coffee with creamers

How long you can leave coffee creamer sitting out on the counter is somewhat of a trick question, since there are multiple answers, and all of them are correct. It’s confusing, we know, but the truth about coffee creamers is that there are a lot of them. Some are liquid, some are powdered, some are dairy, some are non-dairy, some come in single portion sizes, and did we mention how many of them are flavored? French vanilla, anyone? How about hazelnut or cinnamon or Irish cream? There’s even a coffee creamer that tastes like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

For the purposes of this question, however, we can forget about flavors. According to Prepared Cooks, the more important element when it comes to the shelf life of coffee creamers is whether or not they are dairy-based. This, too, can get a little complicated, since as Go Dairy Free notes, "non-dairy" and "dairy free" don’t necessarily mean the same thing from a labeling standpoint. Dairy free products cannot contain any milk, whereas creamers labeled as non-dairy may contain some milk or milk protein (like calcium caseinate), but in very small quantities (0.5% or less by weight).

We warned you it was complicated, and we’re about to throw another monkey wrench into the proceedings. Have you ever heard of Ultra-High Temperature Pasteurization (UHT)?

The shelf life of dairy and non-dairy creamers

Coffee Mate coffee creamers

According to the National Dairy Council, UHT refers to milk that has been pasteurized at a higher than standard temperature to kill all bacteria. Because of this and its sterilized packaging designed to extend shelf life, UHT-treated products like coffee creamers can remain unopened on a counter for a very long time. Per Prepared Cooks, up to six to nine months. Can It Go Bad notes that non-dairy liquid coffee creamers often have a similar shelf life (six months or more) when unopened.

Once opened, however, the differentiation between dairy and non-dairy creamers becomes less important than the one between liquid and powder. Smarter Homemaker recommends a two hour time limit outside the refrigerator for all liquid coffee creamers, regardless of dairy content. This is because potentially harmful bacteria can develop at temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Most liquid dairy-based creamers should be stored in the refrigerator anyway, per Prepared Cooks.

Meanwhile, both dairy and non-dairy powdered coffee creamers alike have an absurdly long shelf life. As Can it Go Bad observes, not only is it typically between one and three years, but they’re probably good for far longer. In fact, it’s almost impossible to tell when they’ve gone bad, so it’s important to rely on the expiration date for guidance. Given the endless variety of coffee creamers, reading label instructions and expiration dates is always a good idea.