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How Long Does Raw Milk Last + How to Store and Freeze It

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This article is part of our Producing Dairy on the Homestead series.

Raw milk has become increasingly popular in recent years. It’s unpasteurized, meaning it has not been heated and retains its exceptional qualities – and organic goodness. But there are so many questions surrounding raw milk. How long does raw milk last? Is raw milk more prone to spoiling? And is it dangerous to drink raw milk?

We’ve researched these questions and are sharing our insights. We’ll also quickly discuss the controversial nature of organic milk, raw milk storage tips, and raw milk benefits. And also the drawbacks.

Sound good?

Then let’s continue!

Why We Love Organic, Natural, Raw Milk

Our friends recently bought a dairy cow, and we’ve been lucky enough to receive weekly gifts of beautiful, raw milk.

I love the taste! And the idea that it’s unprocessed and natural. But unfortunately for many homesteaders – they may never have the opportunity to taste raw milk.

Here’s what I mean. Shops aren’t allowed to sell raw milk where we live. And our homestead is way too isolated to be near a dairy farm. Even if we were near a dairy farm, selling raw milk for human consumption in Australia is illegal.

Selling raw milk is a crime! But we believe that food in its natural state is what we should be getting back to. We believe in less treatment and less interference. In other words, we believe in whole, organic food.

But even in the USA, several restrictions exist for homesteaders seeking to buy or sell raw milk. Consider the following.

Yes, there are risks involved with the consumption of raw milk. But to play devil’s advocate, many raw milk enthusiasts contend that pasteurized milk also has drawbacks.

Here’s an excellent example of a raw milk advocate who makes a compelling case for the potential health benefits of raw milk.

The Benefits of Real Milk | Mini-lesson with Sally Fallon

However, we’re not here to discuss the merit of raw vs. pasteurized milk. We’re here to research how long raw milk lasts and whether it spoils easier than pasteurized milk. 

We’ll also look at the best way to store it and how to tell if it’s spoiled.

Let’s get to it!

What Is Raw Milk?

Woman milking a cow in the paddock
Raw milk is fresh milk that skips the pasteurization and homogenization process. In other words, raw milk is unpasteurized milk. It’s unprocessed and hasn’t been heat-treated or process-treated (homogenized). Pasteurization often involves short-interval heat treatments of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to help kill yeast, mold, and bacteria.

Raw milk is unprocessed milk straight from a cow or any dairy animal. It hasn’t been heat-treated, homogenized, or pasteurized. Raw milk helps make different raw milk products, such as cream, butter, sour cream, and cheese. It is milk in its perfect, natural state – how nature intended.

Raw milk contains beneficial bacteria, enzymes, micronutrients, and proteins that get damaged or destroyed during processing. Many raw milk advocates emphasize its health benefits – my favorite is this letter to medical professionals by the Raw Milk Institute.

It’s a letter you can take to your doctor to help you explain why you choose to drink raw milk if they question you. It’s hard to believe (or to think) you even have to explain, but here we are.

We also don’t deny that pasteurized milk has its merits. Raw milk can harbor harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter, E. coli, and Salmonella, which can cause foodborne illnesses. However, consider the following statement.

Indeed, raw milk produced as intended for pasteurization and sourced from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is generally unsanitary and unsafe to consume raw. Such milk production occurs in conditions where animal health is compromised, antibiotics get utilized, hormones get used to stimulate higher levels of milk production, there is an abundance of manure, and there is a correspondingly high rate of pathogens.

Raw Milk Institute

However, farms that intentionally produce raw milk for human consumption differ from those that make milk intended for pasteurization. First, raw milk farmers don’t rely on pasteurization to kill bacteria. And they strive to maintain more sanitary conditions and healthier cows.

Health Benefits of Raw Milk

Many organic milk enthusiasts say that raw milk is easier on the stomach for those with lactose intolerance. While that claim is nearly impossible to substantiate due to a lack of studies, we believe that raw milk has slightly more vitamins than pasteurized milk. For example, one study we found said the vitamin loss was insignificant during milk pasteurization – but did exist. In other words, milk pasteurization decreases vitamin concentration, including E, B12, and C – if only by a tiny amount.

Besides the physical workout of milking your dairy cow, what other benefits does raw milk have?

Raw milk boasts several potential health benefits. One advantage is that it contains a wealth of natural enzymes, many of which get destroyed during pasteurization. These enzymes can help the body digest lactose, the sugar found in milk, potentially making raw milk more easily digestible for those with lactose intolerance.

Raw milk is also rich in beneficial bacteria, aiding digestion and protecting against harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. These bacteria, vitamins, and minerals naturally found in milk can support a robust immune system and overall good health.

Additionally, raw milk contains essential micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, which often get added to pasteurized milk after processing. Comparatively, pasteurized milk may have reduced nutritional quality due to the heat treatment process and the removal of fat molecules during homogenization.

While it is essential to note the potential health risks associated with consuming raw milk, including exposure to harmful bacteria such as Campylobacter jejuni, raw milk advocates argue that when properly handled and sourced from a reputable dairy farm, raw milk can be a safe and nutritious option for human consumption.

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How Long Does Raw Milk Last?

