How Long Does Half and Half Last?

Half and half typically stays good for at least 3 to 5 days past the “expiration” date.

Once you open it up, you get a generous 7 to even 10 days. It depends on the producer, so it’s important to read the label.

That means that your unopened half and half that “expired” 2 days ago is probably still safe to use. It’ll likely last only for a couple of days instead of the full week, but that’s still better than pouring it down the drain.

When it comes to those tiny individual creamers, they last for months. And using one that’s a couple of weeks past its date is no big deal 99 percent of the time.

That’s the gist of it.

Want to learn everything you need to know about shelf life, storage, and spoilage signs of half and half, both refrigerated cartons and tiny creamers?

Let’s get right into it.

Half and half tiny cups

How to Store Half and Half

Store half and half cartons in the fridge, preferably in the far corner, not the door. And remember to always seal it tightly before returning the carton to the refrigerator.

Tiny half and half creamers don’t require refrigeration. Store them in a cool place away from sunlight, and they’re going to be fine.

That’s the gist of it. Let’s get into the details.

A Tight Seal

Once you open the carton, make sure it’s tightly sealed when not in use.

Fortunately, most half and half containers are resealable these days, so keeping the leftovers sealed isn’t an issue.

If you can’t easily seal yours, pour the leftovers into a mason jar, a plastic bottle, or an airtight container. Anything that you can seal will do, really.

Shake Before Use

Give your half and half a good shake before using it. That ensures the texture is relatively uniform.

Otherwise, the liquid on top might be a bit runnier, and the bottom somewhat dense or even slightly chunky. That’s especially true if that half’n’half is nearing or past its date.

You can find the same advice on most bottles and cartons of buttermilk and kefir.

Coffee whitened with half and half
Coffee whitened with half and half

Far Corner vs. Door

The fridge door, while a convenient place to keep the coffee creamer handy, isn’t ideal. The temperature there fluctuates the most, and most dairy products don’t really appreciate it.

That said, unless you’re trying to get the longest possible storage time out of your carton, leaving it on the door should be fine.

In other words, you have bigger fish to fry.

Individual Half and Half Creamers

Tiny half and half creamers don’t require refrigeration. A cabinet in the kitchen, perhaps the same one you keep your coffee beans in, is good enough for them.

Those tiny cups are usually ultra-pasteurized (often labeled as UHT) and are shelf-stable due to the processing involved. You can think of them as small cans of half and half, not unlike evaporated or condensed milk.

Because refrigeration isn’t required, individual creamers are popular in restaurants and hotels.

Warning

If your tiny cups were in the refrigerated section in the supermarket, check the label to learn if they require refrigeration or not. I’m yet to find a package that needs chilling in the fridge, but you never know.

Empty half and half cups
Empty half and half cups

Can You Freeze Half and Half?

Freezing affects the taste and texture of half and half, and that’s why most producers advise against it. The dairy product separates, and giving it a good stir or blending it won’t exactly bring it back to its natural state.

It’s like with freezing sour cream or heavy cream – you can do it, but it comes at a cost.

Frozen and defrosted half and half is separated. Because of that, it won’t work in desserts and other dishes that rely on its texture, but should be good enough for cooking or as a coffee creamer.

Tip

If you’re unsure if it will be good enough for your recipe, freeze a small amount and prepare a mini version of it to test it out.

How To Freeze Half and Half

When it comes to methods of freezing, I recommend using an ice cube tray.

This way, you can easily thaw as much as you need without thawing the whole container. Plus, the cubes don’t take that much space, and you can divide those into several freezer bags, so you can basically fit them anywhere.

Another method of freezing is using an airtight container. Just pour half and half into the container, close it tightly and chuck it into the fridge. Make sure to leave an inch of headspace, as the product will expand when frozen.

When it comes to thawing, the fridge is the safest option. Or, if you add it to a soup, you can just throw in the frozen cubes – they will quickly melt in the pot.

Half and half date on the cup
Half and half date on the cup

How Long Does Half and Half Last?

 FridgePantry
Half and half (unopened)Use-by + 3 – 5 days
Half and half (opened)7 – 10 days
Half and half tiny cups Best-by + 1 – 2 months

Half and half lasts for up to 3 to 5 days past the date on the label. Once you open the carton, the product should keep for 7 to 10 days, or up to those few days past its date, whichever comes first.

Half and half creamers come with a long shelf life of 6+ months and easily keep for an extra month or two without a significant change in quality.

