Does Canned Milk Go Bad? Yes – Here’s When

Canned milk is one of those products you rarely buy but always seem to have sitting in the pantry whenever you look. Because it’s often in there for so long, the question is often asked – does canned milk go bad?

‘Canned milk’ is actually an umbrella term for a couple of different products, namely evaporated and condensed milk. They are, essentially, regular cow’s milk with the water reduced down by 60%. The product is then heat-sterilized and canned to prolong shelf life. Because of this process, it’s thicker and darker than fresh milk, with a slightly caramel-like hue. It’s mostly used for cooking and baking rather than drinking.

All in all, it has a really long shelf life.

However, that doesn’t mean it lasts forever since it CAN go bad and make you sick. So, I have done some research to explain how to properly store it, and how to know if it had gone bad.

Evaporated vs Condensed Milk

Before I begin, let’s take a quick look at the difference between evaporated and condensed milk. Both are canned products but have some slight differences.

Evaporated Milk

As the name suggests, it’s just fresh milk with 60% of water content reduced. It’s also known as ‘unsweetened condensed milk’ in some countries. The names can be used interchangeably since they are more or less the same product.

Condensed Milk

Similar to evaporated milk, condensed milk is also made from regular cow’s milk from which 60% of water has been reduced. The only difference is that condensed milk is usually sweetened with sugar, so more often than not ‘condensed milk’ refers to sweetened condensed milk.

Because of the presence of sugar, there are considerable differences in the shelf life of the two products.

How Long Does Canned Milk Last?

Since it’s canned and undergoes a heat-sterilization process, it can last a really long time in your pantry. Canned evaporated milk should be safe to consume even after its for up to 6 months beyond the printed ‘best before’ date.

On the other hand, I have mentioned earlier on that the main difference between evaporated milk and condensed milk is the sugar, which is also a reason there is a considerable difference between the shelf life of two products.

Sweetened condensed milk will last much longer than evaporated/unsweetened condensed milk. An unopened can of sweetened condensed milk should be safe to consume even 1 to 2 years after its best-before date, since the sugar in it prevents bacterial growth.

It should be noted that all of these facts apply to properly stored, unopened and undamaged canned milk products. After you open your canned milk, you should keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and consume it within 3 to 4 days at most.

How to Store Canned Milk

Like most canned goods, it’s best to store unopened canned milk at room temperature, preferably in a cool and dark place such as the pantry or a cupboard. Take care to keep it away from any kind of heat source. Excess heat can impact its taste as well as its shelf life.

After you have opened the can, any leftovers should go straight to the refrigerator in an airtight container. If you don’t have an airtight container to hand, you can use a plastic wrap and a rubber band as a temporary solution.

Keep in mind that if you use this method, a film (milk skin) will form on top of the liquid, which is nothing to be worried about. It’s just the fat separating from the liquid. This can be easily fixed by heating the liquid a little and mixing it before use.

How to Tell if Canned Milk Has Gone Bad

Maybe you opened your canned milk and forgot to put it in the refrigerator, and now you’re wondering whether it has gone bad or not? No worries, the signs of spoilage in canned milk are pretty much the same with fresh milk and non-dairy alternatives, meaning they’re quite easy to notice.

Rancid Smell

If the milk smells foul and sour, it’s a clear sign that it’s gone bad. It should be discarded right away.

Lumps

Lump formation is another telltale sign that your milk is spoiled and should be discarded.

Mold

If you notice any signs of mold inside the can after you open the canned milk, you should get rid of it just in case. It means the can wasn’t sealed properly or got damaged somehow.

Discoloration

The color of canned milk should be slightly golden because of the heat-sterilization process. It shouldn’t be milk-white or any other color.

Apart from all of these usual signs, if you left your canned milk in the refrigerator for a week after opening it, it is recommended that it should be discarded even if it’s not showing any signs of spoilage. It’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Can You Drink Expired Canned Milk?

It depends on a variety of factors. If the milk was opened and left for a week, then it’s most probably spoiled and should be discarded immediately.

However, it’s usually harmless to consume unopened canned milk past its printed expiration date if the can was properly stored and not damaged.

Can you Freeze Canned Milk?

Yes, if you want to freeze leftover milk, you may do so. However, most producers do not recommend freezing since thawing alters the quality of the product.

When you defrost/thaw your canned milk, it destabilizes the product and causes separation. This in turn results in a lower quality product. However, it can still be blended or whisked again and used in baking or cooking.

How to Freeze Canned Milk

You must always use an airtight container to freeze your leftover milk. Keep in mind that you should leave some room between the liquid and the lid. This is because the milk will expand when frozen.

In a pinch, you can use an ice tray to freeze your milk.

How to Defrost Frozen Canned Milk

Thawing/defrosting frozen canned milk is pretty straightforward. Just transfer it to your refrigerator from the freezer, and let it thaw for a few hours.

As I have mentioned, it’s going to be separated in the freezer and become watery. You can fix this though. Vigorously shake the container or whisk the liquid, or simply pour it in a blender and blend for a short while until it is smooth again.

Although it’s not going to be as smooth and high in quality as when you first opened the can, it will still be usable for cooking and baking.