Marks & Spencer (M&S), one of the UK’s retail giants, has taken a significant step towards minimising food waste by eliminating use-by dates from its fresh milk products.

This move aims to prevent the unnecessary disposal of millions of pints of milk that are still safe for consumption.

Encouraging the sniff test

M&S plans to replace use-by labels with best-before dates and urges customers to rely on the traditional “sniff test” to determine if their milk is still suitable for drinking.

This approach comes in response to the alarming statistic that milk is the third most wasted food item in UK households, following potatoes and bread.

Addressing the widespread milk waste issue

Statistics from the sustainability charity Wrap reveal that an average household throws away 18 pints of milk annually, mainly due to the expiration date.

This results in an enormous amount of waste, with a staggering 490m pints of milk, valued at £270m, being poured down the drain. Catherine David of Wrap emphasises that the primary reason behind this wastage is the failure to consume milk before the use-by date.

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By adopting the best-before-date system, M&S aims to help customers save money and reduce waste by granting them more time to consume their purchased milk.

Differentiating between use-by and best-before dates

While use-by dates primarily focus on safety, particularly for perishable items that can quickly spoil and cause foodborne illnesses, best-before dates serve as quality indicators.

Food can still be consumed safely after the best-before date, but there might be a decline in flavour and texture. Milk and yoghurt are examples of products that often carry use-by dates when a best-before date would suffice, contributing to unnecessary food waste.

A positive trend in the retail sector

M&S follows in the footsteps of other major retailers aiming to combat food waste. Last year, Morrisons switched to best-before dates for its milk while the Co-op removed use-by dates from its own-brand yoghurt.

These changes signify a shift in industry practices that could contribute to reducing food waste.

The environmental and financial impact

Families with children waste approximately £60 worth of food each month. This not only translates to a loss of money but also has negative environmental consequences.

Approximately one-third of the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food and drink. Therefore, minimising food waste is crucial for both personal finances and the planet’s well-being.

M&S’s ongoing efforts

Last year, M&S eliminated best-before dates from over 300 fruit and vegetable products, encouraging customers to use their judgment when determining the freshness of their purchases.

By using ‘best-for’ dates rather than ‘use-by’ dates for its Select Farms British and organic fresh milk, M&S change has the potential to make a significant impact on milk waste since it sold over 12m 4-pint cartons of Select Farms semi-skimmed milk alone last year.

By combining improved shelf life and enhanced milk quality in recent years, M&S has been able to make this transition, empowering customers to make informed decisions before discarding their milk.