Raw milk typically lasts five to ten days when properly handled and stored at 36 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The shelf life depends on various factors, such as storage conditions and the freshness of the milk at the time of purchase.

The shelf life of raw milk can also get influenced by other factors, such as the type of milk, the number of bacteria present in the milk, and the transportation methods used to deliver the milk.

Proper storage is crucial in ensuring that raw milk remains fresh for as long as possible. Let’s take a look!

Storing and Handling Tips for Raw Milk

fresh homemade chocolate chip cookies with a tall glass of milk
Raw milk is the perfect recipe enhancer! It’s not only for breakfast dairy food snacks. We love using it to make cream cheese, cottage cheese, and heavy cream. We also love having plenty of raw milk for dunking our chocolate chip cookies. Storing any leftover liquid milk is also straightforward. We toss any extra in a ball jar and throw it in the fridge. We have the best results when stored below forty degrees Fahrenheit. (The colder, the better.)

Proper storage and handling of raw milk are crucial to maintain its freshness and safety for human consumption. Here are some essential tips to ensure the quality of raw milk:

  • First, you should promptly store raw milk in a clean, airtight container after milking.
  • Refrigerate (raw) milk as soon as possible at 36 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit to slow the growth of harmful bacteria that can cause spoilage and foodborne illness. Proper refrigeration can extend the shelf life of raw milk to up to 10 days.
  • After milking, raw milk should get protected from contamination by ensuring that all surfaces that come into contact with it are clean and sanitized.
  • Proper cleaning and washing of milking equipment are also essential to ensure the safety and quality of raw milk. All necessary tools and equipment should be washed with hot soapy water before and after the milking process to remove harmful bacteria and prevent contamination.

Refrigeration and Freezing Tips for Raw Milk

Raw cow milk lasts for around seven to ten days in the fridge. It doesn’t last as long as commercial milk because store-bought milk gets pasteurized. The pasteurization process kills bacteria that can make the milk spoil faster. Want to keep your raw milk fresh? Keep it as cold as possible! Otherwise, it will turn into sour milk.

Refrigeration and freezing are two methods to help extend the shelf life of raw milk while preserving its beneficial bacteria and nutritional quality.

Raw milk should store between 36 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in the fridge and get consumed preferably within seven days of milking. It’s essential to promptly refrigerate raw milk to slow the growth of harmful bacteria and prevent spoilage.

Raw milk freezes well and can store in the freezer for up to six months. You may notice some separation when you thaw it in the fridge, which is normal. Ensure you soften (thaw) the frozen milk in the refrigerator. That way, it stays at the correct temperature.

If you need to freeze raw milk, it should be done as soon as possible after milking to preserve its freshness. The milk should get transferred to a clean, airtight container and labeled with the freezing date. But remember that liquids expand in the freezer – so ensure your container has enough room!

Thawing raw milk should always be done in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage and maintain its beneficial bacteria. It’s important to note that freezing does not eliminate all harmful bacteria, so caution should still be taken when consuming thawed raw milk.

Signs Your Raw Milk Has Gone Bad

Does your cup of milk smell sour? Follow your nose! That’s the best way to know if it’s turned or spoiled. Spoiled milk has a sour, stomach-turning aroma. Luckily – you can still honor your milk cow by enjoying its milk, even if it’s turned. We’ve used recently-spoiled milk in baking recipes. Heating the slightly-sour milk should help kill any bacteria. If you don’t want to risk getting an upset stomach, toss your leftover milk in your compost or manure pile.

Raw milk is a perishable product that can quickly spoil if not stored properly. Thankfully, it’s not hard to tell when milk has turned. My go-to method is smelling it!

One of the first noticeable signs of spoiled raw milk is an unpleasant odor that can smell soursulfuric, or even putrid.

The texture of raw milk can also change when it spoils or turns. Spoiled raw milk may develop a slimy or gritty texture that feels unpleasant to drink. It can also have clumps of cream floating on the surface, indicating that the milk has started separating.

Another common sign your raw milk might have turned is when it tastes yucky. Spoiled raw milk can taste sour or bitter – an excellent indication that it is unfit for consumption.

Lastly, as raw milk spoils, a scum-like layer can rise to the top of the milk. This scum indicates that harmful bacteria are starting to grow in the milk.

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Conclusion

Thanks for reading our guide about how long raw milk lasts.

As you can tell, we’re raw milk advocates. But we don’t deny that milk pasteurization has benefits, too.

And to make a long story short – raw milk lasts for around five to ten days.

And the best way to tell if the milk turns is to give it the whiff test. If the milk’s aroma makes your stomach turn, it’s spoiled! Is it smells okay? It’s likely good to go.

Thanks again for reading.

And have an excellent day!

How Long Does Raw Milk Last – Resources, Guides, and Works Cited

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2 Comments

  1. I live in Oregon, and while raw goat milk is available, raw cows milk is not. In order to get raw cows milk, you must buy a portion of the cow…..and get maybe 1 pint/quart a week for a HUGE amount. (not cream, that is a separate order…
    I am so envious of my daughter, who lives in the L.A. Ca. area and can get raw cows milk, cream, 1/2 & 1/2, etc in most organic stores!!!

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