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How Long Can Whole Milk Stay Out? 

We’ve all done it before – forgotten to put the milk back in the fridge only to come back a few hours later (or the next morning!) and realize our mistake. After giving the bottle a hopeful sniff, we either deem it fit for consumption or toss it.

While this might be a useful technique to employ when you’re in desperate need of that cup of coffee, it’s not a very good way to check the freshness of milk for your little ones! 

So how long can whole milk stay out? According to food safety experts, the maximum amount of time that whole milk can be left out of the fridge is just two hours, and after that, it’s no longer safe to drink. Bacteria begin to grow and replicate when the milk reaches a certain temperature, and those bacteria are responsible for rotten milk and upset tummies!

Making the change from breast milk or formula to whole milk is an important and exciting milestone in your little one’s life, and milk is a food staple that is full of vitamins and minerals that are essential to your child’s growth.

How to Store Milk Properly 

Knowing how to store, serve and preserve it is something that all parents should be familiar with. Nobody likes sour milk anyway!


Pregnant women are not the only ones who get cranky in hot weather – so does fresh food! The higher the temperature, the faster the bacteria will grow.

Room temperature in Texas is a far cry from room temperature in Canada. If you live in a warmer climate, typically above 90°F, your maximum ‘time-out’ for milk is just one hour. 

Keep in mind that when you purchase milk from the store, technically it is ‘sitting out’ from the moment you remove it from the refrigerator. So if you’re planning on a long shopping trip, be mindful of the fact that your milk is on a schedule! Here are some general guidelines:

  • When in doubt, throw it out – If you’re not sure of the amount of time that milk has been left at room temperature, it’s always safer to discard of it. It’s not always possible to tell if the milk contains dangerous bacteria just by smelling it, and it’s not a good idea to taste it either.
  • Refrigeration is the single most important factor in maintaining the safety of milk.
  • When you’re doing your grocery shopping always get your milk last. This will reduce the amount of time that it’s exposed to higher temperatures. 


Fresh whole milk should always be stored in the fridge at 40°F or below. Anything above and it will start to spoil. If you’re on the go and want to take milk with for your child to drink, consider using a lunch box or cooler with an ice pack to ensure that it stays cool.  

You might be wondering about those cartons of milk that sit on the shelves in grocery stores – how do they stay fresh? Well, shelf-stable (or long-life) milk has been ultra-pasteurized (UHT) and is packaged in aseptic cartons.

Once opened, it still needs to be refrigerated though. Long-life milk is also not the best choice for toddlers – always start out with fresh, whole milk. 


Keeping it fresh

Toddlers are probably the slowest drinkers in the world! A full sippy-cup could last an entire day and while there’s no problem with drinking water or juice this way, milk is a different ball game. 

If you’re serving milk cold it must be consumed before it gets warm enough for bacteria to develop, so the sippy-cup you served this morning can’t be served again at lunchtime if it wasn’t finished.

It also can’t be refrigerated again once it’s been out of the fridge for over an hour (painful, we know!). 

The best way to get around this conundrum is to serve small amounts. Start with a half-full cup, and see if your little one finishes it in two hours – this way you can gauge how much to offer in the future. 

If your toddler prefers warm milk, remember that it must be consumed immediately and that any leftover milk must be thrown away. 

Related Questions

What happens if you drink milk that has been left out for too long? 

The short answer – food poisoning. If you suspect that your little one has consumed spoiled milk, keep an eye out for the symptoms of food poisoning:

  • Stomach cramping
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

In most cases, the illness will resolve on its own without medical attention. The vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s way of getting rid of the harmful bacteria. If your child displays severe symptoms or dehydration, contact a medical professional. 

How long can whole milk stay in the fridge?

Aha – here’s the kicker! Milk cannot be refrigerated indefinitely. So even if you’ve been careful to keep your milk under 40°F, it will still expire after a certain amount of time – nothing lasts forever, right? 

Unopened, whole milk will last between five and seven days if refrigerated; reduced-fat (2%) and skim milk will last for seven days, and non-fat and lactose-free milk will last between seven and ten days past the printed date. Opened, all milk will last between four and seven days in the refrigerator. 

You’re probably wondering how it goes bad if it’s kept cold. Well, the bacteria that causes milk to expire even when it’s refrigerated is different to the culprit that ruins it when it’s out of the fridge. Cold-tolerant bacteria will eventually get hold of your fresh milk – just not as fast as those pesky heat-tolerant ones! 

Do other dairy products also go bad when left out of the fridge? 

Yes. Yogurt, cream, dips and most cheeses will also spoil if left at room temperature for more than two hours (or one hour if you’re in a warmer climate). 

It’s always better to be safe, rather than sorry when it comes to preserving and storing whole milk, especially with young children.

Their small tummies are sensitive to any bacteria present in food, and while food poisoning isn’t generally life-threatening, it’s still a nasty illness to recover from. 

Monica Lawrence

I’m Monica, a single mother who’s raising two beautiful angels. Here, I share helpful and creative articles and how-to’s for all the busy, multitasking moms.