Hot temperatures can do more than just melt your ice cream — all sorts of other food items, including milk, may be at risk when left in a hot car for too long. And believe me, it can happen quite fast. It only takes 10 minutes for the temperature to go up in your car by 20 degrees, and after an hour, it can hit a massive 140 degrees on a 95-degree day.
That sort of temperature can spoil your milk, along with many other food items, quite fast. How long is too long when it comes to leaving milk in your car while stuck in traffic or shopping elsewhere?
Here are some easy and straightforward tips to help shoppers keep their milk and other grocery items safe from spoiling in the heat.
How Long Can Milk Stay in a Hot Car?
According to the FDA, refrigerated foods like fresh milk should not stay in the car for longer than 2 hours, when temperatures reach above 60°F (15°C). When temperatures are higher than 90°F (30°C) during the summertime, you should not leave the milk in the car for more than 1 hour.
Although fresh milk is properly pasteurized in order to kill the microorganisms that could harm you, it is critical to refrigerate it as soon as possible to maintain its safety and delicious taste.
Here are some tips to keep your milk cold for longer when out of the fridge, even during hot summer days:
- Plan your grocery trips for times when you can head home straight away. Avoid leaving your groceries in the car for a long time, especially in hot weather. Plan ahead and organize your errands so that you can put your milk in the fridge as soon as possible.
- Avoid rush hours. You don’t want to get stuck in traffic on a hot day with your cold drinks in the car.
- During summer, avoid parking your car in direct sunlight. Try and park in the shade or under some kind of cover, like a tree, for example. If there is no shade whatsoever, use window sunshades to protect your car from heating up!
- Pick up fridge items at the end of your shopping: This way, these foods will stay out of the fridge for a shorter period of time.
- Pack strategically: Bag your dairy products with other refrigerated foods, to keep a lower temperature. Don't overpack it with too many other items, because the air won't circulate, and it will get warmer.
- For very hot days, take insulated cooler bags with you when shopping. Get one with a thicker lining, like a Premium Thermal Bag. Make sure you don’t leave them in the car because the bag will get hot and wouldn’t be as useful anymore.
- Buy ice or frozen items: If you don’t have insulated bags with you, don’t worry. Before you are done with your groceries, buy a bag of ice or a frozen item like peas, and bag it together with the milk. This will keep your milk cold until you get home.
- If you go on a long trip, put your milk in a cooler, add some ice packs, and your milk will stay cool for hours.
- Don’t put your milk in the trunk; Put it on the floor or the seats instead. The trunk usually is the hottest part of the car with no airflow. While in the cabin, if you turn on the air conditioner on hot days, the temperature will rapidly drop, and the milk can stay safe for longer.
- When you arrive home, take the freezer food out of the car first, along with other perishable products, and refrigerate immediately.
- Avoid storing the milk in the door of the fridge, as it tends to be the warmest part of the refrigerator. It's better to keep it at the back of the fridge.
What About Long-Life Milk
In some stores, you can find milk out of the fridge. It is still “real” milk – what differs is the processing and packaging method. Long-life or UHT milk is heated at much higher temperatures compared to fresh (pasteurized) milk. Long-life milk can be stored at room temperature for a long time, usually for up to 4 months. Once it is opened, though, you need to refrigerate it and consume it within a week.
Tip: If you are planning a long trip or if you are afraid that the milk will stay in the car for a long time, don’t jeopardize your health by drinking spoiled milk. Buy a long-life UHT one and an insulated bottle, and you are good to go!
How Do I Know When Milk Has Gone Bad?
Drinking milk that has gone bad can cause some digestive issues or even food poisoning.
Here are some tips to easily check if the milk is still safe to drink:
- Always control the temperature: If the milk was out of the fridge for more than 2 hours at a temperature higher than 60 °F (15 °C), you might need to throw it out.
- Trust your nose! If it has an unpleasant and off smell, it is probably not safe to drink anymore.
- Sour flavor: You can try a little a bit to check if it has a sour taste. If the milk has turned sour, that’s a sign of spoilage.
- Changes in texture: If the milk has gone bad, it will curdle and form lumps. Also, it will become more viscous and stickier.
- Color changes: Pour some milk in a glass and check in good lighting if the color is white and clean. If it has gone bad, the color changes to yellow, light blue, or reddish.
- Moldy appearance: If you see any sign of dairy mold, discard the milk.
Related article: This is what happens to you if you eat moldy bread!
Following the guidelines and tips outlined above, you should be able to keep your milk safe and drinkable. Always use your best judgment when determining whether milk is still safe to consume. If you notice a curdling or sour smell, discard it immediately.
Related article: Do you want to freeze milk so that you can store it for longer? Here are some clever ways to freeze it!