Can milk spoil without a detectable smell?

Years ago, I was convinced that I suffered food poisoning from spoiled milk.

At a Scout camp when I was a kid, a pallet of of individual half-pints of milk was allowed to sit out unrefrigerated for several hours until the milk had completely warmed up to room temperature. Instead of disposing of them, they were instead put back in the refrigerator.

When the milk was put out for distribution again the next day, it had no detectable bad taste or smell. That being the case, could it have sickened me? (Because after drinking the milk, I got violently ill and threw up harder than I ever had in my life.)

People who I related the story to have told me that my story is impossible. Spoiled milk, I am told, will always have a bad taste and/or smell. One person has told me that you can’t get sick from old or spoiled milk if you have a nose.

Is this true?

Sounds like Bacillus cereus poisoning, what with the rapid onset vomiting.

It has been found in pasteurised milk along with lots of other organisms.

Don’t know about the smell of B. cereus though.

Leaving food out to warm up is extremely bad food hygiene practice.

Here’s a study of organisms in raw and pasteurised milk.

Entirely anecdotal evidence:

Monday night i had some cocoa pebbles and milk. The milk was ‘Sell by 10/23’, which would be today. I smelled it just to be sure, and it smelled fine.

About thirty minutes later the churning and cramps started to come on. Spent the subsequent 2 hours praying to the porcelain gods. So I vote ‘yes’ that you can get sick from milk that hasn’t gotten a bad smell/taste.

reflecting on it the following day, i realized the milk had been stored along our fridge door, which is the warmest part of the fridge. I’m reasonably sure this is why it went bad before the “sell by” date

B. cereus doesn’t have a particularly strong smell. I work with it in the lab, and a pure culture has a slightly earthy smell that would easily be masked by milk. Of course, the odor may depend on the food source, but we grow it on tryptic soy agar, which contains a digest of casein, so I suspect it’s similar.

Lots of bugs can cause illness long before they have produced enough waste products to produce a noticable smell.

That’s always been my understanding as well. But people are telling me that it works differently for milk. (Personally, I think they’re wrong, and that you can be sickened by milk even without a noticeable smell.)

I have no idea why people would think such a thing - perhaps it is because of the mild odor of milk not being able to mask much? Whatever their reasoning - they’re wrong. Milk is an excellent growth media, and it takes very low numbers of bacteria to cause illness (depending on species and immune system health).

I’d reccomend staying away from dairy products at their houses or at least BYOM.

Thanks for the replies!

My guess is that they are under (mistaken) impression that there is only one way for milk to spoil (via activity of lactic acid bacteria) and don’t realize that there are much more bugs that can cause your intestines to go south.