A UK shop is getting rid of the expiry date on milk, and here’s why

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Should we trust a ‘sniff test’ to see if milk is gone off?

Dairy image, NDC

UK supermarket Morrisons recently announced that it would be removing the use-by dates on the majority of the milk it sells. Instead, customers will be urged to do a ‘sniff test’ to tell if the milk has gone off.  Their reasoning? Waste prevention. Analysis by the University of Edinburgh suggests 116m tonnes of dairy products are wasted globally. One reason for this is the date on the bottle cap. How many of us have thrown away milk that tasted fine, but the expiry date made us nervous to consume it?

Words matter

The perishable food we buy generally comes with either a use-by or best before date on the packaging. These terms seem interchangeable but actually mean two different things. A best-before date indicates the food will be at peak quality before that date. After this time, the texture or taste may change for the worse. The use-by date is more important to heed. This indicates the period in which the food is edible and likely to be safe. When it comes to dairy products, they usually feature the latter.

According to the National Dairy Council here in Ireland, these dates can be crucial aspects of the packaging. “As milk is a fresh product, it has a use-by date which is a guide to minimise any food safety risk associated with micro-organism growth e.g. bacteria spoilage.” They say for retailers in Ireland to follow Morrison’s lead, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) would need to approve the move.

Though dairy sniff tests are likely a far off concept on Emerald Isles still, the NDC says food waste is firmly on the EU’s radar. “As part of the EU Farm to Fork strategy, the European Commission are exploring the area of food waste reduction and a review of food labelling on best before or use by dates is just one element of this discussion.”

For now, your local SuperValu will still stock milk that gently reminds you of the dairy’s expiry date. But you can practice your sniff testing skills to maybe keep the bottle an extra day, and get ready for a potential use-by-date-less world!