Morrisons' decision to ditch 'use-by' dates on own brand milk follows the removal of ‘use-by’ dates across some of its yogurt and hard cheese ranges in 2020. CIEH welcomes initiatives to limit food waste but raises concerns over the latest move.
The UK’s fourth-largest supermarket chain is replacing ‘use-by’ dates with ‘best before’ on the majority of its own-brand milk. The move, effective from January 31st, 2022 is designed to stop millions of pints from being thrown away.
Ian Goode, Senior Milk Buyer at Morrisons, said: “Wasted milk means wasted effort by our farmers and unnecessary carbon being released into the atmosphere. Good quality well-kept milk has a few days life after normal 'use-by' dates and we think it should be consumed, not tipped down the sink.”
Morrisons scrapped ‘use-by’ dates across some of its own-brand yogurt and hard cheese ranges in 2020 and was influenced on milk by sustainability charity WRAP, which suggests that almost 300,000 tonnes is wasted from UK homes each year.
Under Regulation (EU) 1169/2001, best-before is the date at which the consumer can expect food to maintain its best quality (assuming all correct storage conditions are met). Use-by is when the food becomes classified as highly perishable and constitutes an immediate danger to human health.
Narriman Looch, Head of Foodborne Disease Control, at the Food Standards Agency, said: “Whether milk has a use-by date or best before date depends on the final product and how it’s processed. The food business must make sure the right date label is applied based on product safety and shelf life.”
Morrisons’ primary authority is Wakefield in West Yorkshire. Helen Atkinson, Senior EHO at Wakefield Council, explains that the work with Morrisons was relatively straight-forward as its own-brand milk is mostly supplied by Arla.
She said: “We’re also Arla’s primary authority and had issued advice in October 2019 that it could swap to a best before date on its own brands of milk, such as Cravendale and BoB (Best of Both). It took a lot of work to reach that point and it was a collaboration between environmental health and trading standards. As most of Morrisons’ own-brand milk has been through the same process in the Arla dairy, we were able to issue assured advice to them in May 2021.”
“You have to know that it’s safe, that it complies with legislation and it’s not a public health issue.”
Atkinson says the ‘farm to retail’ process has to be robust. “You have to know that it’s safe, that it complies with legislation and it’s not a public health issue. As long as there are good manufacturing processes, controls and monitoring, you’re reducing risk to a minimum.
“The FSA has challenged us, as have local authorities and the public. What makes it easier is that you come to know the process inside out. You’re looking at equipment design, training, competence, cleaning protocols, the recall and complaints processes, operating procedures – everything.”
Kate Thompson, CIEH Director for Wales, added her support for initiatives to reduce food waste and tackle climate change. However, she said CIEH has some reservations about the possible consequences of the Morrisons’ move. “Consumers rely on information provided on food products to make informed choices, and reliance on a ‘sniff test’ to determine if a product is safe could introduce potential risks to consumers.
“Where it can be scientifically evidenced that food production techniques support the application of a longer shelf life, this could be an option to minimise waste, rather than applying a best before date, which has attracted so much attention and caused some confusion. Confusion will likely continue if different producers adopt different approaches. And, with a pint of milk costing 60p and four pints costing £1.25, there is little incentive for customers to buy only what they need.”