Almond milk has become a popular plant-based milk alternative for many people. Its creamy texture and nutty flavor make it a tasty choice for cereals, smoothies, coffee drinks and more. But there is some confusion around whether almond milk needs to be refrigerated at all times or if it can be left unrefrigerated for periods of time. This article will examine if it is safe to consume almond milk that has not been refrigerated.
How is Almond Milk Made?
To understand if unrefrigerated almond milk is safe to drink, it helps to first understand how almond milk is made. There are a few main steps in the production process:
- Almonds are blanched – this means they are quickly boiled to soften them and remove the skins.
- The blanched almonds are then ground down into a meal and mixed with water to make a milk-like consistency.
- The mixture is strained to remove the larger almond pieces, leaving behind a creamy, nutty liquid.
- Vitamins, minerals and other nutrients are added back in for fortification.
- The almond milk is packaged into cartons, bottles or other containers.
This shows that the base of almond milk is simply almonds and water. No preservatives or chemicals are used in most brands during the production process. This means there is potential for almond milk to spoil if left unrefrigerated.
Do All Almond Milks Need Refrigeration?
While the main ingredients of almond milk are quite simple, not all almond milks on the market are created equal when it comes to refrigeration. There are a few key factors that come into play:
How the almond milk is packaged makes a difference in terms of refrigeration. Almond milk sold in refrigerated cartons is intended to be kept cold at all times. The packaging is not designed to block light or slow spoilage. Alternatively, shelf-stable almond milk in aseptic cartons or bottles uses a different processing method called ultra high temperature (UHT) treatment. This allows the milk to remain stable unrefrigerated until the package is opened.
2. Added Preservatives
Some almond milk brands add preservatives like potassium sorbate to help prevent mold and bacterial growth. This helps extend the shelf life and can allow it to be unrefrigerated for longer periods before opening compared to almond milk with no preservatives. But preservatives cannot prevent spoilage forever.
3. Sugar Content
Higher sugar varieties of almond milk tend to have a longer shelf life unopened compared to unsweetened or low sugar options. The added sugar helps inhibit bacterial growth and slow spoilage.
So in summary, aseptic/shelf-stable packaging, added preservatives and higher sugar content allow some almond milks to remain stable at room temperature when unopened. But once opened, refrigeration is best.
How to Tell if Unrefrigerated Almond Milk is Bad
If you’ve left your carton of almond milk out on the counter accidentally, how can you tell if it has spoiled and needs to be thrown out? Here are a few ways to determine if unrefrigerated almond milk has gone bad:
- Smell – Spoiled milk will have a distinct sour odor.
- Taste – If it tastes tangy, bitter or unpleasant, it has likely gone off.
- Texture – Bad almond milk may be chunky, grainy or coagulated rather than smooth.
- Color – The color may change to a yellow or amber hue.
- Mold – Visible mold spots mean the milk should be discarded.
- Expiration date – If past the “best by” date, it should not be consumed.
If you notice any of these signs, it is best to be on the safe side and throw out the carton of almond milk. Consuming spoiled milk can lead to unpleasant reactions like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in some cases.
How Long Can Unrefrigerated Almond Milk Sit Out?
Here is a table summarizing how long different types of almond milk can sit out at room temperature once opened:
|Type of Almond Milk||Time Unrefrigerated Once Opened|
|Shelf-stable, aseptic carton||7-10 days|
|Refrigerated carton||2-3 days|
|Refrigerated with preservatives||5-7 days|
As you can see, the shelf-stable varieties in aseptic packaging have the longest shelf life after opening, staying fresh for up to 10 days. Refrigerated options last 2-7 days. And homemade almond milk has the shortest shelf life once opened.
Tips for Proper Almond Milk Storage
To get the longest shelf life out of your almond milk once opened, follow these storage tips:
- Transfer to a sealed container – This blocks out light and oxygen that can degrade the milk.
- Store in the refrigerator – Keep opened almond milk chilled at 40°F or below.
- Check the use-by date – Don’t consume past the recommended use date on the package.
- Use quickly – Try to use opened almond milk within 7-10 days.
- Look for signs of spoilage – Discard if you see changes in smell, texture or appearance.
