When Should I Worry About...

How Long Is Yogurt Good After Its Expiration Date?

Dec. 6, 2022 - Katie McCallum

Yogurt is something of a refrigerator staple. It makes for a quick breakfast, a healthy base for dips and sauces, and fluffier and moister baked goods.

It's also one of those food items that we sometimes assume can last in the refrigerator indefinitely. Okay, maybe not forever ... but at least until it starts to look or smell weird — regardless of what the expiration date says.

"Best if Used By," "Sell-By" and "Use-By" labeling is somewhat mysterious anyway. These dates don't indicate whether a food item is safe to eat or not (except for infant formula). Rather, expiration dates are stamped on packaging to give an indication of food quality — flavor, freshness — which can deteriorate over time.

So if you've got a tub of yogurt in your fridge past the optimal-use time, does that mean you're in the clear to eat it, so long as you can handle the perhaps tangier taste?

Can you eat expired yogurt?

Here's the straightforward, simple answer:

According to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service Foodkeeper app, yogurt should be consumed within 1 to 2 weeks of the purchase date. (This time frame assumes you've been refrigerating your yogurt, by the way.)

After that, there's no guarantee that your yogurt is still safe to eat. It's best to throw it out.

Though the milk used to make yogurt is pasteurized — meaning it's heated to kill any dangerous germs that may be present — there's still the potential for contamination to occur afterward, during processing and packaging. Additives are often included to help limit this. But like all dairy products, yogurt will eventually go bad.

Spoiled yogurt can be relatively harmless, an off-putting sour taste as the good bacteria within it slowly continue to ferment lactose into lactic acid.

But spoilage can also make yogurt unsafe to eat. If present, harmful microbes can slowly grow in yogurt — causing foodborne illness if ingested. According to the CDC, "you can't taste, smell or see the germs that cause food poisoning." So the only guaranteed way to consume yogurt safely is to follow the USDA policy of throwing out what you haven't eaten after two weeks.

5 tips for safely consuming yogurt past its "Best if Used By" date

You may have noticed that the USDA's guidelines mean your yogurt's clock starts when you purchase it. This means you may be considering eating yogurt beyond the date on its package. If you're wary of doing so (we don't blame you), here are tips for making sure that what you're consuming is still safe to eat:

1. Refrigerate it promptly. Yogurt left unrefrigerated for two hours or less is still safe to eat, but because bacteria and mold grow easily at room temperature, be aware that the product may spoil more quickly — especially if it contains fruit or added sugars. And know that yogurt left at room temperature for more than two hours should be thrown out.

2. Inspect how it looks and smells. Germs that cause food poisoning don't always cause off-flavors or smells, but if yogurt has a curdled texture or rancid smell, it's best to be safe and throw it out. It likely wouldn't have been enjoyable to eat anyway.

3. Be aware of the factors that make yogurt spoil sooner. For a tub of yogurt you dig into every few days, always be sure to use a clean spoon to portion out servings and reseal the container tightly afterward. Additionally, be sure to store yogurt (as well as other dairy products) on a refrigerator shelf — not the inside of the door — to ensure the product stays at a food-safe temperature.

4. Know the yogurt hacks that can help you use it up quick. Have more yogurt than you can feasibly eat in time? You might be surprised to find how versatile of an ingredient yogurt is, with plenty of both sweet and savory uses. Plus, knowing clever ways to use yogurt can also help you incorporate more protein into almost any meal. (Related: How Much Protein Do You Need?)

5. Freeze it! If yogurt is about to expire and you can't find a use for it, consider freezing it. According to the USDA's Foodkeeper app, yogurt remains fresh in the freezer for 1 to 2 months. When a recipe calls for yogurt, be sure to account for the time needed to thaw it safely (in the refrigerator!) and use it within a reasonable timeframe.

When in doubt, throw it out

Food waste is an issue, but foodborne illness is a serious problem, too.

Food poisoning doesn't just cause seriously uncomfortable symptoms, like diarrhea and vomiting. It can be life-threatening in some cases. So everyone should take steps to protect themselves from it.

This means that if you have any doubts about the safety of the yogurt sitting in your refrigerator, err on the side of caution.

People who should take food safety most seriously include:

  • Adults 65+
  • Children younger than 5 years of age
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems
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