Almond milk has become a popular plant-based milk alternative in recent years. With its creamy texture and nutty flavor, many people enjoy using almond milk in their coffee, cereal, smoothies, and more. But what if you accidentally leave an opened carton of almond milk out on the counter overnight? Is it still safe to consume?
The Shelf Life of Almond Milk
First, let’s examine the typical shelf life of almond milk. Unopened, almond milk will stay fresh for several months past the “best by” date printed on the carton. However, once opened, the shelf life decreases significantly.
|Type of Almond Milk
|Shelf Life After Opening
|Refrigerated almond milk
|Shelf-stable almond milk
As you can see, the shelf life of opened almond milk is quite short – just 7-10 days when properly stored in the refrigerator. Leaving almond milk out at room temperature overnight significantly decreases its freshness and shelf life.
The Dangers of Leaving Almond Milk Out
There are a few reasons why it’s risky to consume almond milk that has sat at room temperature overnight:
- Bacterial growth – Milk alternatives like almond milk are prone to bacterial growth when left unrefrigerated. Harmful bacteria such as staphylococcus, salmonella, and E. coli can grow rapidly in the nutrients found in almond milk.
- Spoilage – Leaving almond milk out can also cause spoilage more quickly. Signs of spoiled milk include changes in texture, smell, taste, and appearance.
- Vitamin loss – Almond milk provides nutrients like vitamin E, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A. Heat and exposure to air degrade these sensitive vitamins.
How Long Can Almond Milk Sit Out?
The exact amount of time almond milk can be left out before it goes bad depends on several factors:
- Temperature – The warmer the temperature, the faster bacteria can multiply. On a hot summer day, bacteria grow exponentially faster.
- Container – Was the carton opened or sealed? An opened container exposes the milk directly to air and bacteria.
- Expiration date – Fresher almond milk near the beginning of its shelf life lasts longer unrefrigerated vs older milk.
As a general rule of thumb, unrefrigerated almond milk should be discarded after:
|Time Before Discarding
|Over 90°F (32°C)
Once almond milk has sat at room temperature for more than 4 hours, it is safest to discard it.
How to Tell if Almond Milk is Bad
If you’re not sure how long your almond milk has been left out, check it for the following signs of spoilage before consuming:
- Smell – Fresh almond milk smells sweet and nutty. If it smells sour or unpleasant, it has likely started to spoil.
- Appearance – The milk may look curdled or separated with a watery layer on top. Discoloration or fuzz can also indicate spoilage.
- Taste – Spoiled milk will taste unpleasant or bitter.
- Texture – Bad almond milk can become slimy or chunky in texture.
If your almond milk exhibits any of these signs after sitting out overnight, err on the side of caution and throw it out.
How to Store Almond Milk Properly
To get the longest shelf life out of your almond milk, be sure to store it correctly:
- Keep almond milk refrigerated at 40°F or below until ready to use.
- Seal the container tightly after each use.
- Store almond milk towards the back of the fridge, rather than the door.
- Check the “best by” date and use within 7-10 days of opening.
- Don’t return almond milk to the fridge if left out more than 4 hours.
- Keep the fridge clean and free of food spills to avoid cross-contamination.
Proper refrigerated storage helps almond milk stay fresh and last for its full shelf life after opening.
Can You Freeze Almond Milk?
If you won’t be able to finish the almond milk within 7-10 days, consider freezing the remainder. To freeze:
- Pour milk into freezer-safe containers, leaving 1⁄2 inch of headspace.
- Seal tightly and label with the date.
- Freeze for up to 3 months.
- Thaw in the refrigerator before use.
- Use thawed milk within 1 week.
- Avoid refreezing milk more than once.
Freezing prevents bacterial growth and slows vitamin degradation. Just be aware that freezing may cause some separation. Shake well before using thawed frozen almond milk.
Can Leftover Almond Milk be Used in Cooking?
Almond milk that is past its prime can be salvaged for use in baked goods or other cooked foods. The heat from baking or cooking destroys any harmful bacteria present. Avoid using soured almond milk in raw applications like smoothies though.
Here are some ideas for using up older almond milk:
- Pancakes or waffles
- Mashed potatoes
- Macaroni and cheese
The almond flavor often complements these dishes well. Just be sure the milk doesn’t curdle or separate when heated. If so, it’s best to discard it.
The Bottom Line
Leaving almond milk unrefrigerated overnight is risky due to rapid bacteria growth. For highest safety and quality, almond milk should be discarded if left out more than 4 hours. Check for signs of spoilage before consuming milk that has sat out. While the shelf life shortens once opened, you can maximize freshness by refrigerating almond milk properly. With some planning, you can also freeze extra milk to avoid waste.
In the end, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to perishable foods like almond milk. If in doubt, it’s best to just throw it out.