A British supermarket chain has removed use-by dates on some milk bottles, in an effort to reduce food wastage by allowing customers more time to finish their milk at their own discretion.
Marks & Spencer replaced use-by labels across one product line with best-before indicators because it said improvements in milk processing meant customers could safely use their own judgement — such as by doing an old-fashioned sniff test — before throwing milk away.
While use-by dates are an indicator of product safety, best-before dates are a recommendation on freshness.
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The UK government’s Food Standards Agency said the type of label required for milk products varied across companies.
“Decisions on whether milk needed a use-by or best-before date will depend on the degree of processing, and a robust assessment of the microbiological risk by the food business,” the agency said.
Sustainability charity Waste and Resources Action Programme praised Marks & Spencer, saying an estimated almost 490 million pints (278 million litres) of milk was wasted annually — mostly because it is not consumed before the “use-by date”, after which most people consider it is unsafe to drink even if it still smells fresh.
“M&S is instantly helping its customers save money and cut waste by giving them more time to consume the milk they buy,” director of collaboration and change Catherine David said.
British supermarket chain Marks & Spencer is removing use-by dates on some milk bottles. Credit: Marks & Spencer, Getty Images
International supermarket chain Morrisons replaced milk bottle use-by dates with best-before dates last year, while Scandinavia dairy company, Arla, replaced its packaging in 2019.
The Marks & Spencer changes apply to its RSPCA Assured Select Farms British and organic fresh milk.
Food Standards Agency stressed customers should use their own judgement on freshness only if the packaging had a best-before date.
“If the product has a use-by date, the sniff test is not reliable. People can’t always smell the bugs that cause food poisoning,” the agendy said.
Last year, Marks & Spencer removed best-before dates across over 300 fruit and veg lines.
The company aims to halve its food waste by 2030, and reach net-zero by 2040.
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