That’s the bird’s eye view. Let’s talk about specifics.

Half and half date on label
Half and half date on label

“Expiration Date”

Half and half cartons usually come with a use-by date.

That’s not an expiration date by any means and has nothing to do with food safety. It only tells you how long the manufacturer estimates the product will retain quality.

Usually, half and half retains quality for a couple of days past that date, but that’s about it. If it’s more than say 5 to 7 days past that date, the product will probably be chunky or sour (more on spoilage signs later).

After Opening

Once you open the carton, you should use the half and half within 7 to 10 days. Obviously, if the carton is already pushing its date, you only get like 2 to 3 days tops.

If that fairly long period is not enough for you, consider freezing the leftovers.

Pasteurized vs. Ultra-Pasteurized

Ultra-pasteurized half and half usually comes with a slightly longer shelf life, like maybe a week or two longer than regular pasteurized half and half. That’s already reflected in the date on the label, so you don’t really have to bother.

Some dairies prefer making pasteurized half and half, while others switched entirely to the ultra-pasteurized option. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, but some manufacturers insist that ultra-pasteurized half’n’half tastes worse.

It’s up to you to choose one over the other. Or to ignore the matter entirely.

Half and Half Coffee Creamers

Half and half individual creamers last for at least a month or two past the date on the label. Plus, their shelf life is usually 6+ months. That’s way more than regular half and half in a carton.

In theory, you can keep the leftovers in the fridge for a couple of days, but I’m pretty sure everyone uses these creamers immediately after opening.

If you like to whiten your coffee with half and half, but don’t need a lot of it, individual creamers are probably the best option for you.

Half & Half vs. Other Coffee Creamers

As you already know, a carton of half and half has a fairly limited storage time. So if you’re looking for something that comes with a longer shelf life, you can go with other coffee creamers or the mentioned individual creamers.

I think half and half works great as a creamer if you’re in one of the following situations:

  • you add lots of it to your coffee
  • you drink a lot of coffee
  • you use half and half for other purposes too (e.g., baking)
  • you buy small containers

Either of these should be enough for you to use a whole carton within a week of opening or so.

How Long Can Half and Half Sit Out?

If you left out half and half for more than 2 hours, you should toss it. If it’s a hot (over 90°F or 32ºC) day, that period shrinks to an hour.

That’s the general recommendation that works for pretty much all products that require refrigeration.

While that’s not in the official guidelines, it’s logical to assume that an unopened container will withstand warm temperatures much better than an open one.

Think about it – an unopened half and half is pasteurized, so there shouldn’t be that many harmful microbes in there.

Because of that, there’s not that much bacteria growth that can happen in those two hours. The quality of the product will suffer, sure, but it shouldn’t become unsafe that fast.

An open carton, on the other hand, might have all sorts of microbes in it, and leaving it in a warm spot will allow those microbes to multiply fast.

When it comes to open half and half, be strict about the two-hour rule. But if it’s still unopened, you might be a bit more loose (up to you).

Half and half coffee creamer
Image used under Creative Commons from Terry Johnston

How to Tell if Half and Half Is Bad?

Half and half, like all other dairy products, goes bad.

The most common signs of spoilage are a sour aroma and lumpsVisible mold or a moldy smell is also possible, but much less common. If either is present, throw out the product.

Both clumps and sourness are a sure sign the dairy product is either old or mishandled in storage. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about this at this point.

Mold usually grows only if you first introduce it to the half and half somehow. Maybe there was a block of blue cheese nearby that wasn’t properly wrapped, or something similar.

Besides those, there are a few more things to cover here.

Separation

Even though half and half often includes emulsifiers and stabilizers, the cream still separates from the milk if the product sits untouched for too long. That’s why labels often have a phrase like “Shake before use.”

That separation is normal and nothing to be worried about. A good shake should incorporate everything together once again.

Curdling

If your half and half curdles when you add it to hot coffee, it’s a sign that it’s old.

The acid in the coffee, combined with the high temperature, curdles the cream. It doesn’t make the coffee unsafe by any means, but who likes their coffee with curdled cream?

There are two ways to proceed here:

  • discard the half and half because it’s not fresh anymore
  • try to use it in other applications (e.g., cooking or baking), if it still tastes quite alright

Prolonged Storage

If the product sits in the fridge for way longer than the periods mentioned earlier, discard it for safety purposes.

Sure, it can still be safe to use, and the quality could be decent, but you never know. Better to be safe than sorry.