The methods that I know to test cold milk is to either boil it and look for the break, taste it (yuk!), or hope it smells bad enough to know it's bad.

Is there an easy and scientific way to know whether milk is still good? and for how much longer it's likely to stay good?

The expiry date alone is not a good indicator since it assumes some conditions about the storage temperature and we've all seen good milk past expiry and bad milk before expiry.

I'm also curious about the particular moment beyond which we consider milk 'goes bad'. Can one tell how far away it is from the current seemingly healthy condition of milk?

  • 1
    I suspect there is no one particular moment when milk goes bad. Like most biological processes, it is a complex interaction of time and temperature controlling the growth of microfauna. Other than laboratory tests to detect a particular level of acidity, or a concentration of microfauna, I don't think you will get an objective measure.
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Apr 15, 2013 at 20:34
  • @SAJ14SAJ you're right. Looks like it just keeps getting sour and clotty until it becomes unbearable.
    – MandoMando
    Apr 15, 2013 at 20:44
  • @SAJ14SAJ There's no question that you're right. However, bacterial populations increase exponentially, so I wouldn't be surprised if there were a tipping point where it goes from "not much bacteria" to "way too much bacteria" in a couple of days.
    – octern
    Apr 5, 2014 at 17:57
  • I've found that different brands go bad in different ways. Some clot first, some go sour and smell. This presumably is due to the different ways to treat them, in particular with regards to micro-filtration and pasteurization. There might not be a definite answer to this question.
    – MSalters
    Aug 25, 2014 at 14:23
  • I can't even imagine a world in which milk goes bad. I drink the sweet sweet nectar by the gallon if there's nobody around to stop me.
    – Preston
    Oct 10, 2014 at 9:55

4 Answers 4


Looks like FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) publishes a formal testing handbook here.

One of the easier methods: The Alcohol Test

The test is quick and simple. It is besed on instability of the proteins when the levels of acid and/or rennet are increased and acted upon by the alcohol. Also increased levels of albumen (colostrum milk) and salt concentrates (mastitis) results in a positive test.


The test is done by mixing equal amounts of milk and 68% of ethanol solution in a small bottle or test tube. (68 % Ethanol solution is prepared from 68 mls 96%(absolute) alcohol and 23 mls distilled water). If the tested milk is of good quality, there will be no coagulation, clotting or precipitation, but it is necessary to look for small lumps. The first clotting due to acid development can first be seen at 0.21-0.23% Lactic acid. For routine testing 2 mls milk is mixed with 2 mls 68% alcohol.

Simplified for home use:

This test is likely to be adaptable to household alcohol drinks such as vodka or similar beverages. For example the number of teaspoons of Vodka an ounce or two of milk can hold before it clots.

  • 1
    The other answer is actually pretty good, I think--the human nose is remarkably good at these things. It evolved for the purpose as it were :-)
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Apr 15, 2013 at 20:50
  • 3
    I tried the alcohol test with isopropyl alcohol and it made a totally uniform mixture. I tried it with 47% alcohol vodka (ethanol) and it produced the exact same reaction (some coagulation) in new and old milk (freshly opened milk with a sell by date 1.5 months in the future and a carton that had a sell by date 10 days ago) I would put this as a comment to the alcohol test but i don't have enough reputation, i guess. Without more detail to the protocol, it would be difficult to say if the test worked
    – Mike Manh
    Jul 18, 2014 at 5:27
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    I used to drink White Russians (milk, Kahlua and vodka). Super fresh milk would never curdle, but older milk (even if it was still fresh and well before the "sell-by" date would often curdle.
    – Jolenealaska
    Jul 18, 2014 at 6:10
  • @MikeManh the test indicates 68% ethanol. I'd imagine you can get false positives if you use higher than 68% ethanol. But this does not mean the test will work with lower % of ethanol.
    – MandoMando
    Jul 20, 2014 at 13:22
  • 2
    you can't make 68% alcohol (136 proof) without starting with something stronger, or distilling/scrubbing it. you can start with 151 Everclear (75.5% ethanol), and dilute it 9:1 for 68%.
    – rbp
    Nov 30, 2015 at 17:20

Use your nose. The smell of sour milk is overpoweringly wretched. My belief is that if you can stand to smell it, you can stand to drink it.

  • 2
    But often, the upper half of the bottle will stil be OK, while at the bottom you will find those dreaded stinking lumps...
    – Cerberus
    Apr 15, 2013 at 19:07
  • 1
    shake, inspect, smell....
    – Cos Callis
    Apr 15, 2013 at 19:14
  • Smell is not very reliable unless the milk is totally off. I've updated the question. Looking for a more definite test here that doesn't rely on subjective things.
    – MandoMando
    Apr 15, 2013 at 19:32
  • 3
    @MandoMando Sadly, I think the method is you wait until it is off, then use your time machine to go back three days :-)
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Apr 15, 2013 at 19:53
  • 3
    @SAJ14SAJ yeah, I was worried we'd invent a time machine before a milk testing machine. looks like there are multiple tests, and some easy ones.
    – MandoMando
    Apr 15, 2013 at 20:34


Pour a small amount of milk into a cup of hot water, the milk will rise/float to the top in small, thin clumps if it is bad.

The clumps are thicker as the milk spoils more.



Working on a theory that milk in early stages of going bad will stick to side of glass longer than fresh milk and that residue will consist of almost micro curds if you look closely.

  • Doesn't sound like a good theory: bacteria can cause harmful spoilage without affecting the texture that visibly.
    – Cascabel
    Oct 9, 2014 at 15:41

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