I buy lactose-free milk. The sell-by date is usually as much as eight weeks from the date of purchase, which is in the neighborhood of twice that of regular milk. This seems puzzling; lactose-free milk, which still has the same mass of sugar, has twice as many sugar molecules as regular milk, since all the lactose molecules have been split in to galactose and glucose. With twice as many sugar molecules per unit volume, one would think lactose-free milk would last half as long as regular milk, not twice as long.

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    $\begingroup$ You have regular milk with a four-week shelf-life? The milk I buy (UK) typically has a shelf-life of about five or six days. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 23:09
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidRicherby, since I don't buy regular milk, I am really not sure of the shelf-life; that was just a guess. I know in Spain, and probably much of Europe, irradiated milk is available that has a room-temperature shelf-life of something like six months. We Americans are so afraid of anything "irradiated" that it would never sell here. We'd rather drink spoiled milk or throw it out. [shrug] $\endgroup$
    – BillDOe
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 23:48
  • $\begingroup$ Fair enough. (I've not seen irradiated milk in the UK but we do have some that's been put through an ultra-fine filter to remove bacteria. As I recall, that has a shelf-life of a couplefew weeks.) $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 7:40

1 Answer 1


Apparently the process used by manufacturers (ultra-pasteurization) to produce lactose-free milk is responsible for the longer shelf life.

One source reports:

Lactose-free milk is pasteurized at a higher temperature than regular milk. The process, known as ultra-pasteurization, is designed to remove the bacteria content entirely, giving lactose-free milk a refrigerated shelf-life of 60-90 days, compared with regular pasteurized milk, which retains some bacteria. It has a shelf life of 1-3 weeks.

A producer (in the United States) of organic dairy products (Organic Valley) describes ultra-pasteurization and the extended shelf-life here as:

Ultra Pasteurization (UP), or Ultra High Temperature (UHT) pasteurization, is the process of heating milk to approximately 280 °F for just 2 seconds and then chilling it back down rapidly. The result is milk that's 99.9% free from bacteria. This pasteurization process creates an extended shelf-life for milk products of up to three times the length as HTST pasteurization; while providing the same wholesome, quality dairy product. This allows us to distribute UP milk products regionally as well as to other areas of the country that might not have access to our dairy products. This is referred to as 'ultra pasteurized' on the milk package. Organic Valley offers its quarts and some of its half gallons of milk with Ultra Pasteurization (UP).

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    $\begingroup$ That first source tells very dubious things... Lactase is an enzyme, as indicated by the -ase suffix, while lactose is a sugar (-ose). The enzyme breaks down lactose, a disaccharide (two base sugars), to glucose and galactose, which taste sweeter than lactose. A lack of the enzyme causes lactose to go through as is until bacteria come into play to ferment it. Correct me if I'm wrong. Source: "milk sugar lactase, while lactose-free milk does not. Lactase, an enzyme produced by the stomach, breaks down the milk sugar galactose" $\endgroup$
    – Arc
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 20:04
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    $\begingroup$ I believe this answer is correct, it might also be worth mentioning that you can buy (at least in some areas, the UK being one) regular milk which has been UHT pasteurised. It tastes awful and is best avoided unless you really need the long unrefrigerated shelf life, eg for a camping trip. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 2, 2016 at 9:46

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