food waste

Food & Drink, Food Waste Tips

How to Tell if Milk is Off – Try The Sniff Test

sniff test for off milk

Want to know how to tell if milk is off?  Let me share with you the very best method so you’ll never unnecessarily waste a drop again.

I’ve talked before about expiration dates on eggs, and how to check to see if you can eat them past their date.  

But what about milk?  Food waste is a huge problem.  Particularly when it comes to milk.  Here in the UK, a huge one in six pints of milk is thrown away each year.  This is problematic because, in terms of carbon emissions, land use, water use, dairy milk has the biggest impact on the planet.  Wasting less milk where we can is therefore incredibly important. 

Morrisons announced in January 2022 that they are scrapping use by dates on milk. This is great news because this will save millions of pints of milk from being thrown away unnecessarily every year. This is because, when it comes to milk, the use-by date isn’t a great indication of if your milk is usable or not. Instead, bottles of milk sold by Morrisons will still carry “best before” dates. These will give an indication of when the milk will have the best taste, but can often still be used safely for several days after that point.

So, if your milk has reached its expiry date and you’ve still got some left then how do you tell if milk is off? Or if it is still safe to drink?  Do you sniff the carton to see how it smells?  If you do, then what if I tell you then that you’ve been doing it all wrong?

Why The Carton Sniff Test Is Wrong

how to tell if milk is off

It’s true.  If you’ve been sniffing the carton/bottle to tell if your milk is off, then chances are unless the milk is definitely off, then you will have been getting a false picture of how the milk actually smells.  

Instead of the milk, you’ll actually have been getting a whiff of the horrible dried-up bits of milk around the rim of the carton.  This may have perhaps caused you to bin the milk unnecessarily early.

My 99-year-old grandad has scant regard for expiration dates on food.  Want to know a true story? Some time ago he found a tin of tomatoes 10 years out of date in the back of his cupboard.  A lesser person might have put the can in the bin.  But no, not my grandad. Nope, he used the tomatoes to make them into tomato soup and ate it regardless.  And you know what?  He was perfectly fine! 

His rule for how to tell if milk is off is simple but dubious.  If he puts milk in his tea or coffee and it curdles then it’s off.  If not, then the milk is fine for consumption, regardless of the date on the carton.

I personally think my grandad’s milk testing method is a bit extreme.  I mean, who wants to potentially waste a perfectly good cup of tea?

So What Is The Best Method To Tell If Milk Is Off?

I disagree with my grandad. In actual fact, the best way to tell if milk is off or not is to pour a little bit of milk into a clean glass.  Then sniff the milk in the glass. If your milk is off, you’ll smell a sour smell indicating that the milk has spoiled.

The glass method gives you a much better idea of if the milk is off or not. This way the dried-up bits of milk around the rim aren’t going to throw you off the scent of fresh milk.

Of course, if in any doubt, do look to see if your milk has curdled. This means you should look for lumps that formed in the milk. If you see any, this is a sign it should not be used.

I find this method fail-safe – you’ll never throw out perfectly good milk again!

Do also remember that milk’s life can be extended by keeping it cool in the fridge. You should also keep milk bottles closed as much as possible.

Do you have any tips to reduce food waste?  Do share in the comments below! And if you’re thinking about switching to oat milk, then here’s my guide to the best oat milk.

Food & Drink, Food Waste Tips

The Difference Between Best Before & Use By Dates Explained

Confused by food labelling? Let me explain the meaning and the difference between best before dates and use by dates, to help you cut your food waste.

I’m big on cutting food waste. Not only does it make good financial sense to reduce the food we waste, but it also makes good environmental sense. In the UK alone, food waste accounts for between 6 to 7% of our total greenhouse gas emissions. This is because when food waste decomposes it releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

In fact, it’s estimated by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) that if every UK household stopped wasting food for one day, it could do the same for greenhouse gas emissions as planting 640,000 trees per day. This is around a staggering 230 million trees per year.

