He Says/She Says: Milk Expiration

When does milk really go bad?

In the He Says/She Says series, we discuss financial topics where we agree to disagree. Now say “He Says/She Says” three times fast. Well done.

While Johnny and I are both all for stretching every dollar, at times we draw the money-saving line at different places. The longer we’ve been married, the more differences we’ve discovered. And the more compromises we’ve had to make.

It wasn’t long into our first year of marriage that one of our first differences rose up. It was a typical Saturday morning of newlywed bliss, and Johnny was pouring us both a bowl of cereal. He was most likely slowly spinning each bowl with one hand while simultaneously pouring the milk with his other hand because that’s how Johnny does it. I asked his reason once, and he said “So every piece is coated with milk,” which is pretty telling of my man’s detail-oriented personality. Despite his fabulous milk-pouring skills, Johnny failed to put the milk away after using it, so I popped it back into the fridge myself. And in those brief two seconds, my eyes wandered down to the milk expiration date. Much to my horror, the milk had expired the day before.

“Johnny!” I exclaimed, “The milk is expired! We can’t eat it.”

Johnny looked unphased and then replied, “I know. It’s still good. I smelled it.”

I was mortified by his nonchalant response and began to pour the jug of milk into the sink. This got Johnny’s attention.

“What are you doing?! The milk’s fine! That’s such a waste!”

Was Johnny really trying to save a few cents by keeping around supposedly “still good” expired milk? I couldn’t begin to understand why he would care to do such a thing. I put the milk back in the fridge and let him have his way. But you better believe I didn’t eat that cereal he poured.

Even five years later, we agree to disagree. Save a few cents and keep around old milk based on the “smell test,” which Johnny swears by, or get rid of it the day it expires? Now we each have our own jug because we drink different kinds of milk. BUT just a few days ago I very reluctantly poured Johnny a bowl of cereal with milk that had been expired three days. I’m not actually worried about the milk being bad; it’s more of a mental hurdle for me. And I have a confession. After I poured that bowl, about a quarter of a gallon of milk remained, and I poured every ounce of it down the sink once Johnny left for work. A dollar wasted by me.

Do I need to get over my general phobia of expired food items? Or am I totally justified in my “just say no” philosophy for saving a dollar on old food that passes Johnny’s smell test?

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  • Reply jefferson @SeeDebtRun December 6, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    There is nothing wrong with using the “smell test” as a barometer 🙂

    I have always thought expiration dates are more of a guideline, and not a hard-fast rule…

    • Reply Johnny December 6, 2012 at 12:59 pm

      I like the way you think/smell, jefferson. Expirations usually say “Best if used by XX.” That sounds a lot more like a guideline than an expiration on your mortality.

  • Reply Catherine December 6, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Haha this is funny. I’m neurotic about milk expiring too. If it’s the day before or day of expiry i sniff it really well before pouring but 9/10 I toss it. I’ve never understood why coffee cream has such a long expiry date either….

    • Reply Johnny December 6, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      It’s all a mind game. And the dairy companies appear to be winning with you and my wife. Such a tragedy.

  • Reply Johnny December 6, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I credit expired milk for my incredible strength.

    High-five to the hubs.

  • Reply Holly@ClubThrifty December 6, 2012 at 12:55 pm

    I can totally relate! Greg throws bread away on the expiration date whether it is bad or not. It makes me crazy!

    • Reply Johnny December 6, 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Bread?! Yeah, unless I see mold on that loaf, it’s going in my belly. But for all I know, Joanna has been throwing that out in secrecy, too. I will never trust her alone with perishable foods again.

      • Reply Tyler December 6, 2012 at 3:32 pm

        Splitting hairs, if you see mold one one slice, do you throw out the entire loaf, or keep going until you find a non mold slice? I’ve done it! Not proud but I’ve done it…

        I’ll never forget, as a kid, my parents never bought Wonderbread. At a friends house, I opened the Wonderbread, and I thought the big blue spot was part of the bread! Haha! His parents couldn’t stop laughing at me!

  • Reply Tyler December 6, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    I’m a smell-tester… and over the years I’ve noticed that if the milk is near expiry when it’s near full, it lasts days and days past expiry… if it’s 3/4 empty it can smell bad even before the expiry…

    Lesson? Use the second half faster than the first half!

    • Reply Johnny December 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      Haha. I’ll have to check that next time. WARNING: gross thought, but I wonder if has to do with the fact that the actual milk is further from your nose so your nose only picks up the crusty dried milk near the top? I will admit that the smell-test has sometimes required a brief taste-test for me in these situations.

