Almond milk has become an increasingly popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. Unlike regular dairy milk, the shelf life and proper storage of almond milk is not as widely understood. This leaves many people wondering – does almond milk need to be refrigerated at all times or can it be stored at room temperature for any period?
This article will examine the refrigeration requirements for almond milk in detail. We’ll look at how long unopened and opened almond milk can be left unrefrigerated, how to tell if it has gone bad, the safety issues involved, and tips for maximizing its shelf life. Read on for the complete guide to properly storing almond milk!
Overview of Almond Milk
Before getting into the storage details, let’s first review what exactly almond milk is and why refrigeration is even a question.
Almond milk is a plant-based milk substitute made from blanched almonds and water. The almonds are ground down and soaked in water to extract the almond flavor and creaminess, then strained to remove the almond pulp. Sometimes sugar, salt, and natural flavors are also added.
Unlike cow’s milk which contains lactose and dairy proteins, almond milk contains no dairy at all. The lack of dairy means unopened, shelf-stable almond milk can be stored without refrigeration. However, once opened it requires refrigeration due to the potential for bacterial growth.
There are two main types of almond milk available:
Shelf-stable or aseptic almond milk: This type has been commercially sterilized at ultra-high temperatures and packaged in sterile containers. It does not require refrigeration until the package is opened.
Refrigerated almond milk: This type has not been ultra-heat treated and contains live active cultures. It must be kept refrigerated at all times, even when unopened.
Now let’s look at the refrigeration requirements for each type of almond milk in more detail.
Does Unopened Almond Milk Need Refrigeration?
Whether unopened almond milk needs refrigeration depends on which type you have purchased:
Shelf-stable almond milk – No, unopened shelf-stable almond milk does not need to be refrigerated. The ultra-high temperature processing extends the shelf life to several months unrefrigerated. As long as the container remains properly sealed, the milk can be stored at room temperature anywhere from 6-12 months depending on the brand. Some may last up to 18 months. Be sure to check the “use by” date printed on the packaging.
Refrigerated almond milk – Yes, refrigerated almond milk should always be kept chilled, even when still unopened. Since the live cultures have not been killed off with high heat, refrigeration is required to inhibit bacterial growth and spoilage. Leaving refrigerated almond milk out at room temperature, even when sealed, can reduce the quality and shorten the shelf life once opened.
How Long Can Opened Almond Milk Sit Out?
Once opened, both shelf-stable and refrigerated almond milk need prompt refrigeration. Here is how long each type can safely remain at room temperature after opening:
Opened shelf-stable almond milk: 7-10 days refrigerated, 7 days max unrefrigerated after opening.
Since aseptic almond milk does not contain live cultures, the risk of spoilage is lower than refrigerated varieties. However, contamination is still possible after opening so storage in the refrigerator is recommended. If left unrefrigerated, opened shelf-stable almond milk should be consumed within 7 days and discarded after a maximum of 10 days after opening.
Opened refrigerated almond milk: 7-10 days refrigerated, 2 days max unrefrigerated after opening.
As refrigerated almond milk already contains live, active cultures, once exposed to air and light these multiply rapidly so refrigeration is critical. Opened containers should not sit at room temperature for more than 2 days before being transferred to the fridge. Consume within 7-10 days for best quality and safety.
How to Tell if Almond Milk Has Gone Bad
Whether shelf-stable or refrigerated, almond milk eventually spoils and must be discarded at the first signs of spoilage. Here are tips for identifying bad almond milk:
- Check the “use by” or expiration date. If this date has passed, throw away the almond milk.
- Check for changes in appearance – almond milk normally has a creamy white color so yellowing, separation, or curdling are red flags for spoilage.
- Check for unpleasant odors – spoiled almond milk gives off a distinct sour, unpleasant smell.
- Check the taste – bad almond milk will have a distinct bitter flavor.
- Check the container – swelling or leaking containers can indicate gas production by spoilage microorganisms.
If your almond milk shows any of these signs of spoilage, err on the side of caution and throw it away. Consuming spoiled almond milk can cause unpleasant symptoms like nausea, bloating, or diarrhea. Don’t rely on your sense of smell, taste, or sight alone to determine if your almond milk is safe to drink. When in doubt, throw it out.
Safety Issues of Leaving Almond Milk Unrefrigerated
Now that we’ve covered the proper storage for almond milk, why is refrigeration so important? What are the risks of leaving it out too long? Here are some of the main safety issues:
Bacterial growth – When left unrefrigerated over time, even sealed almond milk can allow the growth of bacteria that leads to spoilage. This is especially risky once opened. Possible contaminants include salmonella, listeria, e. coli, and other foodborne pathogens. Consuming contaminated almond milk can cause serious gastrointestinal illness.
