Would abolishing use-by dates really help stop milk waste?

milk

 A fifth of the 500 million pints of milk wasted by Brits each year discarded because of the use-by label

‘Use-by dates on milk could be scrapped in favour of sniff test so we don’t waste so much.’

That was the attention-grabbing headline published by The Mirror this morning as it revealed that waste charity Wrap was in discussions with the authorities with the aim of abolishing use-by dates on milk bottles.

The story was based on an article in The Times, which explained the proposals were designed to cut milk waste.

And it’s a story that has gone well and truly viral, despite the fact the words ‘sniff’ and ‘test’ are nowhere to be seen in either the original Times piece or in Wrap’s new retailer survey entitled Helping Consumers Reduce Food Waste.

That Wrap survey – also published today – looked at how food goes to waste in the home and found that about 350,000 tonnes of avoidable household food waste – representing a staggering £1bn a year – could be prevented through changes to packs and labels of key food products.

Two date labels

It revealed the number of food products found to carry two date labels (such as ‘use by’ as well as ‘best before’, and so on) has fallen from almost 40% in 2009 to fewer than 3% in 2015, while researchers also found an almost complete removal of ‘display until’ dates used in combination with either a ‘use-by’ or a ‘best before’ date.

So progress is definitely being made.

However, Wrap still has concerns over several food types where displayed shelf life has become shorter over time – and warns use-by dates are still contributing to unnecessary waste.

Milk is a prime example, it says, with a fifth of the 500 million pints of milk wasted by Brits each year discarded because of the use-by label.

What’s more, the number of milk bottles carrying a use-by date of one week has fallen from 20% in 2011 to just 6% in 2015, while guidance urging consumers to drink it within two to five days has increased “significantly”, meaning consumers have less time to drink their milk, it claims.

As a result – as was revealed in this morning’s headlines – Wrap is working with Dairy UK and the FSA to look at whether abolishing use-by dates on products such as milk (replacing them with best-before dates) is viable. They are set to open a consultation into the proposals later this year.

The proposals were generally welcomed on that bellwether of public opinion, Twitter.

And of course, it’s not the first time we’ve been urged to take the ‘sniff-test’; bosses at the mults all said they regularly ignored expiry dates and best-before dates at home in a 2014 survey (although Defra was a lot more cautious at the time).

But while the so-called ‘sniff-test’ may well be a reliable indicator of whether your pint of milk has gone off, just a word of warning: you can’t smell listeria.

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