May 8

How to Freeze Milk the Right Way

Written by: Caitlin Clark

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Unless you run a kindergarten or a daycare, you may find it challenging to use a gallon of milk before the expiration date. Despite its versatility in recipes from cookies to sauces, milk often ends up going down the drain before you can get your money’s worth from the whole container.

However, there is a way to avoid this dairy disaster...

your freezer!

With a shelf life of only about a week in the fridge, milk will stay good in the freezer for several months! Read on to find out how to freeze milk properly and use it once it's frozen. 

Should You Freeze Milk?


pouring-glass-of-milk

Is it Worth it?

The typical cost of a gallon of milk in 2021 is $3.51. Organic milk is even pricier, averaging $4.07 for half that quantity.

Most consumers simply can’t afford to pour this much money down the drain when it expires after only a week! Milk is a kitchen staple and a backbone of nearly every dish in Western cuisine, so despite its price and short shelf life, it is handy to have around.

Storing milk in the freezer is a valuable way to keep this necessary ingredient on hand without risking spoilage. 

Flavor/Texture Changes

Milk that has come from the freezer will work perfectly in baking, cooking, and smoothies, BUT it probably isn’t ideal for pouring over your cereal.

Freezing forces the fat component to separate away from the water fraction within the milk (it's less noticeable in cold/hard desserts like fudge). The result will be a grainy or slushy product that may appear slightly curdled.

Don’t worry!

It only has this texture because low temperatures have forced fats to agglomerate. If you use it in cooking, baking, or saucing (or any high-temperature application that causes the fats to melt), it will perform the same as fresh milk. 

Similarly, it will behave like fresh milk in blender recipes like smoothies, which mechanically break up the concentrated fat particles.

If you must use frozen milk as a substitute for fresh milk over cereal or in your coffee, run it through a blender or beat it vigorously with a whisk to break up the fat globules.

Blending will bring back its smooth character, making it similar to fresh milk. 

How Long Can You Freeze Milk?


cookies-and-milk

The USDA recommends storing milk in the freezer for no longer than three months.

Milk is not entirely stable while frozen. Although it has undergone pasteurization to reduce the load of pathogenic and spoilage microorganisms, some organisms remain and continue to grow in the milk (this is why it spoils in the fridge after seven days).

A number of the microorganisms that inhabit milk are known as “psychrophiles” or cold-tolerant organisms. Their cold tolerance means that they can survive at freezing temperatures.

The USDA estimates that these organisms have had time to grow enough to spoil your milk after three months in the freezer, despite the cold temperatures. Make sure to label frozen milk with the date to use older milk first, and throw out any milk aged past three months. 

How to Freeze Milk Properly


strawberry-splashing-into-milk

There are two standard methods of freezing milk.

Option 1: Freeze milk in whole containers.

But be careful: DO NOT attempt to freeze milk in glass containers! Milk is approximately 88% water, meaning that it will expand upon freezing.

Plastic or paper packaging is flexible, so it can change shape to accommodate the expanding liquid. Even so, make sure you have at least ½ inch of headspace at the top of the container to prevent cracking or tearing.

Glass containers are likely to shatter when your milk expands, making a mess and resulting in a real hazard. Use the whole container approach if you use large volumes of milk at a time. 

Option 2: the ice-cube method

Pour milk into an empty ice cube tray, freeze it, and then repackage the frozen milk cubes into an airtight freezer bag (or vacuum seal them) labeled with the date. Repeat the process to fill up the bag.

This method works perfectly if you expect to use smaller volumes of milk at a time. The milk cubes are also fantastic for tossing directly into smoothies.

How to Thaw Milk Properly


milk-poured-into-coffee

Because milk is highly susceptible to spoilage, it should be kept cold at all times.

Defrost containers of milk in the refrigerator overnight.

If you need to thaw them more quickly, stand the container in cold water, changing the water frequently until the milk has fully melted.

Milk cubes seldom require thawing--you can add them directly to sauces, gravies, or soups. If you wish to thaw one or two so you have a small quantity of milk ready for a recipe, simply leave them in a bowl in the fridge overnight. 

Once you have thawed frozen milk, its shelf life is shorter than fresh milk. Use it within four days.

Uses for Frozen Milk


milk-pouring-into-glass

Frozen milk is ideal for any hot or cooked dish. In baked desserts, casseroles, soups, gravies, sauces, or bread, the heat will melt the chill-clumped fat particles, returning the milk to its original texture and functionality.

