Eggnog is a rich, creamy holiday drink typically made with milk, cream, eggs, sugar, and spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s a staple during the Christmas season and is enjoyed by many as a festive treat. But what if you discover a carton of eggnog in the back of your refrigerator that’s past its expiration date? Is it still safe to drink?
The Short Answer
It’s generally not recommended to drink eggnog past its expiration date. Eggnog has a relatively short shelf life and can go bad quickly due to its dairy and egg content. Drinking spoiled eggnog could potentially lead to foodborne illness.
Examining Eggnog’s Shelf Life
First, let’s take a look at how long eggnog is safe to drink when properly stored:
- Unopened eggnog: About 1 month past the “best by” or expiration date on the carton.
- Opened eggnog: About 1 to 2 weeks after opening.
These time frames can vary a bit depending on factors like the ingredients used and how well it was stored. But in most cases, eggnog has a pretty short shelf life of just a few weeks to a month.
This is due to its natural dairy and egg ingredients. Over time, the eggs and dairy in eggnog can spoil and become a haven for harmful bacteria. Some common bacteria that can grow include salmonella, E. coli, and listeria.
Dangers of Drinking Spoiled Eggnog
Consuming eggnog that has spoiled puts you at risk for foodborne illness. Symptoms usually develop within hours or days and can include:
- Nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps
- Fever and chills
In otherwise healthy people, food poisoning from spoiled eggnog will likely cause uncomfortable but temporary symptoms. However, certain high-risk groups can develop more serious illness. This includes young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems.
There is also a small risk of botulism poisoning from eggnog. Botulism is a rare but life-threatening illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Babies under 1 year old are most at risk.
To limit botulism risk, eggnog should not be given to infants. Adults can reduce risk by properly refrigerating eggnog anddiscarding any that smells “off” or spoiled.
How to Tell if Eggnog Has Gone Bad
Watch for these signs that indicate your eggnog has spoiled and should be thrown out:
- Sour smell: Fresh eggnog has a rich, creamy aroma. If it smells sour or unpleasant, it has likely gone bad.
- Lumpy texture: Spoiled eggnog can develop lumps or curdled texture, versus a smooth and creamy consistency when fresh.
- Mold growth: Check the surface and underside of the container lid for fuzzy mold spots.
- Change in color: Over time, the rich yellow color of eggnog fades and becomes pale. Separation of ingredients can also signal aging.
Trust your senses – if eggnog displays an off odor, flavor, appearance, or texture, err on the side of caution and throw it away rather than drinking it.
How Long Does Eggnog Last in the Fridge?
Properly stored in the refrigerator, eggnog typically lasts:
|Eggnog Type||Refrigerator (40°F or below)|
|Unopened commercial eggnog||4 to 6 weeks past the “best by” date|
|Opened commercial eggnog||7 to 10 days|
|Homemade eggnog||2 to 4 days|
Note that “Best by” dates are not expiration dates, so unopened eggnog can often safely be consumed beyond its “best by” timeframe, provided it was handled and stored properly.
Once opened, eggnog has a shorter shelf life and should not be left out at room temperature more than 2 hours. Keep refrigerated and consume within 5-7 days for best quality.
For longer storage, eggnog can be frozen:
- Unopened eggnog: Up to 3 months in a freezer at 0°F
- Opened eggnog: Up to 1 month in a freezer
Thaw frozen eggnog overnight in the fridge before using. Give it a good shake or stir once thawed and taste to ensure it hasn’t separated or gone bad.
Does Adding Alcohol Extend Eggnog’s Shelf Life?
Spiking homemade eggnog with alcohol can extend its shelf life by a few additional days. The alcohol acts as a preservative. However, keep in mind:
- Eggnog with alcohol should still be refrigerated and consumed within 5-7 days for optimal freshness and taste.
- Eggnog can curdle as it ages, even with alcohol added. Discard if any curdling, lumpiness, separation, or spoilage.
- Don’t leave eggnog with alcohol out at room temperature more than 2 hours.
