Oat milk has become increasingly popular in recent years as a plant-based alternative to dairy milk. With its creamy texture and mild, sweet flavor, oat milk can be used in many of the same ways as regular cow’s milk – in coffee, smoothies, cereal, or just drank plain. However, like any perishable food product, oat milk does have an expiration date that indicates how long it should remain fresh and safe to consume.
What is the shelf life of oat milk?
The exact shelf life of oat milk can vary depending on the brand, how it is processed and packaged, and how it is stored after opening. In general, unopened oat milk purchased from the grocery store will have a best by date about 5-10 days after the packaging date. Once opened, oat milk should be used within 7-10 days. The expiration date is usually printed on the top or side of the carton.
|Type of Oat Milk
|About 5-10 days after pack date
|About 7 days
|Refrigerated, plastic bottle
|About 10-14 days after pack date
|About 7-10 days
Shelf-stable, tetra-pak oat milk that does not require refrigeration generally has a shorter shelf life than refrigerated varieties. Refrigerated oat milk in plastic bottles has a slightly longer shelf life than shelf-stable, but should still be consumed within about a week of opening.
How to tell if oat milk is bad
Even if oat milk is past the printed expiration date, that does not necessarily mean it has gone bad. Here are some signs that opened oat milk has spoiled and should be discarded:
- Sour smell
- Curdled texture or separation
- Mold visible on surface
- Fizzing or bubbling when container is opened
- Change in color from white to yellow or brown
Oat milk that has truly spoiled due to bacteria growth will have an unpleasant sour odor and may become lumpy or curdled. If you see any mold growing in the container, or notice a fizzing sensation when you open it, the oat milk has fermented and should be thrown out.
How long is oat milk good past expiration date?
As a general rule of thumb, unopened, shelf-stable oat milk may remain drinkable for up to 1 week past the printed expiration date, as long as it was stored properly in a cool, dry pantry. Refrigerated oat milk is more perishable and is only likely to last for 2-3 days past its expiration date when kept chilled at 40°F or below.
However, please use your best judgment when evaluating the condition of expired oat milk. Give it a sniff test – if it has developed an unpleasant sour aroma, it is best to discard it. Taste a small sip – if it tastes rancid or bitter, do not consume it. Even if the oat milk looks and smells normal but is over a week past its expiration date, err on the side of caution for food safety and throw it out.
How to store oat milk correctly
To help maximize the shelf life of oat milk once opened, be sure to store it properly:
- Keep refrigerated at 40°F or below
- Seal the container tightly after each use
- Store towards the back of the fridge, not on the door
- Keep away from light to avoid nutrient degradation
- Do not return unused milk back to the original container after pouring
- Avoid extreme temperature fluctuations
A good rule of thumb is to treat opened oat milk the same way you would regular dairy milk. Keeping oat milk consistently chilled once opened will slow bacteria growth and enzymatic activity that can cause it to spoil faster.
Can spoiled oat milk make you sick?
Consuming oat milk that has truly spoiled can potentially cause foodborne illness. Here are some of the risks:
- Food poisoning – Spoiled milk can harbor dangerous bacteria like Salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, and Bacillus cereus, which can all lead to food poisoning symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach pain.
- Toxin production – Bacteria generates toxins as the milk spoils that can cause illness. This is more of a risk with protein-containing dairy milk.
- Mold exposure – Some molds that grow on spoiled milk produce mycotoxins that may cause adverse health effects if ingested.
While unpleasant gastrointestinal distress is the most common side effect, compromised groups like pregnant women, young children, older adults, and those with weak immune systems are at higher risk for potentially dangerous effects of consuming rancid oat milk. When in doubt, remember it’s better to be safe than sorry – if your oat milk is past its prime, throw it out!
Tips for using up oat milk before it expires
To help avoid wasting oat milk that is close to expiring, here are some tips:
- Give it a shake or stir – Separation is common but does not mean it is spoiled
- Use in smoothies, oatmeal, or baked goods
- Portion out extras into ice cube trays and freeze for later use
- Cook with it when a recipe calls for milk
- Make creamy soups, sauces, or puddings
Getting creative with recipes and freezing can help you use up oat milk while it’s still fresh and save you a last-minute dumping of unused milk.
Can expired oat milk be used for things besides drinking?
While it’s not recommended to drink oat milk that is past expiration, you may be able to safely use it in some cooking and baking applications, especially if it has been refrigerated properly. Here are some possible uses for expired oat milk:
- Baking – Cookies, cakes, muffins, breads
- Pancakes, waffles, crepes
- Soups, sauces, puddings
- Coffee creamer
The heating process when baking or cooking can destroy many harmful bacteria that may be present in expired milk. However, if the milk is curdled or moldy, it is safest to discard it. When using in raw applications like smoothies, inspect closely and give it a smell/taste test beforehand.
Should you throw out oat milk if power goes out?
If the power goes out for an extended period, allowing refrigerated perishable foods like oat milk to warm to room temperature or higher, it can reduce their safe shelf life. Here are some guidelines for oat milk if power is lost:
- Under 2 hours – Should still be safe if chilled again promptly
- 2-3 hours – Use caution and inspect before consuming
- Over 4 hours – Best to discard
- Over 60°F for over 2 hours – Discard to be safe
If refrigerated oat milk temperature exceeds 60°F for more than 2 hours, bacteria growth is likely to accelerate so it’s best to throw it out. When in doubt after a power outage, remember it’s better to discard questionable perishable goods.
Should you sniff test, taste test, or look for signs of spoilage?
To determine if oat milk is still usable or has spoiled, the best approach is to use all of your senses and trust your judgment. Here are some steps:
- Look – Check for curdling, separation, mold growth, or a dramatic color change
- Smell – Give it a sniff test – rancid milk gives off a distinct sour odor
- Feel – Note any changes in consistency or texture
- Taste – Take a small sip if needed to check for odd flavors
Trust all your senses combined. Even if the milk looks normal but smells or tastes off, err on the side of caution. When inspecting older oat milk, even a small sip is enough to determine if it has an unpleasant flavor. If anything seems questionable, play it safe and discard the milk.
Oat milk does have an expiration date for optimal freshness and food safety, but it may still be fine for consumption for 1-3 days past that date depending on proper storage and handling. However, oat milk approaching 1-2 weeks past its printed date should be discarded, as spoilage bacteria are likely to multiply by that point. Remember to rely on common sense – give expired milk a thorough look, smell and taste check before consuming to determine if it has truly soured or not. When in any doubt, throw it out to avoid potential foodborne illness. Following proper refrigerated storage guidelines and using oat milk in a timely manner is the best way to get the most out of this nutritious, plant-based milk alternative.