I wasn't quite sure of the science behind why milk "spoils" in the first place, so I asked gastroenterologist and internist Niket Sonpal, MD, to explain. "Milk curdles in part because of bacteria," he says. "Even if milk is pasteurized, there's still a certain amount of milk bacteria left behind that will eventually cause the milk to spoil and curdle." According to 2018 research published by the Journal of Dairy Science, this is because the bacteria continue to grow even after the milk has been pasteurized (which involves heating up the milk to kill off pathogens) and bottled. Yuck. Milk will go bad regardless, but you can slow the process by storing your carton at 38 to 40 °F.
Still, one sniff of expired should lead you to utter: "Hmmm, this milk smells funky." The best case scenario is that you'll throw it out right then. If, however, you pour the spoiled milk into your Lucky Charms, smoothie, or protein shake, and gulp it down... there's no gentle way to say this: you will likely get food poisoning.
"Typically, if you ingest enough spoiled milk, it can basically take a really, really bad toll on your GI tract," Dr. Sonpal explains. So, depending on how much expired milk you sipped, your symptoms may include vomiting, cramping, and diarrhea for a period of time from hours to days, says the gastroenterologist.
"Typically, if you ingest enough spoiled milk, it can basically take a really, really bad toll on your GI tract." —gastroenterologist and internist Niket Sonpal, MD
Mild cases of food poisoning usually pass on their own in due time. Dr. Sonpal just recommends making sure you're staying hydrated so your poor kidneys don't suffer. However, if you're trying to stay hydrated, but you keep vomiting up the Pedialyte or the Gatorade that you're trying to drink, you might be experiencing more severe symptoms, says Dr. Sonpal. If this is the case, you should go to urgent care or your doctor's office so they can give keep you hydrated with IV fluid.
Last but not least, Dr. Sonpal notes that both salmonella and E.coli have been found in pasteurized milks. Meaning, if you do get sick after gulping down a glass, it can't hurt to go to you doctor's office just in case. And as a hard-and-fast rule, he recommends you never (ever!!!) drink milk that hasn't been pasteurized.
Yes, we all learned as children not to cry over spilled milk. Spoiled milk, however, is a different story. So do yourself a favor and take a whiff before you drink a glass.
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