Suppose you are lactose or gluten intolerant, allergic to nuts, vegan, or simply prefer non-dairy products. In that case, you probably buy and drink oat milk or other plant-based alternatives to regular dairy milk.
Even though oat milk is made by soaking steel-cut oats or whole grouts in water, it is still perishable. This means that it requires refrigeration, especially after it has been opened. And also, that it will become spoiled if left out at temperatures within the danger zone (41 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit).
We have summarized the essential information regarding the shelf life of oat milk. Also included in this post is how to properly store this kind of dairy milk alternative and tell if it has already gone bad.
Do You Need to Refrigerate Oat Milk?
Store-bought oat milk comes in different types. Some require immediate refrigeration, and others have special packaging and are shelf-stable but still, need to be kept in the fridge after being opened.
The shelf-stable oat milk can be stored in the pantry or elsewhere at room temperature but only until its best-by expiration date and only before the bottle or carton has been opened.
If you buy the oat milk from the refrigerated shelf in the store, then you should put it in the refrigerator as soon as you get home.
If you prefer to make homemade oat milk, you will need to seal it well and keep it in the fridge at all times.
The same goes for all other dairy milk alternatives, including almond, soy, rice, coconut, and other plant-based milk.
Refrigerated Oat Milk vs. Shelf-Stable Oat Milk
Most often, the only difference between the refrigerated and the shelf-stable oat milk products is in their packaging. Most reputable manufacturers do not add any preservatives or other ingredients to make the plant-based beverage last longer.
Oatly, the leading seller of oat milk claims that its shelf-stable oat milk is packaged in a completely sterile environment. This means there is no contamination with bacteria and thus no need for refrigeration until the shelf is unsealed or opened.
When unopened and undamaged, the shelf-stable oat milk bottles or cartons can be stored in the cupboard, pantry, or other cool, dry and dark places for 6-8 months. To make sure that the oat milk has not expired, keep an eye on its best-by date.
The oat milk, sold at the refrigerated shelves in stores, has not been bottled or packed in antiseptic packaging. This means that you should put it in the fridge immediately after you go home, no matter whether you open it or not.
It is better to purchase the Barista variety of oat milk sold by your preferred brand if you use the dairy alternative for making lattes, cappuccinos, or as a coffee creamer. It tastes more like real dairy milk and also froths and steams better than the regular oat milk.
How Long Can You Keep Oat Milk At Room Temperature?
Opened shelf-stable, closed or opened refrigerated, or homemade oat milk should be treated just like any other perishable food product.
According to the safety guidelines by the USDA, you can keep these kinds of food at temperatures over 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit for no longer than two hours. After that, bacterial growth will begin, and the spoilage will start.
If you happen to forget the oat milk out of the fridge for just a little longer than 2 hours, it is still probably safe and good to drink or use for cooking.
But when left on the counter for long hours or overnight, you may want to throw it out.
Tips for Storing Oat Milk
To keep the oat milk at its best quality, taste, and texture, and to stay safe, you should follow these best storage practices:
- Seal the bottle or carton as tightly as possible every time you put it back in the fridge.
- Avoid drinking the milk directly from the carton or bottle.
- Place the oat milk back in the refrigerator as soon as possible after using as much as you need.
- If the carton cannot be resealed tightly after opening, consider pouring the leftover milk in a jar or bottle which can be sealed.
- Shake the carton or bottle every time before pouring the oat milk.
What is the Shelf-Life of Oat Milk?
When unsealed, shelf-stable oat milk can last for 6-12 months and even a few months after the expiration date, which is printed on the bottle or carton. Check the best-before date on the packaging for more specific information.
After opening it, you should drink the oat milk within the next 7-10 days.
Refrigerated oat milk and homemade oat milk have a much shorter shelf life of only about a week after the best-by date (when closed) and 5-10 days after being opened.
What to Do With Expired Oat Milk?
If your oat milk is past its expiration date and you are wondering what to do, then keep in mind that this depends on the type of milk you have.
For shelf-stable oat milk, you can be pretty certain that it is still drinkable and safe even several months after the best-by date. This, though, is only valid if you have kept it in a cool place, and the bottle or carton has not been opened or damaged.
For refrigerated oat milk, you can use it only about a week to ten days after its best-by date passes.
Storage After Opening
You can expect the oat milk to keep for about 7-10 days after you have opened the bottle or carton and if you store it in the refrigerator at all times.
Of course, this period can vary depending on the type and brand of oat milk you have.
Still, to stay on the safe side, it is best to drink or use it before its expiration date and finish it for up to 4-5 days after unsealing or opening it.
It is useful to write down the opening date on the packaging to keep track of when you should use it and when to discard the leftover milk.
How to Detect if Oat Milk Is Bad?
If you are not sure whether the oat milk is still good to use, we recommend you take the following steps:
- Check the best-by printed date on the packaging.
- Check when it has been opened.
- Sniff the contents of the carton or bottle, and if there is a sour or moldy smell, throw it out.
- Shake the bottle and pour a bit into a glass. If there is a significant change in the color, the content is separated or if you notice mold or other microbial growth, then throw it away immediately.
- Taste a little sip of the oat milk. If there is an unusual or sour taste, then you should discard it.
- If you are not 100% certain whether the oat milk is ok to use or drink, go ahead and toss it in the garbage bin and buy a new one.
Read further: Canned Food Expiration Dates Chart: How Long Does Canned Food Last?