I think it’s safe to say that many of us agree that a day isn’t complete without a steamy cup of coffee. In fact, estimates show that approximately three out of every four Americans consume at least one cup of joe daily. According to the same survey, only about 41 percent of those folks prefer to drink it black. (I, for one, definitely fall among the other 59 percent that enjoy their brews with either dairy or non-dairy milk creamers and additions, of which, there’s no shortage of options.)
Although going through a carton of the best coffee creamer within a few days typically isn't an issue in my household—considering I tend to add perhaps a little too much at a time—it still begs the question: When does coffee creamer expire? This is especially relevant if you've been making daily trips to the local coffee shop more often than usual (hi, PSL season), and your fave healthy coffee creamer has been sitting untouched for a little longer than it normally does.
- Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, registered dietitian and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen
- Makenzie Bryson Jackson, MS, food scientist and product development manager at Panaceutics
- Trevor Craig, a food safety expert and corporate director of technical training and consulting at Microbac Laboratories
So, how can we really ensure our creamer is still safe to drink besides taking a big ol' whiff of it? We spoke with a food safety expert and a registered dietitian, who spilled the tea, so your morning coffee doesn't come along with a floating glob of curdled milk. Not fun.
So, what is coffee creamer made of anyway?
Creamer is the liquid or powder commonly added to coffee or tea in the place of milk and like products such as cream and half-and-half. Creamers were first introduced back in the mid-1940s when an employee of the food corporation, Rich Products, set out to create a soy cream that wouldn’t curdle when mixed with coffee. But it wasn’t until 1961 when Nestlé revolutionized the industry with their powdered dairy-free coffee creamer.
While the ingredients and flavors vary by brand, most creamers contain the base of water, sugar, and vegetable oil. “Most non-dairy creamers that are made from alternative milk include gellan gum, which is an ingredient that helps to stabilize, thicken and bind the ingredients,” shares Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, nutrition expert for plant-based pea milk, Ripple, and author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen. With extra processing and sugars in comparison to milk or alt-milks, creamers are popular due to their sweet taste and ability to “balance the coffee’s acidity, and add body and flavor,” says food scientist Makenzie Bryson Jackson.
Liquid creamers come in both the cold and room-temperature sections in the grocery store, but both need refrigeration after opening. The main differences between them are in the ingredients and packaging. “Shelf-stable products are packaged in aseptic containers, which means that there are no bacteria in the packaging itself that can cause the product to spoil,” Largeman-Roth says.
When does coffee creamer expire?
The shelf life all depends on the type of creamer you have. Generally speaking, the liquid dairy creamer, both opened and unopened, will last refrigerated between one to two weeks.
On the other hand, for liquid dairy-free creamers, an unopened bottle can stay in the pantry for about one month after the best-by date; however, when opened, it should be stored in the refrigerator and consumed between two weeks. “Even if a creamer isn’t made with dairy-based ingredients, the other ingredients can still break down and spoil if they are held at a too high or low temperature,” Largeman-Roth says. “These products are emulsions and must be kept in certain conditions to not break apart into an unappetizing mix of oil and sugar.”
Powder alternatives can last in the cupboard longer, between three to six months.
How can I tell if my coffee creamer has gone bad?
So, how can you tell if creamer is well past its prime? According to Trevor Craig, a food safety expert and corporate director of technical training and consulting at Microbac Laboratories, it all boils down to three tell-tale signs."Dairy and non-dairy are going to give similar signals. Changes in texture, smell, and taste are all signs that things have gone wrong with your creamer," Craig says. If your creamer has experienced any one (or all) of these changes, it may be time to part ways.
"Dairy and non-dairy are going to give similar signals. Changes in texture, smell, and taste are all signs that things have gone wrong with your creamer," Craig says.
When it comes to powdered creamers, Craig says the cues to determine if the creamer has gone bad will be a little different. "For dry creamers, you should look out for signs of mold, but otherwise they will mostly just start to not taste good. If you aren’t sure, pour a spoonful out and double-check before pouring in your coffee."
Do non-dairy creamers last longer than dairy creamers?
Although you'll want to inspect the texture, smell, and taste of dairy and non-dairy creamers to determine spoilage, Craig notes that non-dairy creamers will tend to last a little longer than most dairy creamers. "Yes, generally [non-dairy creamers] will have a longer shelf life. Dairy normally only lasts a few weeks or even days without opening, while you can go much longer without the dairy," he says.
Can I use coffee creamer past its expiration date?
By now, many of us may be wondering what to do with the creamer that's been sitting in our fridge for several days. Or, worse, what to do if its past the expiration date, but still unfinished. Contrary to popular belief, expiration dates are useful indicators on guaranteed freshness, but they don't necessarily indicate whether or not the product is truly spoiled. "Generally, when we talk about shelf life and expiration dates, we are talking about limits to the quality of the product, not the safety," Craig says.
However, to err on the side of caution, he recommends only using the product, especially creamer or ones that involve dairy, only a few days or a few weeks after its expiration, "but wouldn’t push much past that," he says.
On that note, although the smell, taste, texture, or even color, might still be intact, Craig says this isn't the only thing you should be weary of if your creamer has been sitting around for a while. The longer the product remains unused, the more time it has to grow bacteria that can potentially wreak havoc on your digestive system. "It might make you queasy or maybe even cause an upset stomach," he says. But, rest assured, Craig explains that sipping on some expired creamer won't always lead to more serious consequences like salmonella or listeria infections. (Although, never say never.)
How long does coffee creamer last after opening?
Keep in mind that although creamer can last a few weeks, it's heavily contingent on how it's been handled. "Once a product is open, it’s exposed to everything, meaning if you aren’t careful and leave the creamer at room temperature for a longer time, this could put it in the danger zone and encourage extra bacteria growth," Craig says. Ultimately, this means the creamer could expire faster than it's predetermined expiration date.
Can you extend the life of your coffee creamer?
According to Largeman-Roth, where you store the creamer in your fridge can have an impact on its freshness. That's to say, the dietitian recommends keeping creamer in the cooler areas of your refrigerator. “Most of us keep creamers in the door as it’s really convenient; however, it’s better to store them in the main compartment as the items in the door are more susceptible to temperature fluctuations from the opening and closing of the fridge," Largeman-Roth says.
Can I freeze coffee creamer to extend its shelf life?
However, if you don't foresee getting through your stockpile of creamer in time, you may want to consider freezing before it spoils. "I don’t see anything that would suggest it’s dangerous to freeze it, but it’s potentially going to affect the quality of the product," Craig says. Only thing to keep in mind is that you'll want to thaw it in the fridge (not on the counter to avoid the temperature danger zone) once you're ready to drink too much coffee in one day!
A dreamy DIY non-dairy creamer recipe:
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