- Don’t return to room temperature – Once refrigerated, keep opened milk stored in the fridge.
Following these guidelines will help your almond milk stay fresh and last as long as possible after opening.
Can You Freeze Almond Milk?
Freezing is an option for storing almond milk longer term after opening. Here is what you need to know about freezing almond milk:
- It is safe to freeze – Simply pour into airtight containers or freezer bags.
- Texture may change – It may separate and be grainier after thawing.
- Shake well before using – Mix thawed milk well to reincorporate separated components.
- Use within 3-6 months – For best quality and taste.
- Avoid repeated freezes/thaws – Only freeze once then refrigerate after thawing.
Freezing can extend the shelf life for a few extra months. Just be aware the texture may be slightly altered after thawing.
Can Unrefrigerated Almond Milk Make You Sick?
Consuming almond milk that has been left out too long can in some cases lead to foodborne illness. Here are a few potential risks:
- Bacterial growth – Harmful bacteria like staphylococcus, salmonella and E. coli can grow if milk is left at room temperature too long.
- Mold – Mold spores spreading through the milk can cause allergic reactions or respiratory issues if ingested.
- Food poisoning – Symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps and diarrhea.
- Toxin production – Bacteria can release heat-stable toxins that cooking cannot destroy.
To avoid getting sick, it’s important to adhere to almond milk storage guidelines and watch for any signs of spoilage. At the first indication of an off smell, taste or appearance, the milk should be discarded.
Does Unrefrigerated Almond Milk Lose Nutrients?
One downside of leaving almond milk unrefrigerated is that over time, the nutrient content can degrade:
- Vitamins like A, D, E, K, B6 and B12 can oxidize and break down with heat and light exposure.
- Loss of vitamin C – This delicate nutrient is easily destroyed by oxygen, light and higher temperatures.
- Mineral depletion – Important minerals like calcium and potassium deteriorate in stability.
- Protein breakdown – Heat and bacteria can denature and degrade milk proteins over time.
To get the most nutrition from your almond milk, it’s best to refrigerate it after opening and consume within the recommended window of 7-10 days. This helps retain the highest level of vitamins, minerals and proteins it provides.
Pasteurization Makes Almond Milk Shelf-Stable
You may be wondering how shelf-stable almond milk in aseptic packaging can remain stable at room temperature for so long without spoiling. The answer lies in pasteurization.
This process heats the milk to high temperatures (at least 145°F) for a set period of time. This effectively kills bacteria, yeasts and molds that could cause spoilage while also inactivating enzymes that accelerate deterioration.
Ultra high temperature (UHT) pasteurization allows almond milk to be shelf-stable for up to a year. This involves heating milk to 280°F for just a few seconds. The high heat kills microorganisms while the packaging blocks light and oxygen.
So in summary, pasteurization enables almond milk to resist spoilage at room temperature – but only until you open the package. Once exposed to air, it’s best to refrigerate opened milk.
Can You Make Your Own Shelf-Stable Almond Milk?
While commercial almond milk goes through pasteurization to make it shelf-stable, it is possible to make your own homemade almond milk last longer unrefrigerated at home.
Here are some tips for extending the shelf life:
- Start with really hot water – Use water that’s boiled for several minutes then cooled slightly.
- Sanitize equipment – Thoroughly wash and sanitize containers, strainers etc.
- Don’t add fresh almonds – Use roasted, blanched or reconstituted almonds.
- Add lemon juice – The acidity helps inhibit bacteria.
- Freeze in portions – Freezing homemade milk in smaller batches helps it last longer after thawing.
However, homemade almond milk will still need to be refrigerated and used quicker than commercial shelf-stable varieties – within 3-5 days is best.
At the end of the day, the shelf life of almond milk varies quite a bit based on the type and preparation method. While some aseptic-packaged milks stay fresh for weeks unopened at room temperature, most almond milk does need refrigeration after opening for the best quality and food safety.
Be sure to store opened almond milk in the fridge in a sealed container and use within 7-10 days. Check for any separation, off-smells or mold growth before consuming. And don’t take chances – when in doubt, throw it out. Following proper storage and food safety guidelines will help prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria and ensure you safely enjoy all the benefits of delicious almond milk.