Your favorite nondairy milk won't last forever but with proper storage you can maximize its shelf life, keeping it fresh for drinking, baking and smoothie-making.

Whether you follow a vegan or plant-based lifestyle, have an allergy, want to lower your cholesterol or just prefer the taste, there's a lot to love about almond milk. Made by blending almonds with water and then straining the mixture to remove the nut solids, almond milk contains protein, vitamin E and healthy fats, and most store-bought versions are fortified with vitamins A, D, B2 and B12, all beneficial nutrients found in cow's milk. In terms of taste and texture, almond milk is rich and creamy with subtle nutty notes and a hint of sweetness. And it's versatile, great for adding to coffee, blending into smoothies, pouring over cereal, baking with, drinking on its own or using just about any way you'd use cow's milk or alternative milks.

Related: Homemade Almond Milk

Of course, just like cow's milk and other alternative milks, almond milk does go bad, which is why it's essential to understand its shelf life and the best way to store it. Read on for everything you need to know.

How to store unopened almond milk

The best way to store unopened almond milk depends on the almond milk and where it comes from. If you are lucky enough to have a local purveyor making fresh almond milk, store it in the refrigerator. The same goes for any almond milk you buy that is already refrigerated.

Shelf-stable almond milk, the kind that typically comes in unrefrigerated rectangular boxes, can be kept in your pantry or any cool, dark place away from heat and light.

For an easy way to remember, just think about where you found the almond milk. If it was in a fridge when you bought it, keep it in the fridge, and if it wasn't refrigerated, stick it in your pantry.

A jug of milk next to an almond with expiration dates in the background
Credit: Getty Images / cgdeaw / Javier Zayas Photography / t_kimura

How to store opened almond milk

Once you open almond milk—any kind of almond milk, including homemade almond milk— always refrigerate it. If possible, keep almond milk toward the back of the fridge, where the temperature tends to be the coldest and the most stable. Avoid storing it on the door, where the temperature fluctuates.

How long does almond milk last?

The shelf life of almond milk depends on the type of almond milk and how well it is stored. Homemade almond milk or almond milk from a fresh local source doesn't contain any additives to preserve it, so it will only last about five days even if properly stored in the refrigerator.

Store-bought refrigerated almond milk tends to be ultra-pasteurized, which is a heating and cooling process that kills bacteria and extends shelf life. Once opened, it should last up to seven days when properly stored in the refrigerator.

Shelf-stable almond milk has the longest shelf life. If properly stored, it will typically last one to two months unopened and up to 10 days once it's opened and refrigerated.

Keep in mind that these are only guidelines, as the shelf life of almond milk varies from brand to brand and depends on how well its stored. While it's good to keep these time frames in mind, the real test is how the almond milk looks, smells and tastes (more on that to come).

What does the sell-by or expiration date mean?

"Sell-by," "best-by," "use before" and other expiration-related dates on packaging can be confusing. According to the FDA, these dates are about quality rather than safety and are the manufacturer's assessment of when a product is at its best. If almond milk—or any food product—is stored properly, it can very well be kept past the date on the packaging. In short, how you store your almond milk is far more important that the date stamped on its bottle or box.

What does bad almond milk look, taste and smell like?

Packaging dates and shelf-life guidelines are all good to keep in mind, but when it comes to determining if almond milk has gone bad, the real test is how it looks, smells and tastes.

Let's start with appearance. Before you peek at the almond milk itself, look at its packaging. If it expands, puffs or swells, the almond milk may be spoiled. Next, look at the almond milk. In the unlikely event that you've kept your almond milk for way too long, make sure there are no black spots, which indicate mold and mean your almond milk belongs in the trash.

While thickness varies by brand, most almond milks have a consistency similar to cow's milk. Expired almond milk can turn thick and clumpy, but before you toss it, give the container a good shake to see if it's just separated. If your almond milk still has a funky texture, into the bin it goes.

Speaking of funky, give your almond milk a good sniff. It should smell subtly nutty and mildly sweet. If it has a sour whiff or stinks in some other unappealing way, throw it out.

If your almond milk passes the appearance and odor tests, but you're still nervous, take a tiny sip. As with smell, any kind of sour or off flavor is a good indication that your almond milk needs to go.

What if I drank bad almond milk?

While you could drink expired almond milk and not even notice, it could also lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or a combination of those symptoms. Digestive issues are usually caused by mycotoxins, which are produced by mold. Keep in mind that we sometimes accidentally ingest mold, and in small amounts it's pretty harmless, so this isn't something you need to worry too much about. Of course, taking a big gulp of way-past-its-prime almond milk will likely taste rather awful, so that's another reason to store it properly and make sure it's still fresh.

Related: Is It Safe to Eat Strawberries If Some Have Mold on Them?

What can I use instead of almond milk?

If your almond milk has gone bad, there are several dairy-free alternatives, including soy milk, rice milk, oat milk, hazelnut milk and coconut milk. Each milk alternative has its own unique taste, texture and nutritional profile, so which one you choose depends on personal preference, as well as what you're looking for and how you plan to use it. If boosting the protein in your morning smoothie is a priority, soy milk is a great option, but if you really enjoy the mild nuttiness of almond milk, reach for hazelnut or cashew milk. Oat milk tends to be thicker than other alternative milks and many people find it froths up nicely, making it a popular choice for coffee drinkers. Rice milk offers a fairly neutral flavor profile, which many find appealing, while coconut milk tends to taste distinctly of coconut.

Bottom line

As with all food, properly storing almond milk is the key to maximizing its shelf life. Homemade almond milk stored in the refrigerator will last about five days. Almond milk bought from the refrigerated section of your market will last in your fridge for about seven to 10 days. Shelf-stable almond milk will last one to two months in your pantry and up to 10 days in the fridge after opening. And when it comes to determining the freshness of almond milk, guidelines should be just that. Rather than relying on strict rules or even package dates, trust your own senses.

Related: Healthy Almond Milk Smoothie Recipes