Does Half and Half Go Bad? (Pasturized & Unpastuerized Tips)

Half and half, a specialty dairy product made up of equal parts whole milk and cream, is a popular additive for coffee, baked goods and some entrees depending on the results you’re looking for.

It can add creaminess to dishes, take the bitterness out of your morning cup of joe and even be used in cocktails.

But if you’re not using half and half daily, the product can go bad quickly – so how long does it last?

Half and half, like other dairy products, is perishable and should not be left out at room temperature for extended periods. According to food safety guidelines, it should not sit out for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if the ambient temperature is above 90°F. Bacteria grow rapidly at temperatures between 40°F and 140°F, making the product unsafe to consume after these time limits. Always store half and half in the refrigerator and discard if it has been left out beyond these recommended time frames to ensure safety.

To help make the information on different types of half and half easier to understand, here’s a table:

Type of Half and HalfFridge ExpectancyFreezer ExpectancyIf Left Out
Pasteurized4-6 days3 months2 hours
Ultra-pasteurized7-10 days3 months2 hours
Organic7-10 days3 months2 hours
Homemade7-10 days*2 months2 hours

*Homemade half and half will last as long as the milk used to make it lasts; check the carton for exact dates.

How Long Does Half And Half Last After Expiration Date

Like all dairy products, half and half will have an expiration date stamped on the packaging.

But expiration dates can be tricky – they’re actually the last day a product is at its best quality. So using half and half after its expiration date isn’t the red flag you would think it is.


Once you reach the date on your carton of half and half, you have another 3-5 days of use before it truly goes “bad.”

The expiration date will also depend on additives, production processes and the level of pasteurization – so read the carton for more information.

Half and half comes in quite a few sizes, so if you don’t think you’ll go through it quickly, consider buying a pint vs. a quart or half-gallon.

How Long Can Half And Half Be Left at Room Temperature?

It’s never ideal to leave a dairy product sitting out at room temperature, but accidents happen.

If you were half-asleep and left the half and half out on the counter after pouring your morning coffee, you have about two hours before bacteria starts to form.

Certain bacteria can grow once half and half reaches 40° F or higher in temperature.

These Bacteria Include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Salmonella enteritidias
  • Escherichia coli

Since the normal temperature range of a home is 60° F or more, dairy takes about two hours to warm up to the level where bacteria will form.

If you get into a situation where your refrigerator loses power, the USDA suggests that food will be safe for up to four hours during a power outage.

Just remember to keep the door closed unless necessary and, once the power comes back on and the fridge is up and running, check perishable items to make sure they haven’t spoiled.

What is the Best Temperature for Half And Half?

The ideal temperature for storing half and half is anywhere under 40° F.

Fridge & Perishable Food Temperatures:

  • 35 – 40 °F: the ideal temperature for your refrigerator
  • 40 – 140 °F: the “danger zone”

In terms of food safety regulations, the danger zone is the temperature range where dangerous bacteria can multiply quickly.

Can You Make Homemade Half And Half Creamer?

Yes, it’s possible to make half and half at home. You’ll need the following ingredients, combined in a measuring cup:

  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup heavy cream or whipping cream

How long homemade half and half lasts depends on whether or not the whole milk and/or cream were already open. In short, it will last as long as the milk used to make it will last.

How Do You Know if Half And Half is Bad?

Luckily, it’s pretty obvious when half and half goes bad; it will curdle. Liquids that curdle contain lumps and start to develop a sour smell.

Curdling is caused by protein molecules forming lumps and the product turning acidic – definitely not the taste you’re looking for in half and half.

If you aren’t sure if your half and half is bad, take a quick whiff; does it smell sour or even taste a little tangy?

Another trick is to look for circles when you pour half and half into your coffee. If circles form on top of the coffee, the half and half has at least started to go bad and is separating or curdling.

What Does It Smell Like?

Half and half that is still good doesn’t have a very distinct smell. Like most dairy, it will have a mild, almost unnoticeable scent.

Half and half that has a strong, sour odor has gone bad. It may also have lumps or mold lining the inside of the carton. If you’re unsure if your half and half is bad, double-check the expiration date.

