Safe storage of shelf-stable non-dairy milks

Mark RepliesCategory: Storing foodSafe storage of shelf-stable non-dairy milks
Alma Hopkins, RD asked 5 months ago

Hello, I’m leading a project to offer information on the length of safe storage guidelines for foods that we receive donations to our food bank. In particular, our seeking guidance on the length of time of shelf-stable varieties of non-dairy kinds of milk – UHT – soy, almond, oat, and now coconut – would be. Product dates are confusing as they often are for purposes of inventory management and quality vs food safety. Our food banks often receive food products that are very close or just past product dates and we often have to educate our recipients they are safe to consume. I’m seeking guidance and resources. USDA sites/gov site is limited.

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1 Answers
Mark Staff answered 5 months ago

Thank you, Alma
This question is highly relevant to increasing food donations.
If a product is UHT-treated (i.e., more heat treatment than used in normal dairy pasteurization), then there is a very low probability that any pathogen would persist. As such, the primary potential issue with long storage is food quality, not food safety, typically resulting in off-flavor. This is usually the result of non-hazardous natural chemical changes of the product, such as oxidation, or from migration of packaging material into the product (e.g., producing a metallic taste).
The main food safety consideration is package integrity, which can be assessed by examining the container. Bulging containers, those with severe denting (i.e., in which minute cracks could exist, allowing microbes to enter) should be discarded, as well as containers with wet or liquid-stained labels (potentially indicating leaks).
In some cases, very prolonged storage can result in growth of spore-forming bacteria, typically non-pathogenic, that survived the UHT process. UHT treatment doesn’t result in product sterility but rather a very very low microbial count.
I hope this information is helpful. Don’t hesitated to contact me if you have any other questions/comments.
Thank you for all you do to reduce food insecurity!