      • Reply Tyler December 6, 2012 at 3:28 pm

        I always wipe off the crusted milk EVERY TIME I open the Jug, hah!

      • Reply Joanna December 7, 2012 at 10:57 am

        I’m right there with ya, sister!

  • Reply Brian December 6, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    HAH! My wife and I had to go to the two seperate milk jugs too (also because I love me some chocolate milk after a workout)! She swears that as soon as the milk hit the expiration date it tastes funny!

    • Reply Johnny December 6, 2012 at 2:51 pm

      The two jug method has helped lower the number of kitchen spats for us, so whatever works.

      Good call on the chocolate milk. Adding that to our grocery list.

  • Reply Ty December 7, 2012 at 1:52 am

    When I was a kid and even into my teens I was rather paranoid about expiration dates. Milk one day past the date? Don’t want to drink it. Find out that the eggs for that omelet I just made were supposed to be used up a week ago? Gone. Nowadays as long as it’s not rotten, moldy, or curdling I’m probably fine with it. It’s my understanding that those dates are often intentionally inaccurate anyways. I don’t remember the exact reasoning, just that it has something to do with marketing.

    • Reply Joanna December 7, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      Haha, I think you and my husband would get along wonderfully! I’m impressed you were able to get over your paranoia! I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that mental hurdle 🙂

  • Reply Weekly Reads 06.12.12 | Plunged in DebtPlunged in Debt December 7, 2012 at 7:39 am

    […] Our Freaking Budget  has a funny post about milk expiration…where to draw the line. […]

  • Reply Lyn @ Pretty Frugal December 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    My boyfriend is king of “put in back in the fridge”! A couple of weeks ago, we left some cheese out overnight by accident, and while I wouldn’t touch it, he told me to put it back in the fridge so he could eat it. This week, he left cheese out again and I just put it back in the fridge in the morning without consulting him. When I told him what I’d done that evening, he said he agreed fully with my decision.

    The flip side of this? He keeps food in his fridge FOREVER. I’m pretty sure he has a tub of yogurt in there from when he moved into his apartment in April. I’m a bit of a food safety and handling nut, so it’s tough for me to ignore, but we all make compromises for love, right? Right??

    • Reply Joanna December 7, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      Yes, only for love! After reading all the men’s comments on this post, I’m starting to think there’s not a man out there who cares about expiration dates! I’m glad to know there’s other women out there putting up with their men, too 🙂

      • Reply Lyn @ Pretty Frugal December 7, 2012 at 1:55 pm

        My answer is always, “You keep it, you eat it yourself. You deal with the repercussions of that decision.” OK, I’m probably not that eloquent about it. But no old milk goes on MY cereal!

      • Reply Ty December 7, 2012 at 5:44 pm

        Now, this is an area where I do make exceptions. If it’s supposed to be kept refridgerated and it’s left out, I tend to be hesitant about keeping it. And if it’s a meat product I’m more likely to toss it, especially when it comes to the exp. date.

        Ha, I’m kind of glad I found this site.

  • Reply Newlyweds on a Budget December 10, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    MY husband and I have this argument a LOT! I am a smell tester, he is a date fanatic. But here’s the thing–how do the people that stamp the date on the carton KNOW your milk will expire on that date??? THEY DON’t! They do it for lawsuit purposes.

    My husband got this trait from his mother, and it bugs me to no end. It’s such a waste of perfectly good food.

    We’ve since switched to almond milk which has a much longer shelf life.

    • Reply Joanna December 10, 2012 at 2:11 pm

      Longer shelf life? Maybe we should switch to almond milk, too, haha! My husband will be happy to see that there’s at least one woman out there who believes in the “smell test!” Do any spouses agree on this subject?? “Opposites attract” applies here, too, I guess 🙂

  • Reply Shannon-ReadyForZero December 10, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    My fiance and I have the exact same disagreement! He’ll keep milk, veggies, and anything else that expires if it still “seems okay”. Maybe he’s right, but I just can’t get myself to eat expired food.

    • Reply Johnny December 10, 2012 at 8:11 pm

      Sounds like you’ve got a good guy. “Expired food” is a relative term. Unless it smells unsavory, is turning blue, or is growing things on it, that food belongs in your belly.

      And now I’m going to change my wife’s password so she can’t comment and agree with you. 🙂

  • Reply eemusings December 11, 2012 at 12:48 am

    I hate waste so I definitely am willing to push the envelope with edibles! If the milk smelled fine I would use it.

