How can I better store half & half?
October 7, 2011 7:37 AM   Subscribe

I like my coffee--enough that I just drink one good cup a day. (I make it with an Aeropress.) Since it's just one cup, I don't feel shy about adding half & half. Ultra-pasteurized h&h has a sell-by date that can be a month out or more. I thought I'd be smart and make it easier to store and pour by putting it in a glass container. It's this GlassLock container. After four or five days, the h&h starts to separate. What should last for weeks more goes bad almost right away. This has happened with several brands of h&h, and I've certainly washed the container well. Does anyone have a guess on why this is happening? Any suggestions on a container (you've tried yourself) that does work well for storing half & half?
posted by fishpatrol to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's been my understanding that H&H normally separates and needs a shake prior to using.

Generally the opaque milk carton hides this fact and it's only because you're using a see-through one.

Also you're not supposed to store milk in transparent containers like glass because it causes the milk to break down faster:
posted by unixrat at 7:41 AM on October 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm by no means an expert, but some things—

1. A sell-by date assumes that the container remains sealed. Once you open a carton of half-and-half that sell-by date is moot, and your creamer's gonna be good for a week-ten days about.

2. Half & half is a mixture of cream and whole milk, there's nothing chemical going on there, they just stir it up together. I imagine it's pretty natural for the cream to separate from the whole milk while it's just sitting there. Try giving it a shake before you pour.

3. "washed the container well" isn't ultra-pasteurized. =\
posted by carsonb at 7:46 AM on October 7, 2011 [5 favorites]

Has it actually gone bad or does it just separate? H&H will separate and needs a stir or shake, as already pointed out. If it doesn't smell off, it's probably fine, though I wouldn't keep it in a clear glass container also for the reasons already pointed out.

I find that the carton the half & half comes in works best for storing it. I've never had difficulty pouring from a carton, and most of the ones have a little screw-top lid on them to make it even easier. What exactly is it you find inconvenient about the container it comes in? This might help you get better answers.
posted by Polychrome at 7:49 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know this doesn't quite address your question and you may already be familiar with them, but Mini Moo's are good for this use case.
posted by ftm at 8:00 AM on October 7, 2011

Response by poster: Right, I should clarify. Once "bad," the bottom half of the glass container looks like milky water while the top half becomes about the consistency of whipped topping. I've done a lot of shaking (and the container has a built-in grid to aid mixing, since it is marketed for making your own dressing or mixing fitness shakes) and it gets nowhere near smooth. Pour it into my coffee and it won't stir in. It looks like tiny bits of cottage cheese afloat.

I'm buying ultra-pasteurized half & half. I'm not saying the glasslock has been in an autoclave, but it is washed thoroughly. When in its tetrapak-type carton, after opening, it's usually good for a couple weeks. Or, I've usually used the entire pint before noticing that the fat has begun to separate. In the container, it lasts for a couple days, and the separation is extreme.

@unixrat It sounds, from reading that brief thread, that milk changes chemically when exposed to light. It doesn't just hide the appearance of separation. Even though the most light exposure it gets is from the fridge light, that might be enough to change the milk.

I had wanted to buy a container in the first place to have something airtight and spill-proof for storage. Not helping myself so far!
posted by fishpatrol at 8:04 AM on October 7, 2011

Seconding only buying the types of half-and-half cartons that have a screw-top. Pouring is easy, and when you put the cap on it's airtight. And there's no risk of contamination from a transfer process. I understand that you have this cool thing that should work a certain way, but it's obviously failing outright at the intended purpose and its use for that should be reconsidered.
posted by carsonb at 8:16 AM on October 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

Oh, it seems that you're opening the container and pouring it into a new one - that wasn't clear to me at first.

Opening the container immediately destroys all the safety the container provided to the foodstuff. The "sell-by" date presumes this protection is still intact, so it has no relevance here at all.

Essentially, you're essentially leaving it in a saucer-covered teacup... and it's fermenting into cheese, as one would expect.

