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UK supermarket chain Morrisons scraps use-by dates on its own-brand milk and will use “best before” dates from next Monday. [Morrisons]

UK supermarket chain Morrisons scraps use-by dates on its own-brand milk and will use “best before” dates from next Monday. [Morrisons]

The author is the head of the global cooperation team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

British supermarket chain Morrisons is seeking a drastic change. The fourth-largest retailer with nearly 500 stores across Britain is to scrap use-by dates on 90 percent of its own-brand milk from next Monday. Instead, a “best before” date will be included, indicating when the milk will be of the best quality if stored properly. It is the first attempt in the British food distribution industry.

Milk is the third-most wasted food item in Britain after potatoes and bread. It is estimated that 270 million liters are thrown away annually in Britain alone. If a cow produces an average of 30 liters a day, the amount is equivalent to the production of 9 million cows.

Most of the discarded milk is still fresh. Considering the process of raising cows, milking and distributing, it is not only a considerable financial loss, but also directly related to carbon emission. Morrisons wants to reduce waste through these changes.

Consumer reactions vary. I was curious about what my friends living in Britain think. One welcomed the fact that drinkable milk won’t be thrown away any more. Another was concerned that Morrisons recommended a sniff test, which is unscientific. Another friend said, “It may cause stomachache, but no one will die from it.”

It is a global trend to indicate consume-by dates rather than expiration dates with different languages in different countries. Korea passed a revision in July to replace the expiration date to use-by dates to help reduce food waste. From Jan. 1, 2023, all food products will be labeled with use-by dates, not expiration dates. It will extend the “life” of foods.

For instance, the current shelf life of tofu is two weeks, but if properly refrigerated, it can be consumed for more than 100 days. While milk’s use-by date can be extended from 14 days now to 59 days, some items, including milk, won’t fall under the new rule until 2031 because of the need to fix the process for refrigerated product distribution.

While eleven months are left until use-by date labeling goes into effect, consumers can already start to be more careful about storage, inspecting and sniffing food, rather than just throwing it away when the expiration date has passed. I am going to start by checking on the tofu that has been “hibernating” in the deepest corner of my refrigerator since early winter. 

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