Similarly, recipes that require whipping or blending will accomplish much the same end. Smoothies or cold dairy-based blended desserts are an excellent way to use frozen or thawed milk. 

Frequently Asked Questions


Can You Freeze Milk in a Carton?

You can freeze milk in a carton, but it is a slightly greater risk than freezing it in a plastic container. Occasionally, the expanding milk causes the paper container to split or rupture. Still, the risk is small relative to the convenience since milk in paper cartons often comes in small quantities. As with any container, as long as you see ½ inch of headspace at the top, the container should be safe from rupture.

How Long Can You Freeze Breast Milk?

The CDC claims that it is safe to freeze breast milk for up to one year, although it is preferable to consume it within six months if possible. Use it within one day after thawing it, and don’t ever re-freeze it once it has defrosted.

Can You Freeze Evaporated Milk?

The USDA does not recommend freezing evaporated milk; freezing an unopened can is likely to rupture the can due to expansion. Freezing will also significantly alter the physical properties of the product. However, it is perfectly safe to keep an open can of evaporated milk in the refrigerator for up to five days.

Can You Freeze Lactose-Free Milk?

Like regular milk, lactose-free milk will expand when frozen and thaw with a slightly grainy, clumpy texture. It will also safely keep for three months in the freezer. Use it just like you would regular milk, according to the guidelines above.

Can You Freeze Whole Milk?

Absolutely! Freeze and use whole milk according to the suggestions above. 

Can You Freeze Skim Milk?

You certainly can. Freeze and use skim milk per the recommendations above.

Can You Freeze 2% Milk?

Definitely. Freeze and use 1% following the guidelines above.

Can You Freeze Raw Milk?

The USDA states unequivocally that raw milk is a significant safety hazard. Raw milk has not undergone pasteurization, which is the process that destroys pathogens, or disease-causing organisms.

Raw milk causes 840 times more illnesses and 45 times more hospitalizations when compared to pasteurized milk products, according to a study based on recent data from the National Outbreak Reporting System. In fact, raw milk is responsible for 96% of all illnesses caused by any dairy product. 

Having said that, if you still wish to consume raw milk, you may certainly freeze it and use it as described above. However, there will be two main differences. 

First, expect its shelf life to be shorter, both in and out of the freezer. Because raw milk is a threat to public health, scientists cannot safely study it in consumers, and little data exists about its shelf life. Yet, we know that unpasteurized raw milk has a higher microbial load than typical pasteurized milk when it goes into the freezer.

Therefore, we would expect its shelf life in the freezer to be shorter. If you plan to freeze raw milk, keep it as cold as possible at all times, and err on the side of caution; don’t use it if you have any reason to suspect it has gone off! 

Second, raw milk has not been homogenized like milk you buy in the grocery store. Homogenization is a process that breaks up fat globules, helping to keep them in suspension.

Although freezing partially reverses this process, homogenized milk stays reasonably smooth. On the other hand, non-homogenized raw milk is exceptionally prone to fat agglomeration during freezing, and large fat clumps dramatically disrupt its texture. 

Can You Freeze Sweetened, Condensed Milk?

The USDA recommends against freezing sweetened, condensed milk.

If you attempt to freeze this product in the can, it is likely to rupture due to expansion from partial freezing. Nevertheless, many home chefs report that if you open the can and pour the sweetened, condensed milk into a different airtight container, you can expect it to keep up to three months in the freezer.

Anecdotal commentary on the topic does not report any change in color or texture up to a three-month storage period. Note that its high sugar content will prevent it from freezing solid. 

Concluding...


milk-in-glass-bottles

We hope this guide was helpful. Freezing milk is the right move for a lot of households. Just keep in mind the texture/flavor changes that can occur.

If you have any questions/comments, don't hesitate to leave a note below.

Cheers,

Caitlin


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About the author

Caitlin is a Ph.D student and chocolate researcher at Colorado State University. Her research in the Food Science program focuses on chocolate fermentation (that’s right, it’s a fermented food!) and small-batch post-harvest processing techniques. When she is not acting in her capacity as resident chocolate guru, she researches other fermented foods and beverages like beer, sausage, and natto. Caitlin was drawn to fermented foods while living in rural Spain for six years, where she was exposed to traditional, time-honored practices of food preservation. At home, she practices Bollywood dance for fun and is followed everywhere by two small pet rabbits.

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