Food is also extremely resource-intensive to produce. If you’ve ever tried to grow your own food before, you’ll know just how hard it is to grow food. And not only that, but how much effort and resources, and water go into growing small amounts of food. On a much larger scale, the Carbon Trust says that for every tonne of food not wasted, the needless loss of 1,525,000 litres of water needed to produce that food will be avoided.

One way to cut food waste, is to get a good handle on what the different dates on the food we buy actually mean. One scientific study found that as much as 84% of shoppers are confused by expiration dates. This means a huge amount of edible food is being binned on a daily basis.

What Is the Difference Between Best Before And Use By Dates?

Image of a person holding a fig salad with a blue text box that says the difference between best before and use by dates explained.

It’s useful knowing about expiration dates to avoid food waste. Avoiding food waste not only saves money, but helps the environment too. This is in terms of the resources used to grow, make and transport food. And it’s also in terms of those greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

We have dates on foods because food safety regulations dictate that the shelf-life of a foodstuff be indicated by one of two dates. This is either a date of minimum durability. This is what’s known as the ‘best before’ date. Or the item should have food safety date – the ‘use by’ date.  Here’s what these terms mean in more detail.

What Does The Best Before Date Mean?

The Best Before date (sometimes displayed as BBE, meaning Best Before End) relates to food quality rather than lifespan. This means that when the date runs out, it doesn’t mean that the food will be off or unsafe to eat. Instead, it means that beyond this date, the item is not guaranteed to be at its optimum freshness. So, beyond this date, the taste, appearance, or other attributes of the foodstuff may not be at its very best.

Generally, if the food has been stored correctly, and looks ok, smells ok, and tastes ok after its best before date then it’s good to eat. ⁣

A good example of this in practice is bread. After the best before date, bread goes a little stale. It’s perfectly ok to eat stale bread. You may prefer to toast the bread to make it taste better, but it won’t make you ill. However, as soon as the bread develops mould then that’s a very visible sign that the bread is no longer safe to eat.

Do note that the best before date only applies when the item has been stored in accordance with the storage instructions and it has not been opened. Once opened, it should be cooked and eaten as per the instruction printed on the pack, and any leftovers stored as instructed.

And What Does The Use By Date Mean?

Use by dates are most commonly found on fresh foodstuffs. These include items such as meat, dairy products, or pre-prepared food, such as soups, packaged salads, spreads, and dips.

In contrast to the best before date and its relation to food quality, the use by date relates to food safety. This means that you can cook, eat and freeze food up until and on the use-by date but not after. After the displayed date, it is highly likely that the food will be off and could make you sick.

However, do bear in mind that the use by date is only valid if the storage instructions printed on the packaging have been followed. For example, if an item says to keep refrigerated, then it must be stored in your fridge. If the item is left sitting out at room temperature for an extended period of time, then there is a risk that it will go off before the use-by date. For anything that has been stored out of the fridge for an extended time, then I would discard this food, even if it is before the printed date on the packaging.

The only time the use by date does not matter is if the item has been frozen after purchasing the item, and the item was still in date when it went into the freezer. In this case, its life will be extended well beyond the use by date. This could potentially be for up to one year depending on the item or freezing instructions on the packet.

However, it is important to remember that you should not freeze an item after its use-by date has passed.

What About Display Until Dates?

Ignore ‘display until’ dates. These dates don’t relate to food freshness or quality. Instead, they are used by some shops to help with their stock control and are not aimed at consumers. Instead, look at the use by or best before dates to help guide you.

Food Safety

If you’re in any way concerned about food safety then don’t eat the food in question. How an item looks and smells are good indicators of quality. If something looks off or smells off, then it probably is off, even if it is in date.

Hopefully, if you have been confused about food labels, then this guide will help you to reduce your food waste. If you’re looking for more food waste tips then do have a rummage in my food waste archives. I’ve got loads of clever tips here, to help you save money and cut your food waste.