Here’s how to save money—and your milk.

By Kimberly Holland and Betty Gold
Updated January 25, 2021

The temperatures inside a refrigerator can be inconsistent over time, and they fluctuate from place to place, too. Just like your oven, your fridge can have hot spots and cool ones. This affects your food's quality and longevity.

The worst spot for temperature swings? Your refrigerator door, because it's the warmest spot in your fridge. Just think: Every time you open the fridge door, you're dragging all the foods stored there into what's likely the hottest room in your house. The warmer temps and frequent temperature fluctuations can put food at risk of spoiling, especially milk and cream.

Although a gallon or half gallon of milk may fit perfectly in the fridge door bins, the warmer temps may make the liquid curdle before you can possibly drink it. Likewise, potentially harmful bacteria grow at these warmer temperatures. The longer milk is exposed to the heat of a kitchen, the faster bacteria will grow.

Help your milk last longer by storing it at the back of the fridge on a shelf near the middle or bottom. Hot air rises, so upper shelves may be a few degrees warmer than lower shelves.

As for your fridge door compartments, they're the perfect place to store the least perishable foods you have, like ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, salad dressing, jam, and bottled beverages like sparkling water. These foods, though they taste better or last longer when cold, are less perishable, meaning they're less likely to spoil quickly because of the warmer temps at the fridge door.

Milk Handling Tips for a Longer Shelf Life

Taking care to protect milk from warm temperatures throughout the time you have it can help it last longer and taste better until the last drop.

Make milk your last stop in the grocery store

Complete all your grocery shopping, then swing by the milk section to pick up your gallon just before you head to the checkout. This way, the milk has less time exposed to warmer air and will be less likely to start growing harmful bacteria.

Keep milk stored at the best temperature for your refrigerator

This is around 37°F. The closer foods get to 40°F, the more likely it is that harmful bacteria will begin to grow and multiply.

Store milk at the back of a shelf in the lower portion of the fridge

That's where the coldest temps are in your fridge, which is an ideal spot for milk.

Return the milk to the fridge right away

Don't leave the gallon sitting on your counter or kitchen table while you eat your morning cereal or have your pancakes and bacon. Pour everyone's glass or what you need for a recipe, and immediately put the milk back in its spot.

Shut the door

Standing at your fridge with the door open while you search for a snack or dinner inspiration is bad news for everything in your fridge. Only open the door long enough to remove or store what you need, then close it behind you. This helps keep the temperatures stable and safe.

Don't forget about other forms of dairy, including breast milk

These rules apply to half & half, cream, and whipping cream, too. And FYI, the CDC clearly states on its website that the same goes for breast milk: "Do not store breast milk in the door of the refrigerator or freezer. This will help protect the breast milk from temperature changes from the door opening and closing."

Non-dairy milks should follow the same guidelines

Before you take your dairy milk out of the door bin and replace it with your favorite almond or soy milk, know that non-dairy milks—even those that are shelf-stable at room temperature prior to being opened—must also be kept below 40°F to prevent harmful bacteria from growing. If your shelf-stable alt milk is unopened, you can store it in the refrigerator door to keep it chilled only until you unseal the carton.