Dairy Products

How Long Does Half & Half Last?

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Half & half may be thicker and creamier than milk, but it is not as heavy and decadent as cream — a happy medium that is worthy of more attention in the kitchen! It has a surprisingly long shelf life; however, appropriate storage is essential to prevent it from going to waste.

An unopened carton of half & half generally lasts about 5-7 days past its listed date and roughly 7-10 days once opened. Keep it frozen for up to 3 months, but expect a change in its consistency. Appropriate storage and temperatures are essential to extend its shelf life.

If you happen to have a surplus of half & half, do you know how to extend its shelf life? Can it be frozen for later use?

Let’s explore the best ways to safely and effectively store half & half, and how to use up any leftovers before it turns into a rather sour disappointment:

Half & Half Cartons And Individual Cups

We will discuss the storage and shelf life of two common types of half & half products:

Dairy Milk Products
  • Half & half cartons

Half heavy cream, half whole milk, you can find cartons of half & half in the refrigerator, along with other dairy products. The cartons have a limited storage time. Used for cooking and baking, it adds the perfect amount of richness to recipes without being too heavy.

Avoid reaching for the fat-free version, which is just milk thickened with nasty additives and thickeners. Aside from its artificial taste, it lacks the creaminess of regular half & half.

Please take note that fat-free and low-fat half & half cartons have the same shelf as the regular kind, so they will all go under one heading.

  • Individual cups of half & half

Along with chemical additives, these tiny cups of half & half have been ultra-pasteurized, so they don’t require refrigeration and will keep for quite some time. They are often found in hotels and restaurants due to their size, convenience, and extended shelf life.

What The Date On Your Half & Half Means

According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), confusion over the dates on food labels accounts for approximately 20% of consumer food waste.

You may see several dates on your half & half carton:

  • Sell-by: Using this date, stores can effectively manage their inventory since it indicates when to sell the product to ensure the best quality.
  • Best if used by: You should consume the product by this date in order to enjoy the best quality.
  • Use by: This is the last day when you can expect maximum quality from the product.

Printed dates are an indication of when the quality and freshness of the product will start to deteriorate. However, that does not mean your half & half will expire and become unsafe to consume immediately after that date.

How Long Does Unopened Half & Half Last?

An unopened carton of fresh half & half will generally stay fresh and safe to consume for about 5-7 days beyond its use-by date, as long as it has been continuously refrigerated at temperatures between 32 to 40°F (0 to 4°C).

If left unopened, tiny cups of individual half & half creamers will last for at least 1 month after the ‘best by’ date. They have a longer shelf life of about 6 months because they usually go through UHT (Ultra-heat-treated processing), making them ultra-pasteurized.

Because unopened half & half cups are ultra-pasteurized and heated to very high temperatures during the UHT process, they will store much longer without refrigeration. To be safe, always look for UHT on the label.

How Long Does Half & Half Last Once Open?

A carton of fresh half & half will last for approximately 7-10 days once opened. The shelf life of an open carton will greatly depend on the producer, appropriate storage, and constant refrigeration. Upon opening, the taste and quality of the product will gradually deteriorate, but you can still use it.

The smaller size of half & half individual creamers means that they are typically consumed soon after opening, otherwise, refrigerate the leftovers and use within 7-10 days.

How Long Does Half & Half Last Once Cooked?

Basically, once you cook half & half (or any other food), it becomes an entirely different product, and its expiration date no longer applies. Cooked food is not affected by the expiration date of its ingredients.

Generally, cooked food has a shelf life of about 3-5 days when prepared and stored properly.

Fresh milk

Why Does Half & Half Last So Long?

Various factors, such as the product’s ingredients and manufacturing method, allow half & half to have a longer shelf life than whole milk.

  • Half & half is high in fat and lower in lactose.

Cream in half & half gives the product a higher fat content, which enhances its shelf life. In addition, bacteria that cause spoilage feed on lactose (sugar), which is mostly found in the watery part of milk.

  • Most half & half products are pasteurized.

Cream-based products are usually pasteurized at higher temperatures, effectively killing most of the bacteria and promoting an extended shelf life.

Female hand opens door of a fridge close up

What Is The Best Way To Store Half & Half?

In order to maximize the shelf life and safety of half & half, careful planning and storage are essential.

How To Store A Carton Of Half & Half?

Both an open and unopened carton of half & half should be stored on a shelf in the lower part of the fridge. This is the coolest part of the fridge, which is ideal for dairy-based products.

How To Store Individual Cups Of Half & Half?

Since most individual half & half cups have been ultra-pasteurized, they will not require refrigeration if unopened. Store them in a cool area (such as the pantry) away from sunlight to prevent spoilage.

Once opened, individual cups of half & half should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent food contamination.