Nutrient degradation – Over time, the vitamins and other nutrients in almond milk degrade more rapidly when left unrefrigerated. This reduces the nutritional value of the milk.
Off flavors/textures – Excess heat and air exposure causes faster deterioration in flavors, aromas, and texture. Almond milk left unrefrigerated may develop an unpleasant sour taste, smell, separation, or curdling.
Gas and swelling – Spoilage microorganisms produce gas as a byproduct, which can cause containers to look inflated or leak. This is a tell-tale sign your almond milk has been left out too long.
Food waste – Improper storage shortens the shelf life of almond milk, causing it to spoil faster and leading to more wasted containers thrown away.
Following the refrigeration guidelines helps mitigate all these risks. Take the storage times seriously and remember – when in doubt, it’s safer to just throw it out.
Tips to Maximize Shelf Life
To get the most out of your almond milk and minimize waste, here are some useful tips:
- Purchase smaller containers for frequent use so there is less leftover once opened.
- Transfer any leftover almond milk from the original container to a sealed pitcher or airtight container to avoid contaminating the unused portion.
- Always screw lids on tightly to avoid leaks or spills in transit.
- Keep the lid on tight and return promptly to the refrigerator after each use.
- Store almond milk on an interior refrigerator shelf, not the door where it will be exposed to more warm air.
- Check expiration or “use by” dates and follow these – don’t just rely on smell or taste.
- Write the date opened on the container so you know how long it’s been.
- Don’t return unfinished glasses of almond milk back to the container – this can introduce bacteria.
- Keep your refrigerator set below 40°F.
- Don’t store opened almond milk for longer than recommended time frames, even refrigerated.
Following these easy good storage practices will keep your almond milk fresher for longer!
So in summary, here are the key rules for almond milk refrigeration:
- Shelf-stable almond milk does NOT need refrigeration.
- Refrigerated almond milk MUST be refrigerated.
- Both types MUST be refrigerated – discard opened shelf-stable almond milk after 7-10 days and opened refrigerated almond milk after 7 days.
- Keep the time opened refrigerated as short as possible – no more than 7 days for shelf-stable and just 2 days for refrigerated.
Check packaging, labels, expiration dates, and signs of spoilage closely. When in doubt if your almond milk is safe, don’t take risks – throw it out! Follow the storage guidance in this article and your almond milk will stay fresher for longer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Still have some lingering questions about the refrigeration requirements for almond milk? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:
Does unopened shelf-stable almond milk ever need refrigeration?
No, unopened commercially sterile shelf-stable almond milk does not require refrigeration. It can safely be stored in the pantry up to the expiration date on the package.
Can I freeze almond milk?
Yes, you can safely freeze both opened and unopened almond milk for longer term storage. Thaw frozen milk overnight in the fridge before use. However, freezing can affect the texture and taste.
How can I make almond milk last longer after opening?
Refrigerate opened almond milk immediately in an airtight container, follow recommended timelines for consumption, and check frequently for any signs of spoilage. Transferring to smaller containers helps minimize waste.
Can I refrigerate an unopened container of refrigerated almond milk after it’s been left out?
No, if refrigerated almond milk has been left unrefrigerated for over 2 hours, it is unsafe to put back in the fridge. The milk should be discarded.
Is it safe to consume almond milk past the expiration date on the package?
No, the expiration or “use by” dates should be followed closely. Consuming expired almond milk even if refrigerated can present health risks. When in doubt, throw expired almond milk out.
How do I know if my almond milk has gone bad if it’s not expired?
Check for changes in appearance, smell, taste, or leaking/swollen packaging which can indicate spoilage before the expiration date. If any signs are present, discard the milk to be safe.
The Bottom Line
Properly storing almond milk is important for both food safety and maximizing shelf life. Shelf-stable, unopened almond milk keeps for months without refrigeration. But once opened, both shelf-stable and refrigerated varieties require prompt refrigeration.
Don’t let almond milk sit out for more than 2 days after opening. Follow any signs of spoilage closely and don’t consume even refrigerated almond milk past 7-10 days open or past the expiration date. When unsure if your almond milk is still good, remember it’s better to be safe than sorry and just throw it out.
This covers everything you need to know about whether almond milk requires refrigeration! To keep your milk fresh and safe for consumption, be sure to follow the storage guidance outlined above. Taking a few simple precautions like prompt refrigeration, using smaller containers, monitoring dates, and checking for spoilage will help your almond milk stay fresh as long as possible. Know the different requirements for shelf-stable versus refrigerated types and how to identify when your milk has gone bad. With this knowledge, you can enjoy the many benefits of almond milk while avoiding the health risks of consuming spoiled milk.