Does Half and Half Go Bad? How Long Does Half and Half Last?

Half and half can mean multiple things, depending on where you’re from.  To make things simple, I’ll be referring to the milk/cream mixture for this article.

Quick Answer

Half and half can last around three to five days past its due date unopened, and seven to ten days after opening if you’re using a large container.  The small cups of half and half last longer because they’ve been sterilized and sealed off; they can survive at least a month past the “best by” date.

The time that half and half lasts can also depend on where it’s stored, and like all dairy products, you should check it before you use it.

Does Half and Half Go Bad? How Long Does Half and Half Last?

Half and half is usually used to cool down hot coffee or tea, and you can make it at home by combining milk with heavy cream, but where do you store it to last the longest?

How Long Does Half and Half Last Outside?

While the larger containers of half and half must be put in the refrigerator so they won’t go bad, some of the smaller cups don’t need refrigeration and you can safely store it in the pantry.

  • The U.S. FDA recommends that you put the large containers in the fridge within two hours
  • The small cups can last at least a month after the “best by” date.  This is because the process of sealing them, also called “Ultra-high temperature processing,” heats up the containers and sterilizes the contents inside.  Additionally, some cups have additives that thicken and preserve them
  • Once opened, contaminant-carrying air is let into the half and half, meaning that you want to use it immediately for the best taste

How Long Does Half and Half Last in the Fridge?

It’s usually a good idea to store half and half in the refrigerator, especially if it’s not in one of those little plastic cups.

  • An unopened container of half and half usually lasts three to five days past its “best by” date
  • Once opened, it lasts around seven to ten days after opening, but its quality slowly starts to decrease from there
  • Store half and half inside of the fridge, not on the door.  This will minimize any exposure to the warm air outside
  • When half and half is kept in the freezer, the milk and cream tend to settle and separate.  Shake the container to mix it all up again.

How Long Does Half and Half Last in the Freezer?

You can freeze half and half, like other dairy products, but the ingredients freeze at a different rate, so expect some changes.

  • Frozen half and half’s texture transforms over time.  The cream and milk separate and settle and the mixture will get a graininess that can’t easily blend out.  You can still use it for cooking once thawed
  • Half and half can last up to three months in the freezer before going bad
  • If you store it in the freezer, put it in either its original package or an air-tight container with about a half-inch of space.  Half and half expands when it freezes

Half and half is at its best when stored in the fridge, but you should always check for any signs of it going bad before you use it.

How Do You Know if Your Half and Half is going bad?

Half and half is a dairy product, and so it’s hard to predict exactly when it’s going bad.  The main thing you have to worry about with half and half is if it’s curdled.  This is what happens when the proteins inside of the half and half start to clump together and change acidity.  The change usually comes from bacteria getting inside due to a manufacturing error or the container being left open.

Here are some things to look for:

Funny smell: If your half and half doesn’t smell right, it’s time to throw it out.  This is one of the earliest signs of it going bad.

Strange taste: Smell and taste tend to go together when it comes to milk products.  If it smells a bit off, a taste test may help you decide whether it’s gone too far.

Lumps: Lumps in your half and half mean that the process of curdling is well on its way.  Similarly, if the product seems more like slime than liquid then it’s not safe to use.

A different color: The product changing color is a sign of curdling.  If it looks darker, like a dingy yellow or brown, that’s when it’s time to toss it.

How Do You Store Half and Half?

Storing half and half depends on how much you have, how long you want it to last, and what you want to use it for.

Small Cups: Some of these can be stored in the pantry; no refrigeration is needed.  Check the cup out to see if it needs refrigeration or not.  The cups that you don’t need to keep cold have been heated and sterilized to kill any bacteria which causes curdling.  They last the longest and are mainly good for use in coffee, tea, and similar drinks.

Large containers: Anything bigger than the cups is best when stored in the refrigerator.  The container should be kept as far back in the fridge as possible to avoid contact with warmer air.  Don’t forget to put your half and half back right away when you use it; the longer it’s left out, the more potential it has to warm up and go bad.

Opening the container: When you open the container, whether small or large, this allows contaminants into the container and essentially sets the clock ticking on the contents inside.  Storing it in the refrigerator slows the countdown a lot, but doesn’t stop it.

Can You Freeze Half and Half?

Freezing your half and half isn’t the best solution, since the cold temperature makes the milk and cream separate, but freezing can work if you’re using it for cooking.

  • Always store your half and half in an air-tight container, preferably the unopened original container
  • If the container has already been opened, one method of storing half and half is to pour it into freezer-safe sealable bags.  Make sure the bag is air-tight before you put it in
  • If you only need to freeze little bits of half and half, try using an ice cube tray wrapped in air-tight plastic
  • Keep the container at a consistent temperature, around zero degrees Fahrenheit.  The cold temperature keeps the half and half from going bad
  • Fat-free and non-fat half and half tend to separate more than the normal type when frozen and are harder to recombine

How Do You Thaw Half and half?

Half and half can thaw if you put it in the refrigerator for a few hours

Once you pull it out of the fridge, the cream and milk in the half and half will separate.  You can recombine them by stirring it with a whisk or by shaking it up.

The recombined mixture might have a different texture, but you can still use it cooking or for baking.

Frequently Asked Questions About Half and Half’s Shelf Life

Is half and half safe to eat after its “best by” date?”

If you don’t find any sign that it’s going bad, yes.  The date is only a recommendation for quality, so in theory should be safe to eat.

If I open a small cup of half and half, how long will it last?

A good rule of thumb is to treat half and half like you would treat milk.  Since milk has an upper limit of two hours before you have to put it in the fridge, it’s reasonable to say the same for half and half.

Do low-fat and fat-free half and half have different shelf lives?

As far as I can tell, the low-fat and fat-free types have the same shelf life as the regular kind.  Fat-free half and half has a lot of additives and thickeners that depend on the brand, while low-fat half and half is like regular half and half, using low-fat milk instead of whole milk.

What is the optimal temperature for storing half and half in the fridge?

The recommended temperature for storing half and half is between 40 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wrap up

As ever, it’s always a good idea to check your half and half before you use it.  Dairy products can be unpredictable, and on rare occasions, manufacturers’ defects or bad storage at the store can ruin the half and half before you can bring it home.

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