Tips On How To Keep Half & Half Fresher For Longer

  • When shopping for half & half, read the label and choose a carton with the longest expiration date.
  • A constant and cool temperature is essential for an extended shelf life. Keep half & half in the refrigerator when not in use, and avoid leaving it to stand at room temperature.
  • Discard an open carton of half & half that has been left unrefrigerated for more than 2 hours. Bacteria grow more rapidly as the product warms up, which leads to food spoilage and contamination.
  • Do not store half & half in the refrigerator door. The door constantly opens and closes, resulting in fluctuating temperatures which can cause food to spoil. The main body or lower section of the refrigerator are better suited for dairy products.
  • Store half & half in its original packaging, and always ensure the lid is tightly sealed after each use. If you struggle to reseal your carton, pour the leftovers into an airtight container or mason jar.
  • Shake the half & half carton before use to ensure a smooth pouring consistency. The product tends to separate when it is near or past its use-by date, making the top of the liquid runnier and the bottom portion chunky.

Can You Freeze Half & Half?

You can freeze half & half, but most producers and professional chefs do not recommend it. When half & half is frozen, the milk separates from the cream (the ingredients freeze at different rates), which will affect the taste and texture.

Frozen and defrosted half & half will be slightly grainy, which is not suitable for desserts or other recipes that require a smoother texture. Give it a good whisk and use it for cooking instead.

How To Freeze Half & Half

If you are sitting with more half & half than you bargained for, and have no plans to use it in the near future, freezing is the most viable option.

Freeze an unopened carton in its original packaging. Transfer and freeze an open carton half & half in a Ziplock bag or airtight container. It is important to leave at least 1/2 inch of headspace at the top since half & half expands when frozen.

Another useful option is to freeze half & half in ice cube trays. This enables you to remove and defrost the appropriate amount needed for a recipe. Individual blocks of half & half will thaw a lot quicker, and they don’t take up a lot of room in the freezer.

Half & half will last up to about 3 months in the freezer if stored correctly and at a constant temperature. The recommended temperature for freezing dairy products is 0°F (-18°C). Like any dairy-based food, it is not advised to refreeze thawed half & half.

Is Curdled Half & Half Bad?

Nobody likes a lumpy cup of coffee! Curdled half & half usually means that the product is not fresh and on its way out. This typically occurs when the carton has been open for a while.

Curdled half & half isn’t necessarily ‘bad’:

  • If the half & half only curdles once it hits the coffee, it’s not as fresh but may still be safe to consume. Although not ideal for coffee, you can use it for cooking or baking if it tastes and smells ok.
  • Half & half that is already curdled and clumpy in the carton is usually bad and should be discarded.

Avoid consuming curdled half & half if you are uncertain about freshness and possible contamination.

How To Tell If Half & Half Is Bad

To determine whether half & half is bad and should be discarded, make full use of your senses. Pour a small amount of half & half into a clean, clear glass to inspect thoroughly.

  • Appearance

Look out for any curdling, lumps, and chunky bits. The presence of mold, discoloration and a slimy texture are all indications that you should discard your half & half.

  • Packaging

Examine your unopened carton of half & half. A spoiled carton will appear deformed, with bulging or puffed-up edges. Avoid using if you notice that the neck of the container has mold or discoloration.

  • Smell

The smell of spoiled half & half will be hard to miss! If you detect a distinctly sour, ‘strange’, or rancid odor that makes you recoil, avoid consuming and discard immediately.

  • Taste

A taste test should be your last option. If you are still uncertain about the freshness of your half & half, take a small sip to investigate. Fresh half & half should taste somewhat sweet, like rich, creamy milk. A sour or acidic flavor and lumpy texture are clear signs that it has expired.

Can Expired Half & Half Make You Sick?

Other than a sour taste, a small sip or serving of half & half is unlikely to cause any serious symptoms. Consuming moderate to large amounts of spoiled half & half can cause food poisoning, and you may experience uncomfortable digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.

Consult your healthcare provider if symptoms persist or worsen, or if you begin to experience signs of dehydration.

Are Half & Half Containers Recyclable?

In most cases, half & half cartons are made of paper, but they may also contain a thin layer of plastic, both of which can be recycled. Contact your local recycling company to confirm.

It is not advisable to flatten the carton before discarding it. Sorters at recycling facilities will have an easier time identifying materials if they are in their original form.

Individual half & half cups are not recycled since they are ‘multi-layer’ (made from more than one type of material), and most recycling facilities are unwilling/unable to process them.

Whenever possible, avoid using single half & half cups, or try to find ways to repurpose them.

How To Use Up Leftover Half & Half?

To avoid food wastage and money poured down the drain (literally!), there are several creative ways to use up those last few drops of half & half.

Other than coffee, half & half can typically be used in place of cream or milk for:

Note: Due to its high-fat content and cold temperature from the refrigerator, half & half will need to be tempered before it is used for cooking. Tempering will prevent it from turning lumpy or curdled when adding it to other hot ingredients.

So, How Long Does Half & Half Last?

Regular cartons of half & half have a limited shelf life and need to be refrigerated at a consistent temperature. In contrast, the individual cups are typically shelf-stable and can be stored at room temperature.

You can avoid food wastage, prevent foodborne illness, and enjoy half & half to its fullest potential with the correct storage and preservation methods.

Always remember: When in doubt, throw it out!


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