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How safe are your dairy products?

What you should know about the dangers of dairy and what you can do to store and prepare it safely.
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With mad cow disease again making headlines abroad, consumers are wondering if there could be an outbreak in the U.S.. There are obvious concerns about beef, but what about dairy? On NBC’s “Today” show, nutritionist Leslie Bonci discusses the safety of dairy products and the potential dangers of eggs, which are often cited as a cause of salmonella and food poisoning. Read her safe shopping, handling and storage tips below.

WHAT ARE WE WORRIED ABOUT? First of all, many people are probably wondering whether there is any connection between mad cow disease and dairy products. If there is danger of the disease spreading from infected to cattle to humans through meat, could it also be spread through dairy? Simply put — no. It affects the cow’s tissue, not it’s milk.


Dairy products and eggs are sources for a variety of different bacteria and illnesses, such as:

Salmonella — found in eggs and milk products

Listeria — found in unpasturized milk and soft cheeses

Staphylococcus — found in eggs

But, it’s important to note: Illness and disease are avoidable if consumers are careful.

DAIRY PRODUCTS The dangers of dairy products don’t come close to the dangers of products like poultry, meat or fish. There are some specific worries we’ll mention, but for the most part we’ll look at how long is too long to keep a dairy product in your refrigerator.


Buying milk:

It’s best to buy milk in a carton. Translucent containers allow light in, and that light will cause the milk to spoil more easily and more quickly.

Reach to the back of the case for one that is colder. The ones toward the back also tend to have later “sell-by” dates.

Pick it up towards the end or your shopping trip.

Storing milk:

Always store milk in the back of the refrigerator where it is colder — never on the door which leaves it susceptible to warmer air from the door being constantly opened and shut.

You can keep milk for one week maximum after opening it no matter what the “sell by” date is. This goes for all kinds of milk (whole, 2 percent, skim, etc.).

Ultrapasteurized milk (or shelf milk, like Paramlat):

This type of milk is heated to a higher temperature during processing which kills off more bacteria. Because of this it can withstand being stored at room temperature, but only until it is opened. Then you need to refrigerate it.


Ice cream, because it is kept in the freezer where bacterial growth is significantly slowed, has a longer shelf life than milk — up to three months. The only real danger with ice cream is with homemade ice cream. Make sure it is made with a pasteurized egg product.

There was a foodborne illness outbreak in the mid ’90s that was ice cream related, but this isn’t something we should worry about. The product wasn’t contaminated because of unsafe ingrediants. It was contaminated in transport because premix was transported in tanker trailers which previously carried unpasteurized liquid eggs.


Again you want to make sure you are buying it from a refrigerated case. Do not keep it more than 7-10 days after buying it.


Blocks of hard cheeses (like cheddar) can last three to four weeks after opening. You can freeze them to make them last longer but that will change the texture and taste. It’s ok if you find a little mold after a week or two. As long as you cut off a one-inch square around the mold, the rest is safe to eat.

Softer cheeses, like feta, bleu, brie, goat’s milk, etc., are more dangerous — especially for preganant women, young children, the elderly or the sickly. The softer a cheese is the more chance there is that it is unpasteurized and therefore harboring listeria. You should avoid them if you are in a high risk group — otherwise just refrigerate properly.

Other cheese products:

-Processed cheese spreads: keep three to four weeks

-Cream Cheese: two weeks

-Processed cheese slices: two weeks

-Cottage cheese: one week

-Ricotta cheese: five days

A basic rule of thumb is, the softer the cheese, the shorter the shelf life.

It’s not wise to keep cheeses on the door of the refridgerator — even if it’s one of those compartments with a little door. If there is a drawer within the body of the fridge, that is better.

EGGS Raw eggs could scare even Rocky these days. Bottom line: Do not ever, ever eat raw eggs.

Eggs tend to cause a bigger problem at specific times of the year like Easter and Passover because supermarkets will overstock them. When they are overstuffed into the cases they aren’t going to be kept at the right temperature. So be careful.

Buying eggs:

Again, find a carton that is particularly cold. Make sure the eggs are clean and the shells aren’t broken. Obviously you wouldn’t want to eat an egg that has been broken, but you don’t want to eat the others either. One broken egg in a carton is just a sign that the eggs were handled roughly and possibly improperly.

Just like milk, it should be one of the last items you pick up at the store.

As of right now there is no labeling required to indicate that eggs have been treated to destroy salmonella. However, within the next nine months there will be an FDA regulation as such put into effect. So look for it in the future.

The “grade” of an egg makes no difference. It’s an aesthetic thing only.

Any kind of packaging, whether it’s cardboard, styrofoam or some other, is fine.

Storing eggs:

Don’t keep eggs on the door in those pre-made egg cups. They will not be kept as cold. Eggs are better kept in their original packaging in the coldest part of the refrigerator. It’s not a good idea to use any sort of open container that comes in the fridge either. The closed carton is the best way to keep them protected.

Eggs should not be kept more than three weeks.

Eggs can be frozen but not in the shell. If you do want to freeze them, you either need to mix or separate the yolk and white.

Cooking eggs:

If the recipe calls for raw egg (like caesar salad) use a liquid egg substitute. Liquid egg substitutes are generally made with pasteurized egg whites and food coloring. They are much, much safer. And you can keep them three days if opened, 10 days if not.

Cook eggs until the yolk is firm — it should not be runny. You can eat poached, sunnyside up or softboiled eggs, just be extra careful.

Serve them right away. Do not let them sit out. This goes for eggs and products cooked with eggs as well.

Hard boiled eggs can last a week (in or out of the shell), but must be kept cold.

EGG PRODUCTS: When making a quiche or casserole that has a high egg content, use a meat thermometer to make sure it reaches 160 degrees. A fork or toothpick placed in the center is not enough. To be safe, all leftovers when reheated should also be heated to 160 degrees.

This doesn’t go for things like cakes or brownies. The amount of egg in these recipes is minimal compared to everything else, so there is no need to worry. However, if you’re the type that likes to eat the raw cookie dough, it might be a good idea to use an egg substitute instead.


This is a fat-based product that doesn’t have any real nutrients, so there isn’t an issue with bacteria, and therefore no suggested shelf life at all.


Mayonnaise gets a bad rap when it comes to salads and such, but it normally isn’t the culprit. It’s really acid-based because there is a lot of vinegar in it — that’s why it’s okay to keep it out until it’s opened. After that, refrigerate it of course and throw it out after two months.