Milk Prices Climbing? Here Are Ways to Keep Your Costs Down

milkThis is one New Year's prediction nobody wants to believe. On December 21, CNN reported that, in 2013, the price of a gallon of milk could go up to $7, twice the current national average of about $3.65. (To find out why, see the CNN Money article "'Dairy cliff':  Milk Prices May Double in New Year.")


What can consumers do to lessen the financial pain if this forecast becomes reality? Whatever happens to the price, has many suggestions to help you save money on milk and avoid wasting it.


Don't throw out perfectly good milk. 


The date on milk is generally a sell-by, not a use-by, date.  (In some areas, the milk carton may carry both dates.)  A sell-by date is a reminder to the store manager to take the product off the shelf. It does NOT mean that the milk isn't safe to consume anymore. A survey conducted by Harris Interactive and Shelf Life Advice discovered that 61% of  responders mistakenly thought that milk became unsafe to drink once that printed date arrived. In fact, even a use-by date is about quality, not safety, says food scientist Dr. Susan Brewer. The date signals the time when the product will BEGIN to deteriorate in some way, perhaps in taste, texture, and/or nutritional values. 


Milk, no matter what type, is usually quite tasty and safe to drink for about a week after the sell-by date. Because bacteria get in, milk spoils faster once it's opened, but it should taste fine for 5-7 days after that.  It's best to buy the quantity that you can use up within a week. When does milk start to taste bad? That depends how finicky your taste buds are.


When does "older" milk become unsafe to drink? Not to worry.  "Pasteurized milk that has been kept refrigerated almost its entire life is likely to be overtaken by spoilage bacteria (those that ruin the taste, smell, and appearance) before it would become contaminated with bacteria that cause illness," says food scientist Dr. Joe Regenstein. "You'd throw it out because it smelled disgusting or developed lumps, not because it was a menace.  If your week-old milk smells and looks okay, don't be afraid to taste it."


Note: Skim (fat-free) milk may stay fresh a little longer than regular milk because bacteria thrive on fat. Lactose-free milk is ultra-pasteurized, so it has a longer shelf life than milk pasteurized the usual way, BUT the use-by date refers to the unopened product.  Once opened, its shelf life is no longer than milk pasteurized the usual way.


When milk begins to approach the one-week mark, that's a good time to think of more uses for it than just as a drink or an accompaniment to cereal.  Start your dinner with cream of tomato soup and end it with homemade chocolate pudding.


Store and handle milk properly.


Food scientist Dr. Catherine Cutter makes these points: 


  • Keep your fridge no warmer than 40°F. (If it's too warm, bacteria can grow and cause spoilage.)  If it's a few degrees cooler than that, your milk (and other foods as well) will last a little longer. 


  • To keep refrigerated milk as cold as possible, don't place it in or near the door.  Further back and further down in the fridge is better.  Frequent opening and closing of the fridge will also affect the temperature of food near or in the door. 


  • Keep milk refrigerated as much as possible.  Instead of leaving the  bottle on the table or counter throughout a meal, pour what you need (not more) into a glass or pitcher, and put the milk bottle back in the fridge.


  • To keep from adding bacteria to the milk carton, don't pour milk from a pitcher back into the milk bottle. The unused milk from the tables may be significantly warmer than the original milk and may be contaminated by outside organisms. Refrigerate the pitcher separately, or discard the milk if it's been on the table awhile. 


  • To avoid further spreading of germs, strongly discourage anyone from taking a swig of milk right from the bottle or carton.


Researchers at Cornell University add the following tip: Keep milk that's in clear plastic containers away from direct and fluorescent light.  Direct sunlight can cause "off" flavors, and fluorescent lighting can cause vitamin deterioration.


One further warning:  Don't buy or drink raw (unpasteurized) milk. It can cause serious illness.  Click here to find out more.


For more storage tips on milk, click here.


To find out more about how heating and packaging affect the shelf life of milk, click here.


Look for advertised bargains.


  • Check newspaper ads placed by supermarkets in your area. 


  • Download free apps for your neighborhood food stores, and check them for discounts and coupons. Example: On December 26, my neighborhood Dominicks posted a 70¢ off coupon for a gallon of Pantry Essentials milk. Its regular price (with a Dominicks card) was $2.89. That coupon gave the consumer a 25% price reduction! It pays to look for these specials and give your business to stores that give you good deals.


Using powdered milk can add up to big savings.


"Powdered milk, when handled properly, is as good as skim milk and much cheaper," says Dr. Regenstein. "Furthermore, you don’t have the problems of spoilage if you make it up in small batches.  My wife and I raised two children on powdered milk! It's 100% equivalent to skim milk."  Powdered milk has a shelf life of 6-9 months.


In case you don't want to go the powdered milk route for your morning beverage or cereal, at least give it a try for cooking. 


A nondairy "milk" product may not be cheaper even if milk prices leap upward.  However, some people prefer the taste, and it's a popular choice among those who are lactose intolerant. 


For additional information on the following milk products and milk substitutes, use the links below:


Milk, whole, reduced fat, fat-free


Milk substitutes: Soy, Rice, and Almond Drinks



Source(s): "'Dairy cliff': Milk prices may double in New Year"


Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., Cornell University, Dept. of Food Science


Susan Brewer, Ph.D., University of Illinois, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition


Catherine N. Cutter, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University, Dept. of Food Science "Do Food Product Dates Make Consumers Safer or Just Poorer?" "It Says Use By Tomorrow, But You Don't Have to" Says Use By Tomorrow


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