You may decide to take a small sip and see if there’s a sour taste; if so, you’re close to having spoiled half and half.

Half and Half is Bad in Coffee

Pasteurized Half and Half Creamer

Not all dairy is pasteurized, but half and half almost always is. Made up of heavy cream and whole milk, half and half gets heated to a minimum of 280° F for at least two minutes. This process kills most of the bacteria in the liquid.

Some half and half may just be pasteurized instead of ultra-pasteurized. In this case, half and half gets heated to around 160° F. It still kills harmful bacteria, but not as much as ultra-pasteurizing does.

Packaging should tell you whether your dairy products, including half and half, are raw, pasteurized, or ultra-pasteurized.

How Long Does Organic Half And Half Last?

Organic products are on the rise and dairy in particular can now be bought organic. In general, cows producing milk must not be given any hormones that stimulate milk production.

The feed they eat can’t be treated with pesticides and the cows must be eating pasture grass for at least 120 days of the year.

When it comes to organic half and half, there really isn’t a difference in how long it lasts. The standard is still 7-10 days with a few days of safety after the expiration date.

However, some organic products do have expiration dates that come up quicker, so make sure to check your carton.

People have also noted that organic products seem to go bad sooner, although there’s a lot of debate about this topic.

How Long Will Unopened Half And Half Last?

If half and half is on sale and you want to buy in bulk, an unopened carton will last 1 to 2 weeks after the date on the package, as long as it is refrigerated.

Can Expired Half And Half Make You Sick?

Yes, expired half and half can make you sick. Although just a sip of it or a tablespoon in your coffee will probably only ruin the taste, spoiled half and half has a wealth of bacteria in it.

This bacteria can cause cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and more. These symptoms are pretty mild compared to food poisoning, which you can also get.

Food poisoning can lead to becoming dehydrated and not being able to keep anything down. In some cases, it may result in hospitalization.

Can You Cook With Spoiled Half And Half?

While you shouldn’t drink spoiled half and half, if it is only a little bit sour you can still cook or bake with it. Sour milk will still have an effect on the food you’re making, so keep that it mind.

Any recipes that call for buttermilk or yogurt will be a good fit for slightly sour half and half.

Using a small amount (less than 2 cups) of sour half and half in baked goods is safe as the oven heat will destroy most of the harmful bacteria.

How To Properly Store It

Once half and half is opened, you have 7-10 days before it goes bad. It’s important to keep the carton in the far corner in the fridge so that it stays at a cool temperature and out of sunlight at all times. Avoid storing the carton in the door.

Many cartons have a twist cap for a tight seal, but if your half and half has a fold-over cardboard carton, consider pouring it into a mason jar, Tupperware or other airtight container.

Can You Freeze Unopened Half And Half?

Because half and half is made with cream, it isn’t ideal for freezing. Cream and dairy heavy in fats separate when frozen. However, you can definitely freeze your half and half if you need to.

If you haven’t opened the carton yet, you can freeze the entire carton.

If you’re using frozen half and half, make sure to defrost it first and give it a good shake to help with the separation.

It won’t be as good in coffee as fresh half and half, but it’s still great for cooking and baking. Half and half can last for up to 3 months in your freezer.

Read on to find out in more detail on How to Freeze Half and Half and Proper Ways to Defrost it to retain optimum flavor and taste.

Can You Freeze Opened Half And Half?

If the carton is already open, you can transfer the half and half to a ziplock bag or airtight container safe for freezer use. It will last 3 months in the freezer.

Final Words

Half and half isn’t just for coffee, and it shouldn’t be overlooked as a great addition to your kitchen. Half and half can add creaminess and full-fat flavor to your dishes.

But make sure you keep an eye on proper temperature and the expiration date – you have about 7-10 days to use your half and half before it goes bad.

When you purchase half and half, check the expiration date and make sure it’s sealed tightly once opened.

If you leave it out accidentally, it’s still safe for use as long as it hasn’t been at room temperature for over two hours.

Whatever you choose to do with half and half, stay conscious of dates and check it regularly for curdling or a sour smell.

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