ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Does Milk Spoil Early In NYC? Explaining Milk Sell By Dates

Updated on July 9, 2013
Glass of milk / Photo by E. A. Wright
Glass of milk / Photo by E. A. Wright


Milk cartons no longer come stamped with two dates. The city finally removed the requirement. The last dual-stamped carton that made it to my fridge was around Christmas in 2010. Such cartons – and this article – are now pieces of history. Complaints about spoiled milk in the city continue, however.


Soured milk is very disgusting kind of sludge, no question about it.

In one of the first places I ever lived on my own, I had an ancient mini fridge that never quite stayed cool enough. I learned this on a hot summer's day, when, deciding to take advantage of the pleasures of not sharing a kitchen with anyone else, I got out a week-old quart of milk and gulped straight from the carton.

What an unforgettable horror! The taste. The smell. The aftertaste. The gooey, curdled chunks that stuck to the roof of the mouth, the tongue, the teeth. The gag reflex. The fact that this reflex did not kick in until one mouthful was already down.

Wiser after this experience, I started checking milk very carefully before pouring. I learned to grow wary as the expiration date approached.

Yet moving to New York City has presented a New Milk Challenge: what to make of the pair of conflicting expiration dates printed on most milk containers sold in the city?


Closeup of a NYC sell by date. Note that the expiration is June 5th in the city, but June 10th anywhere else / Photo by E. A. Wright
Closeup of a NYC sell by date. Note that the expiration is June 5th in the city, but June 10th anywhere else / Photo by E. A. Wright


Take the carton of milk I bought on June 1 from a nearby Associated. The large print expiration date on the carton is June 10th, but directly underneath, in smaller print, it says: "NYC JUN 05."

Which is it? Why the multiple dates? Does milk really spoil five days early in New York City?

Without any clear explanation in stores, these conflicting expiration dates can give the impression that something goes terribly awry with milk the second it enters the boundaries of New York City.

Relative newcomers to the city — myself included — are left to imagine that there's something in the very city air that suddenly morphs milk into a dirtier, fouler and more dangerous substance. Might this prove, once and for all, that New York City is part of some alternate universe, set apart from the rest of the country?

It turns out that the specific-to-New-York-City expiration date says plenty about the power of the city's Health Department to affect the external appearance of milk cartons — and says very little about whether the city's peculiarities actually damage the milk inside.


New York City's rules on milk expiration dates / Screenshot by E. A. Wright from The Public Access Portal To the Laws Of the City Of New York
New York City's rules on milk expiration dates / Screenshot by E. A. Wright from The Public Access Portal To the Laws Of the City Of New York
Milk cartons / Photo by E. A. Wright
Milk cartons / Photo by E. A. Wright


When a carton of milk passes its expiration date, you ...

See results
Milk cartons stamped with NYC sell by dates / Photo by E. A. Wright
Milk cartons stamped with NYC sell by dates / Photo by E. A. Wright


There are no federal standard for milk expiration dates, and, in many areas, milk producers and distributors get to use expiration dates of their own choosing.


  • According to a fact sheet on safe food handling from the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service, "refrigerators should be set to maintain a temperature of 40 °F or below."
  • And always put milk away as soon as you get home from the store.



Dig up a copy of Rules of the City of New York, go to Title 24 and dig some more in the milk section and you'll find this requirement: "No person shall possess, store, offer for sale, sell, give away or distribute any such product the label of which bears an expiration date beyond the period specified in this section. The expiration date shall not be more than nine (9) calendar days following the date of pasteurization."

There it is: New York City's 9 Day Rule For Milk.

The milk rules go on to explain just how that expiration date must be marked on milk cartons. The date "shall be expressed by the first three letters of the month followed by the numeral or numerals constituting the appropriate calender date." It also has to be inked on "legibly and conspicuously."

Now, about the multiple expiration dates on each milk carton. Consider it just another side effect of a mish-mash of regulations in the New York metropolitan area.

Milk sold on Long Island, for instance, has to meet the less strict requirements of New York's Department of Agriculture and Markets — while nearby states also have their own requirements for expiration dates. In Connecticut, for example, the expiration date can be up to 12 days after pasteurization.

Facing all these differing standards for expiration dates in one geographic area, milk distributors choose to simplify things for themselves. They just print two expiration dates on milk cartons destined for New York City.


While the 9 Day Rule in the city has a relatively short history, helping shoppers steer clear of spoiled milk has been a political issue in New York City for a full century.

The last time the city's sell-by date requirements changed was in 1987, extending the expiration date to 9 days after pasteurization, up from four days.

A New York Times article from that era — "Milk's Shelf Life: Is Longer Better?" — recounts some of this history: "In 1911 the sales period was set at 36 hours. Except for the period between 1960 and 1962, when the state pre-empted localities in dating milk, the city has steadily extended that time, until in 1978 it reached the current four days. The extensions were pegged partly to technological advances, partly to political maneuvering."

There have continued to be periodic bursts of outrage over spoiled or expired products on store shelves, but there has been no reversal in the trend toward easing the stringency of the city's expiration dates.


In all the questioning and debate over the city's unique rules for dating milk, there seems to be an acknowledgment that Milk Selling In New York City Is Just Different. There a running thread that maybe there's some truth to the fear that milk just doesn't last long enough here.

There's this, for example, from "F.Y.I. City Milk's Hard Life," a New York Times article from March 24, 1998: "According to John Gadd, a spokesman for the city's Department of Health, milk shipped to New York is more likely to stand unrefrigerated for brief periods, both before it reaches store shelves and also on the way from store to home. 'It's one of those uniquely New York sorts of things,' he said."

Others have more directly blamed local grocery store practices. In a 2009 Atlantic article "New York City's Milk Mystery," a milk producer complained: "If there's any reason that milk goes bad quicker in New York City, it's because stores don't adhere to the state-mandated 45-degree temperature ceiling for stocking perishables."

In my admittedly limited experience, it does seem hard unusually to find milk with a decent amount of life left in it in New York City, at least when compared to others places I've lived. The local grocery and drug stores I rely on now usually stock milk that is already very, very close to the city's expiration date. (This is more true with skim milk and half gallon sized cartons, for whatever reason.)

Milk does usually last beyond the NYC date, but rarely does it last for a full week after purchase.

I suspect that the cramped nature of the typical neighborhood grocery store is a big part of the problem. Navigating crowded sidewalks and entrance ways during delivery and unloading probably takes extra time, lengthening the period milk is in transit outside a refrigerated truck and refrigerated storage inside the store. Within the store, crowded aisles mean store employees have to interrupt their restocking efforts to let customers pass, lengthening the time milk sits in crates on the floor before making it onto refrigerated shelves.

And no expiration date (or dates) are likely to fix that.

NYC sell by dates apply to both skim and whole milk Milk / Photo by E. A. Wright
NYC sell by dates apply to both skim and whole milk Milk / Photo by E. A. Wright


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • BetteMachete profile image


      9 years ago

      This is very informative, and it answered a lot of questions I didn't even know I had! Cheers for exploring the "double" expiration dates.

    • bingskee profile image


      9 years ago from Quezon City, Philippines

      i am not a fan of milk. but oh, wow, soured milk is a bad bad experience for anyone.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)