"Washed thoroughly" - in microbial terms, that means it's every bit as clean as your toilet bowl after you've flushed. The original container wasn't merely "washed clean"; it was virtually germ-free and had never held food before. You've transferred your milk (with a fancy name) into a (lightly) germ-coated container, mixing in some airborne lactobacillus spores in the process.

I'd only be surprised if you said it didn't spoil much more quickly this way.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2011

This, this, this:
1. A sell-by date assumes that the container remains sealed. Once you open a carton of half-and-half that sell-by date is moot, and your creamer's gonna be good for a week-ten days about.
Ultra-pasteurized just means they cooked the hell out of it before sealing it. There's essentially nothing in the container to grow. Once you open it, though, and it's exposed to outside bacteria, oxygen, etc., it begins spoiling. The container will actually say somewhere on it "use within X days of opening" for just this reason.
posted by introp at 8:22 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, if you want cream to survive, spike it with alcohol to keep the wee beasties at bay. This is the concept behind Bailey's, etc.
posted by introp at 8:23 AM on October 7, 2011

The container possibly has BHT or something similar as a preservative.

And a glass jar, no matter how clean, isn't going to be as sterile as a container that was heat-sterilized at the same time the milk was produced.
posted by neckro23 at 8:56 AM on October 7, 2011

Nothing wrong with separation, as long as there's nothing new growing. The ultra-non-pasteurized (think: farm) milks will generally have a cream top on them that re-separates if you don't shake it each time.. or eat it on granola.
posted by kcm at 9:04 AM on October 7, 2011

I have used a brown glass vitamin bottle with a polypropylene lid (with the lid liner removed).

I sterilize it by washing and rinsing it, then steaming it with the lid loosely screwed on (10 min.), then tightening the lid while its still hot.
posted by jamjam at 9:06 AM on October 7, 2011

Nothing wrong with separation, as long as there's nothing new growing. The ultra-non-pasteurized (think: farm) milks will generally have a cream top on them that re-separates if you don't shake it each time.. or eat it on granola.

kcm, if you read the update from the OP you'll see that there's insoluble chunks that aren't remixing: curds, not cream fat. There's definitely something new growing.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:15 AM on October 7, 2011

I think it starts to separate before it really turns bad (which you can smell). Why not just buy smaller containers? My husband and I drink 1 cup a day with 1/2 and 1/2 and a quart lasts about a week. You can always buy a pint and you're not using it fast enough, use it on cereal or to cook with.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:26 AM on October 7, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, once you open the UHT tetrapak, you negate the super-long use-by date, and should expect the milk to last about as long as it would were it fresh (though, in my experience, UHT milk does last about a third longer than fresh). However, once you decant the liquid into a second container, you're exposing it to a large, non-sterilised, surface area—which will further reduce its storage time. Your glass container looks clean, but contains microbes that are eventually curdling your milk—four or five days sounds about right, considering your method. If I were you, I'd just stop decanting the milk unless you're willing to sterilise the second container; it will last longer in the original tetrapak.
posted by hot soup girl at 10:26 AM on October 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So it looks like the answer is, don't store your half & half in a second container. Fair enough.
posted by fishpatrol at 10:33 AM on October 7, 2011

also, once you open UHT milk or cream - you need to store it in the refridgerator. It's only shelf safe when it has been completely sealed.

It's just like jam that way - okay on the shelf when sealed, will go moldy after being opened.
posted by jb at 10:35 AM on October 7, 2011

Sterilizing that glass container, if there aren't any parts to it that will be damaged by high heat, can happen by boiling it, like you would jars intended for jam making. I'd sterilize the lid and the container. It probably won't last as long as the tetrapak but it will extend the milk past what you are getting now. Probably more trouble than it's worth.
posted by Foam Pants at 3:17 PM on October 7, 2011

It actually sounds like maybe your half and half is curdling because your coffee is too hot. This happens to me sometimes. "Old" but still good half and half seems more susceptible to this.
posted by dottiechang at 11:19 PM on October 7, 2011

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