Should We All Just 'Sniff-Test' Our Milk?

Maybe the United States could learn something from British grocery chains.

Grocery stores in England are trying to cut down on food waste by "scrapping" the expiration dates on milk and other dairy products and telling their customers to judge the freshness of products by smell.

Since dairy production is one of the bigger contributors to global warming, reducing dairy-related food waste seems like one of those small but mighty steps an average consumer can take to reduce their carbon footprint without sacrificing too much of their daily comfort. However, reducing food waste is only a good idea if people aren't getting sick as a result. Is the "sniff test" a good idea to save the world, or merely a recipe for gastric disaster?

The “sell by” date doesn’t indicate food safety

We've reported before about how it's probably okay to drink milk past its "sell by" date so long as it's not stinking up your fridge or turning chunky. Lillian Stone writes, "Opened milk can also last a few days after the 'best by' date, but you'll need to give it an extra good sniff to determine whether you're down to drink it."


Even though Gandalf says that, when in doubt, always follow your nose, some people don't trust their own sense of smell. If you are someone who doubts their super-nose, or if you're still getting over your latest bout of COVID, maybe the sniff test isn't for you. In that case, though, common sense might still be more trustworthy than the number printed on the carton, especially if it's only a few days past the date.

Still, check whether your milk has gone bad

While sell-by dates are, in general, arbitrary and pointless, it's true that dairy can make you horribly sick if it's gone off—nothing will ruin your morning cup of coffee like a rancid splash of milk or cream. Milk, a product primarily given to children, often in school, is something people are quick to regulate and unlikely to leave to the whims of the sniff test.


There has been some push in the United States to enact a more streamlined approach to "use by," "sell by," and strict "expiration date" guidelines, but, as it stands, the dates you see on your food could mean any number of things. In your own home, however, you are free to keep and use your milk products however long you see fit—so, sniff away, and tell yourself it's your way of going green. Hopefully you won't go green with food poisoning.