food poisoning. To avoid jeopardizing your health, it’s generally recommended to discard any oat milk more than 1-2 weeks past its printed expiration date.
How to extend the shelf life of unopened oat milk
To get the longest possible shelf life out of your oat milk and minimize unnecessary waste:
- Purchase smaller cartons you can use up quicker once opened.
- Check expiration dates and choose later ones when grocery shopping.
- Store unopened oat milk cartons towards the back of the fridge, not the door.
- Keep fridge temp at 40°F or below. Higher temps shorten shelf life.
- Avoid temp fluctuations – don’t let oat milk sit out then refreeze.
- Consume opened cartons within 5-7 days.
- Keep unused portion sealed airtight and refrigerated.
Following proper storage and handling guidelines gives you a buffer should you discover an unopened carton past its expiration date. But when in doubt, remember it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Can expired oat milk be used in cooking or baking?
While it’s not recommended to consume expired oat milk straight from the carton, you may wonder whether it could be safely used as an ingredient in cooked or baked foods. The answer is yes – using oat milk slightly past its prime in hot recipes can be fine in most cases.
Why? Heat from cooking or baking significantly reduces microbial levels in foods. Temperatures above 165°F are considered safe. So long as the oat milk hasn’t completely spoiled, the high heat from recipes like oatmeal, sauces, baked goods, etc. would kill any potentially harmful bacteria present.
That said, the texture, flavor, and quality of the oat milk may degrade the longer it’s expired. Its performance in recipes may be altered. You may notice changes like separation, curdling, off-flavors, etc. So you need to evaluate if the risks of subpar results outweigh potential benefits of using up otherwise wasted milk.
Can you freeze expired oat milk?
Freezing is a convenient way to halt microbial growth in foods about to “expire” and extend their shelf life. However, freezing and thawing oat milk impacts its texture significantly. The process breaks down the milk’s emulsion leading to separation and a thin, watery consistency once thawed.
While not ideal for drinking, frozen expired oat milk is fine to use in smoothies, cereals, baked goods, etc. where the change in texture is less noticeable. Allow it to thaw in the refrigerator before use. Consume within 1-2 days after thawing.
To freeze oat milk:
- Check carton for any signs of spoilage. Do not freeze if oat milk smells or looks ‘off’.
- Freeze milk in original container or pour into airtight freezer bags.
- Lay cartons flat in freezer to speed up freezing.
- Use thawed oat milk within 24-48 hours for best quality.
Can you use oat milk past its expiration date?
|Not recommended. Discard 1-2 weeks past expiration.
|Adding to hot foods
|Okay to use in cooking/baking.
|Okay if frozen/thawed up to 1 week expired.
|Not ideal, may curdle or taste unpleasant.
The bottom line
Checking your oat milk’s expiration date before use is the best way to ensure safety and quality. While unopened, properly stored cartons may last for up to 2-4 weeks past the printed date, it’s generally recommended to discard oat milk over 1-2 weeks expired.
Consuming oat milk that’s spoiled or very old can potentially lead to foodborne illness, with greater risks for vulnerable groups like young children and the elderly. Your best bet is sticking to non-expired cartons whenever possible.
However, milk slightly past its prime may be salvaged to use in cooked dishes or baking, where high heat reduces microbial hazards. Freezing can also extend the shelf life for use in smoothies, cereals, and baking. But the texture and flavor will deteriorate over time.
With proper refrigerated storage and handling, you can optimize your oat milk’s shelf life. But when in doubt, remember it’s better to be safe than sick – especially when a quick trip to the store for fresh milk is the better option.