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Use your common sense!

Greg Devine


closeup image of milk bottle and milk glass on blue background

Morrisons recently announced they’re to scrap the ‘use by’ date on milk and instead replace it with ‘best before’ dates. The hope is that, from hereon, consumers will choose to use their common sense and perform a ‘sniff test’ to check if their milk is sour or not.

You may wonder what the point of this is, i.e. what’s the big deal about changing these two words? Well, recycling charity, Wrap, estimate that 490 million pints of milk are wasted each year. That’s an astronomical amount. They also suggest that some of this waste could be prevented; they estimate that 85 million pints of this wasted milk is due to consumers throwing out their supply because it has passed the use by date and not because the milk has turned/shouldn’t be consumed. Research shows that the use by date is not always accurate, however, so Morrisons now recommend their consumers conduct an old-fashioned sniff test to check whether their milk has indeed gone sour.

Whilst this all sounds fantastic, there is a major downfall—this move requires common sense. We’ve heard the phrase bandied around a lot during the pandemic…I’m sure we all remember Boris claiming we should use our ‘Great British common sense’ to fight the pandemic. Hmm, how well did that go, Mr Johnson?

Should we apply this approach to other food products? Most perishable foods incorporate use by dates to highlight when something can be cooked and consumed safely, but with some items, common sense could extend its life. For example, if something was mouldy, you’d know not to eat it; the same applies with an item smelling ‘off’ or it becoming mushy in texture. Could we not use our common sense to know when food has gone bad, and in turn, hopefully not waste as much?

Healthy vegetables in paper bag on white background

Healthy vegetables in paper bag on white background

There’s a valid counter-argument when it comes to using your senses to suss whether food is safe to eat: not everybody has access to all their five senses. You may be suffering from Long Covid and have no sense of smell and/or taste; if so, you wouldn’t be able to do the sniff or taste test. Maybe you’ve lost your sense of touch from an accident; you’d therefore struggle to feel if the food had gone ‘mushy’.

A happy medium is probably the answer here. We should probably be using our common sense already to tell whether food has gone off. Ask yourself, if a foodstuff didn’t smell or look right but it was still technically in date, would you still eat it? I highly doubt it, so why do we need a change of wording to apply this the other way round? If my milk is out of date but it looks okay, smells okay, and most importantly, tastes okay, I’m going to drink it.

Food waste is obviously a serious issue; however, Morrisons feel this move goes even deeper than that. The supermarket’s senior milk buyer, Ian Goode, said: ‘Wasted milk means wasted effort by our farmers and unnecessary carbon being released into the atmosphere.’ With modern refrigeration equipment, more stringent health and safety regulations within businesses’/suppliers’ premises, and the latest technology producing today’s packaging, the shelf life of milk is far from what it was in our grandparents’ day. They would have used the sniff test when simply storing milk in their pantry, without use by dates to refer to; it would also have been viewed as sacrilege to waste food following the rationing of the war. In their eyes, using common sense to judge which food is fit to eat isn’t forward-thinking but the actions of old.

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