    That said I would never check the expiry date on milk – it goes so fast in our household that we never have any left by the end of the week…

    • Reply Joanna December 11, 2012 at 11:10 am

      HA, that’s been the case with our milk, too, since I’ve been pregnant. Weird craving, I know, but I drink it like water these days.

  • Reply MomofTwoPreciousGirls December 22, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    SInce the smell of bad milk grosses me out (like the gagging close to vomiting type of grossing out), I dump it or make the hubby smell it!

    In our house the 3yo still drinks whole milk, the 5yo is allergic so she drinks rice milk which last for like 2 months. Hubby and I rarely drink milk and generally only use it for cooking. When I do get milk for myself, I drink those weird “Fat Free, But tastes like 2%” because I have to drink fat free milk but HATE skim! Those last for like 2 months too…God only knows what kind of crap is in there to allow that!

    • Reply Joanna December 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm

      Agreed! If I ever accidentally encounter milk that’s gone bad, I have to stay away from all milk for a few weeks after that! 🙂

  • Reply Heather January 4, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    My uncle is retired from Prairie Farms, and he says that the pasteurization process they use is more modern than government guidelines allow for, thereby the milk (when stored properly) is good for about another 5 days after the date on the carton. Just sayin… but we have the same argument in my house too. My boyfriend will not drink it on the day it expires, period. As long as it looks and smells fine to me, then I’m good.

    • Reply Johnny January 4, 2013 at 6:03 pm

      BOOOM. This is just the type of evidence Joanna doesn’t want to hear. But even after learning this, I doubt it will change the error of her ways. She’s been brainwashed for too long. 🙂

  • Reply Radiah December 20, 2013 at 2:25 am

    Couldn’t agree more with the logical person who noted a company doesn’t actually know when the food you buy is going to go bad. Google “people who won’t eat expired food.”

    We dont need exp. dates to tell if food is spoiled. That’s what noses, eyes, tongues and brains are for. Throwing away food that isn’t spoiled is equivalent to throwing money in the garbage* and running to the store to give more money to the marketing geniuses who came up with expiration dates.

    *money we could use to help other ppl. also we could help the planet by slowing down production of food that is just going into the garbage. Americans are quite factually pissing away the earth’s resources. Throwing away perfectly edible food is not cute.

    • Reply Johnny December 24, 2013 at 12:46 am

      While I’m on the anti-expiration date team, I think your frustrations are misdirected. The government plays a significant role in forcing the expiration issue, not the “marketing geniuses.” I also don’t think anyone claimed that disposing of expired milk (per the label’s date) is cute. Based on the comments, this is clearly a polarizing topic. And while you and I might feel or know we’re right, it’s worth being open to others’ viewpoints without casting assumptions.

      • Reply Simmi August 10, 2015 at 8:21 pm

        There’s an excellent piece from John Oliver’s show (Last Week Tonight) that covers this.

        It’s not the gov’t that decides exp dates (they’re not even required for almost all products, incl milk), it’s the companies that are producing these food products.
        That “assumptive” commenter and another are both sort of right. Exp labeling is done mostly for the sake of marketing and lawsuits.
        It actually leads to a ridiculous amt of food watse (and serious monetary losses for families). Because of this v real problem, while I don’t agree with the tone of that comment, I can understand the frustration behind it.
        (Also, organic doesn’t last longer. If anything, because of the lack of preservatives it’d last a shorter amt of time (which is good). Some genetically modified produce might, though (these are mostly for use in impoverished/disaster struck regions), so that’s an option.)

  • Reply Jackie June 25, 2014 at 3:20 pm

    Hi! I know this is an old thread, but I’d thought I’d weigh in.
    This is a short LA Times article about food expiration.
    To sum it up: “The dates we find printed on products are the manufacturer’s suggestion for when the food is at its freshest, not when it is unsafe.”
    I am a smeller/looker/taster. Plus I also make a distinction on whether I’m cooking it before consuming. For example, I’m pretty picky about milk in a glass. On cereal, a little less. In my coffee, a little less. Going into baked goods or cooking? As long as is hasn’t completely turned, I’m using it! I don’t use a lot of milk, so I can’t keep buying the stuff.
    A recommendation: Organic lasts way longer. So I’m told. If you’re broke like me, fuller fat milks last longer. I used to drink skim, and now I”m at 2%. Don’t know if I can make the jump to whole milk though.

    • Reply Joanna July 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      Awesome. Thanks for sharing! Johnny will be happy to read an article that helps to make his case! 😉

  • Reply Amber October 4, 2014 at 2:16 am

    Well i just got a chocolate milk 12 days expired . Smelled it. It’s smelt fine so i finished driving it lol. Not proud but i was really craving one!(:

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