Coconut milk has become a popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. Its rich, creamy texture makes it a delicious addition to smoothies, curries, desserts, and more. However, unlike regular dairy milk, coconut milk comes in a can and does not require refrigeration until opening. This leads to the common question – how long can coconut milk stay out of the fridge before it goes bad?
What is Coconut Milk?
Coconut milk is made from the flesh of mature coconuts. The coconut meat is grated and soaked in hot water to extract the flavorful coconut milk. The liquid is then strained to remove any solids and produce a smooth, creamy milk. Coconut milk contains high amounts of healthy fats and nutrients like copper, iron, magnesium, and manganese.
There are two main types of coconut milk:
- Full-fat coconut milk – This type contains all the healthy fats from coconut and gives coconut milk its thick, rich texture. Full-fat coconut milk contains about 24% fat.
- Lite coconut milk – This version is diluted with water to reduce the fat content. Lite coconut milk contains about 5-12% fat.
Canned coconut milk usually comes in full-fat form, but you can find lite coconut milk in cartons. When stored properly, both types of coconut milk can last for months before going bad.
How Long Does Unopened Coconut Milk Last?
An unopened can of coconut milk will stay fresh and usable for a remarkably long shelf life. Here’s how long coconut milk lasts in an unopened can:
|Unopened Coconut Milk||Pantry||Fridge|
|Full-fat canned||2-5 years||3-5 years|
|Lite canned||18 months||2 years|
As you can see, unopened canned coconut milk stays good for well over a year past the printed expiration date in the pantry. The coconut milk will retain quality and not spoil as long as the can remains undamaged and properly sealed.
For maximum shelf life, store unopened coconut milk cans in a cool, dry place like the pantry. Avoid warm areas like near the oven or in direct sunlight. The fridge can also prolong freshness a bit longer to up to 5 years.
How to Tell if Unopened Coconut Milk is Bad
Although coconut milk can be stored for years, occasionally a can may still spoil before the expiration date. Here are some signs that indicate your unopened coconut milk has gone bad:
- Bulging or leaking can
- Rust, dents, or damage to the can
- Foul odors when opening
- Mold growing inside the can
- Changes in color or texture
- Sour or bitter taste when sampled
If your unopened coconut milk shows any of these signs, it has spoiled and should be thrown out. Don’t taste coconut milk if you suspect it may be bad.
How Long Does Opened Coconut Milk Last?
Once opened, coconut milk has a much shorter shelf life. Exposure to oxygen starts the countdown to spoilage. Proper storage is key to maximize the shelf life of opened coconut milk.
Here’s how long opened coconut milk will last:
|Opened Coconut Milk||Refrigerator (40°F or below)|
|Full-fat canned||7-10 days|
|Lite canned||5-7 days|
As you can see, opened canned coconut milk only lasts about 1-2 weeks in the fridge. To maximize the shelf life, store coconut milk in an airtight container and keep it cold at 40°F or below. The key is minimizing contact with oxygen to prevent spoilage.
Cartons of coconut milk, like full-fat and lite varieties, have a similar fridge life of about a week. To store, re-seal the carton tightly and place it on the upper fridge shelves away from the door.
How to Tell If Opened Coconut Milk Has Gone Bad
Coconut milk can spoil quickly once opened. Check for these signs that indicate it has gone bad:
- Sour, unpleasant odor
- Mold growing on surface
- Fizzing, fermenting appearance
- Change in color or consistency
- Separation, with clear whey on top
- Clumps or curdling
If your opened coconut milk exhibits any of those characteristics, play it safe and toss it. Don’t taste rancid coconut milk.
Does Coconut Milk Go Bad When Frozen?
Freezing extends the shelf life of opened coconut milk significantly. Frozen properly, coconut milk can last 6-12 months in the freezer.
- Store opened coconut milk in airtight freezer-safe containers.
- Leave about 1/2 inch headspace to allow for expansion.
- Seal tightly and place in freezer, ideally at 0°F or below.
- Once thawed, use within 1 week.
Avoid repeated freeze-thaw cycles, as this speeds up degradation in quality and texture. Portion into smaller containers for easy single use.
How to Use Up Coconut Milk
When you open a can of coconut milk, use it up promptly within 1-2 weeks for best flavor and texture. Here are tips for using up coconut milk before it spoils:
- Smoothies – Add to fruit and green smoothies for creaminess
- Chia pudding – Mix with chia seeds for a nutritious breakfast pudding
- Curries – Use in Thai, Indian or island curries and stews
- Cereal – Pour over granola, oats or muesli for a dairy-free breakfast
- Baked goods – Substitute for milk in cakes, cookies, and muffins
- Ice cream – Blend into homemade coconut milk ice cream
- Soups – Add richness and body to blended soups
- Coffee – Use as a creamer in coffee, lattes and cappuccinos
Refrigerate leftovers in airtight containers. You can also freeze coconut milk in ice cube trays for adding to smoothies or drinks later on.
Can coconut milk be left at room temperature?
No, coconut milk should not sit out at room temperature once opened. To prevent bacterial growth, store opened coconut milk in the refrigerator at 40°F or below. Discard if left out for over 2 hours.
Can you get sick from bad coconut milk?
Yes, spoiled coconut milk can make you sick. Contaminated coconut milk may harbor dangerous bacteria like Salmonella, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus cereus, which can all lead to food poisoning or gastrointestinal illness if consumed.
Does coconut milk need to be refrigerated?
Unopened coconut milk does not need refrigeration. Sealed, canned coconut milk can be stored in the pantry for years. Once opened, coconut milk must be refrigerated and used within 7-10 days.
Can you re-freeze thawed coconut milk?
It’s best not to refreeze thawed coconut milk. Refreezing can impact the texture and flavor. If you thaw more than you need, portion the remainder into an airtight container and store in the fridge for up to one week.
The Bottom Line
Sealed, canned coconut milk has an impressively long shelf life at room temperature. But once you break the seal into the can, it’s important to refrigerate it and use within 7-10 days. To maximize freshness, store opened coconut milk in airtight containers and keep it chilled at or below 40°F.
Check coconut milk for any signs of spoilage like odor, color changes, mold, curdling, or separation before consuming. And remember to freeze extras for prolonged storage. Follow these tips and your coconut milk will stay fresh and delicious.