How You Can Help Solve America’s Milk Problem

Feb 14th, 2019 | By Amy Leibrock

Liz West via Flickr

America, we have a milk problem. We pour out 34 pounds of milk per person every year, costing us a collective $4 billion, according to the USDA. The real tragedy is that a lot of this milk is still safe to drink and use.

It’s not you — it’s the labels

One of the major reasons people dump milk prematurely is because of confusion around date labels. The date you see stamped on your carton is not an “expiration” date, as many of us grew up believing. It’s also not regulated by federal law. Rather, the date is an indicator of when the manufacturer thinks the product will be at “peak quality,” a standard that is often more concerned with taste and sales than consumer welfare.

When deciding whether you should drink or toss your milk, our eyes and nose are better indicators than the date. Want proof? A study by Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences found that participants were more likely to throw away the same milk when it had a date label, even though it still smelled and tasted fine.

Get Sweet on Sour Milk

Even if your milk has gone a little sour, it’s still safe to use. Our video explains more about what happens to milk as it ages and four ways to use sour milk.


As pasteurized milk ages, harmless bacteria start to consume the sugars in the milk, producing lactic acid. At this point, it starts to smell and taste sour, but it’s still safe to consume. (That acid actually keeps illness-causing bacteria at bay.) The acid can lend extra flavor to baked goods and marinated meats — and allows you to make simple cheeses and fertilize plants.

The exception is “ultra-pasteurized” milk, which has a longer shelf life than pasteurized milk and should be thrown away once it starts to smell bad — and once curds form in any type of milk, it should be thrown out.

How to Store Milk

To keep your milk fresh as long as possible, store it in the coldest part of your fridge, which is on the bottom shelf, as far back as possible. And make sure to return the carton to the refrigerator as soon as possible.

You can also freeze milk, as long as you leave some room at the top of the container for it to expand. Thaw it in the refrigerator; the fat will rise to the top so you’ll need to shake it before using. Or, freeze in ice cube trays to use in smoothies or iced coffee drinks.

For more tips about reducing food waste at home, visit

Tagged: food waste, milk, milk waste, sour milk, date labels, expiration dates, cooking

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