Does Condensed Milk Need Need to Be Refrigerated?

As a former pastry chef, I’ve used condensed milk many times over the years. But recently, I got to wondering about its roots, so I did some research. And then some more research… you know how that goes, right? In doing this, I found out some very valuable information.

First off, it turns out condensed milk has been around for a long time – over 200 years! French chef Nicolas Appert invented this handy product in 1827. It has since become hugely popular as an ingredient in a ton of recipes, from sweet desserts to savory sauces. (*)

But when it comes to storage, there seems to be some confusion. Should you keep condensed milk in the fridge or is it safe to leave it on the pantry shelf?

If you’ve ever found yourself with an open can of condensed milk and wondered whether it needs refrigeration, you’re not alone.

In this article, we’ll explore the topic of condensed milk storage and answer the question once and for all.

Are you ready? Let’s go!

At the end of this article, I’ll share my #1 favorite recipe for using condensed milk. It’s super easy, and a favorite at my family’s holiday gatherings!

Quick Answer:

The quick answer is… (drum roll, please) both yes, and no! An unopened can of condensed milk is shelf-stable, not requiring refrigeration. Once you’ve opened it, the game changes. Keep reading to find out more about the proper storage of condensed milk, as well as some handy tips to maximize its shelf life.

What Is Condensed Milk? A Simple Guide

Before we dive into storage, let’s define what condensed milk is and how it’s made.

This rich and creamy product, also known as sweetened condensed milk, is very simply made. Condensed milk is the result of heating cow’s milk until 60% of the water evaporates. Sugar is then added to a whopping ratio of 45%. (*)

This is what gives condensed milk its enhanced flavor and thick syrupy consistency. The result is a sweet concoction that adds body and richness to various recipes.

Why Condensed Milk Lasts So Long: Shelf Life Explained

One of the reasons why condensed milk is so popular is its convenience. Unlike regular milk, which spoils quickly if left unrefrigerated, condensed milk has a longer shelf life. This is due to two main factors: the high sugar content and the process used in its production.

  • High Sugar Content as a Natural Preservative: Sugar acts as a natural preservative by creating an environment that inhibits bacterial growth. In condensed milk, the high sugar concentration helps prevent spoilage. It extends the product’s shelf life when stored properly.
  • Sterilization Process During Production: Condensed milk undergoes processing that further enhances its stability. This is a combination of high-heat treatment and vacuum sealing. The process kills off any potential bacteria, making it safe for long-term shelf storage.

Learn more: Does Sweetened Condensed Milk Go Bad?

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To Refrigerate or Not: The Key Factors for Condensed Milk

Storage Smarts: Handling Unopened and Opened Condensed Milk Cans

When it comes to storing condensed milk, whether it needs refrigeration depends on whether you’ve opened the can or not.

  • Unopened Cans: Did you know you can safely store an unopened can of condensed milk at room temperature for up to 3 years? That’s right! As long as the can remains sealed and undamaged, it will remain fresh and safe to consume. Discard any cans with rust or other damage, to be on the safe side.
  • Opened Cans: Once you open a can of condensed milk, it’s best to refrigerate it. When stored in the refrigerator, condensed milk will last 10 – 14 days.

Top Tips for Storing Condensed Milk Properly

To ensure the longevity and quality of your condensed milk, follow these best practices for storage:

  • Store Unopened Cans in a Cool, Dry Place: While refrigeration isn’t required for opened cans, it’s still essential to store them in a cool and dry place away from direct sunlight. Heat and humidity can affect the texture and flavor of the product.
  • Sealed Containers: After opening a can of condensed milk, transfer it to an airtight container before storing it in the fridge. This prevents air and bacteria from contaminating the product.
  • Use Clean Utensils: Always use clean utensils when scooping out condensed milk. This prevents cross-contamination and helps maintain its quality.
  • Check for Signs of Spoilage: Before using condensed milk, always inspect it for any signs of spoilage. If you notice an off smell, unusual texture, or any mold growth, discard the product immediately.

By following these practices, you can ensure that your condensed milk remains fresh and delicious for an extended period.

Extending Shelf Life: How to Freeze Condensed Milk

If you find yourself with an excess of condensed milk and want to extend its shelf life even further, freezing is an option worth considering. Freezing can preserve condensed milk for up to three months.

To freeze condensed milk:

  1. Transfer the remaining contents of an open can to a freezer-safe container.
  2. Leave some headspace in the container as liquids expand when frozen.
  3. Seal the container tightly to prevent freezer burn.
  4. Label the container with the date to keep track of its freshness.

When you’re ready to use the frozen condensed milk, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. It’s not advised to microwave condensed milk due to the high sugar content.

Learn more:

Chef’s Special: My Go-To Condensed Milk Recipe

This delicious recipe has only two ingredients: 

  1. Rum  
  2. Dulce de Leche (caramelized sweetened condensed milk). 

It’s very rich and best if enjoyed slightly heated, in 2 oz. quantities. If you find the flavor too strong by itself, consider using it in coffee instead. It will keep for 3 weeks, refrigerated in a sealed container. For a Christmas gift, consider putting it in a pretty, colored glass corked bottle.

Homemade Caramel Liqueur

(3) 13.4 oz. cans of Nestle Dulce de Leche La Lechera (caramelized sweetened condensed milk, found in the Mexican food aisle)

4 – 5 cups of spiced rum, depending on your preference

Make sure your sweetened condensed milk is at room temperature, not chilled. Combine the ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. You may need to do this in batches. Transfer to sterilized pretty glass bottles (with corks) for gift-giving. keep refrigerated. Heat slightly before serving. Makes approximately 44 oz.

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Conclusion: Your Complete Guide to Condensed Milk Storage

So, does condensed milk need refrigeration? The answer is both yes and no. An unopened can of condensed milk can stay at room temperature for up to 3 years. Open cans need refrigeration. Remember these key points:

  • Store unopened cans in cool, dry places away from sunlight.
  • Discard any cans that are damaged or show signs of rust.
  • Once opened, refrigerate or freeze leftovers.
  • Store leftover condensed milk in airtight containers.
  • Use refrigerated condensed milk within 14 days.
  • Use frozen condensed milk within 3 months.

Have we missed anything? We welcome your comments, questions, and feedback, as always! Please use the comment box below to join the conversation.

Thanks for reading!

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