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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Keep eye on dairy sell-by dates

Sharon Maasdam Newhouse News Service

If the sell-by date on your milk jug is today’s date and there’s still half a gallon left, you don’t need to throw it away. Milk should keep about a week after the date on the container. Dairy products in general often keep beyond their sell-by dates, but only if the products are properly stored.

If your dairy products are spoiling before the date on the containers, your refrigerator may be too warm. The ideal refrigerator temperature is 40 degrees or lower. You can test it by placing an appliance or refrigerator thermometer in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes or so, then adjusting the refrigerator setting.

When a dairy product develops an off-flavor, throw it out. Do not use it in baked products and other recipes, because you’ll be able to taste the spoiled flavor.

To ensure the longest shelf life of your dairy products, follow these tips:

•Some refrigerators have handy in-the-door storage shelves for gallon jugs, but milk doesn’t stay cold enough there. Instead, keep it on an interior shelf.

•Dairy products should be among the last items you add to your cart at the grocery store.

•If the milk has a long ride home in a hot car, its shelf life will be shortened. Likewise if you leave the groceries in a parked car on a warm day (remember that temperatures inside the car climb even higher). The solution is to keep an insulated cooler in your car.

•Milk will also lose freshness if it sits on the dinner table for an hour or so.

•Buttermilk tastes best if used by the sell-by date on the carton, although it usually keeps two weeks past that if refrigerated properly. Beyond that, it can become too bitter to drink. Actual spoilage can appear as off-odors or as a grayish liquid on top. It can be frozen; use within a month or two for best quality.

•Sour cream maintains good eating quality for two to three weeks after the sell-by date. As long as it looks and tastes all right, it’s safe to eat. Sour cream should be discarded if you see mold spots, pink or green scum, or cloudy liquid on top. Freezing is not recommended because it causes separation.

•Yogurt maintains good quality for one to two weeks after the sell-by date. It should be discarded if there are any signs of blue, green or pink mold. It can also develop a yeasty flavor. Yogurt can be frozen for one to two months.

•Cream stays fresh for about one week after the sell-by date. Whipped cream can be frozen in dollops on wax paper and then packed in a container. Unwhipped cream also can be frozen, but the volume will be less when whipped.

•Cottage cheese keeps about five days after the sell-by date. Taste is an indicator of freshness. Do not use if mold appears. Cottage cheese becomes grainy if frozen, but it’s not noticeable if mixed in a dish such as lasagna.

•Butter that has been opened will have the best flavor if it’s stored in a covered dish and refrigerated in the butter compartment. Both opened and unopened butter may be kept on the refrigerator shelf for a month after the sell-by date. Flavor is an indication when it no longer is usable: It will develop a strong, rancid taste. To freeze, wrap in foil or place in freezer bags. Butter keeps well four to six months at 0 degrees or lower.

•Brick cream cheese should be eaten by the “best when used by” date on the package for best flavor. Once opened, don’t use it if mold appears or it has a sour flavor. It can be frozen up to two months, but plan to use it for cooking, instead of as a spread, because the texture becomes crumbly.

•Whipped cream cheese can be frozen up to six months. Soft cream cheese does not freeze well.

According to Jan Roberts, consumer science manager for WestFarm Foods/Darigold of Seattle, the shelf life of ultra-pasteurized products has been extended to 15 days. Although packages still say “once opened use within seven days,” research has found the flavor is still good up to 15 days. That change soon will be stated on cartons.