So while the shelf life gets a slight boost from the alcohol, it’s still relatively short compared to other beverages. Don’t store or consume it for longer than a week, even with alcohol added. Trust your senses on freshness.
Food Safety Tips for Handling Eggnog
Follow these food safety practices when storing eggnog to maximize freshness and avoid illness:
- Purchase eggnog as close to when you plan to consume it.
- Check “sell by” and “use by” dates and pick the freshest carton.
- Refrigerate eggnog at 40°F or below as soon as possible after purchasing.
- Store eggnog towards the back of the fridge where temps are coldest.
- Keep eggnog containers tightly sealed.
- Never leave eggnog out on the counter more than 2 hours.
- Discard if eggnog ever curdles, separates, or develops off odors or appearance.
- Do not partially consume and return unused portion to the fridge.
Also take care when handling homemade eggnog:
- Use pasteurized eggs and milk only.
- Chill thoroughly before serving.
- Ladle into individual cups rather than having guests share from a communal bowl.
- Refrigerate leftovers in a sealed container right away.
Can You Save Separated Eggnog?
If freshly purchased or homemade eggnog separates in the carton or mixing bowl, it can usually be remixed back together. Gently stir or shake the container to reincorporate the separated milk and cream layers.
Taste the eggnog after remixing. If it smells or tastes sour, discard it. But if the texture, color, odor, and flavor seem normal, it’s likely fine to consume.
However, if your eggnog has already been refrigerated for over a week, or left out too long, it’s best to discard it if separation occurs rather than trying to remix and consume.
What About Expired Non-Dairy Eggnog?
Non-dairy eggnog, made with plant-based milks like almond, coconut, or oat milk, generally has a longer unopened shelf life than traditional dairy eggnog. An unopened carton can typically last around 2 months past its “best by” date if refrigerated.
Once opened, non-dairy eggnog will keep about 5-7 days refrigerated. Discard if any changes in texture, smell or appearance develop.
Because non-dairy versions don’t contain eggs, there’s less risk of illness. But they can still harbor spoilage bacteria so its best not to consume them past expiration.
Can Expired Eggnog Be Used in Cooking or Baking?
Using small amounts of eggnog that is past its “best by” date for cooking or baking is generally considered safe. The heat from cooking destroys potentially harmful bacteria.
Here are some tips for using up older eggnog:
- Consider the look, texture, and smell before use. Discard if you detect off odors or curdling.
- Bring recipes containing eggnog just to a boil or cook thoroughly.
- Only use a few days past “best by” for optimal flavor.
- Don’t consume raw eggnog in recipes once expired.
- Stick to recipes that don’t use eggnog as the main ingredient.
Avoid drinking straight glasses of eggnog once expired, even if briefly heating it. Consuming even small amounts of spoiled eggnog poses health risks. Play it safe and use just for cooked recipes where it gets thoroughly heated.
Storing Eggnog Safely
Here are some top tips for safe storage and handling of eggnog:
- Purchase eggnog as close to serving time as possible.
- Inspect cartons for damage, leaks, or expired dates.
- Refrigerate unopened eggnog at 40°F or below.
- Store opened eggnog in the back of the fridge.
- Keep eggnog containers tightly sealed when not in use.
- Discard any eggnog that looks or smells spoiled.
- Do not store eggnog on the door shelves.
- Use clean utensils each time you access eggnog to avoid cross-contamination.
- Never let eggnog sit at room temperature over 2 hours.
Drinking eggnog past its expiration date is generally not recommended. While an unopened, properly refrigerated carton may last a week or two past its “best by” date, eggnog does have a relatively short shelf life overall. Once opened, it should be consumed within about 5-7 days and discarded at any signs of spoilage.
The safest bet is to enjoy your eggnog within its expiration timeframe and purchase a new carton once expired. If you do decide to test your luck with older eggnog, examine it carefully before drinking. Any curdling, separation, off smells or colors are red flags of spoilage. When in doubt, remember it’s better to be safe than sick – if old eggnog displays any signs of spoilage, it’s best to throw it out.