Fifth Sense Statement: Removal of use-by dates on milk
“People with smell and taste disorders are contacting Fifth Sense to express their concerns about the recent announcement by Marks & Spencer that they are removing use-by dates from milk in UK stores with immediate effect. I am very disappointed with this decision, which fails to take into account the needs of people living with impaired smell and taste who cannot use sensory cues to tell if food is fresh and safe to eat, including the many people affected by Long Covid symptoms. Part of the issue is that many consumers do not understand exactly what Best Before End dates actually mean. Fifth Sense is calling on retailers to improve guidance on food packaging and I have written to the Food Standards Agency and Marks and Spencers to this effect.” Duncan Boak, Chief Executive, Fifth Sense
Smell acts as our early warning for hazards such as spoiled food, smoke and gas. People with a poor, altered or no sense of smell are more vulnerable to sickness or food poisoning from spoiled food, and often rely on product dates on packaging to help them to stay safe. People living with smell and taste disorders are concerned that their needs are being ignored and that their health will be at risk if they are unable to adequately assess risk. Marks and Spencer haven’t used the term ‘sniff test’ in their statement, but their advice to ‘use their judgement’ to tell if milk is fresh and safe to drink provides little help to many of the people Fifth Sense represents, particularly older people with a poor or no sense of smell who may be more at risk from drinking spoiled milk.
“I have no sense of smell or taste, I am a widow living alone and I am 82 years of age. When I read that the supermarkets are doing away with use-by dates on food, my first reaction was to feel worried as to how it will affect me and confused as to why this is happening when we all want to know that our food is fresh and safe to eat.” Dorothy, Fifth Sense member
Fifth Sense works with supermarkets and others in the food industry to alert them to our concerns about this issue. Whilst we fully support the intentions behind reducing household food waste, we maintain that any guidance given out by the food, beverage and retail industries must take into account the needs and concerns of people living with sensory impairments. When we highlighted our concerns with Food Standards Agency (FSA) about some companies advocating the use of a ‘sniff test’ instead of relying on use-by dates in 2022, the FSA acted swiftly to include people affected by smell disorders in their guidance.
Guidance on Best Before End dates for people with a smell or taste disorder
Fifth Sense and our partners FlavorActiV, the leading provider of global food and beverage sensory quality control training services, would like to reassure our members that:
- The Best Before End (BBE) date is in fact a safer measure to rely on for people with a smell impairment who live alone and don’t have someone to act as their trusted ‘Designated Nose’. Up until mid-night on that date, milk will be at its freshest and most optimal. After that date it will start to degrade.
- For those with no sensory impairment, the BBE date can be viewed as a measure of food quality. For people with a smell and taste disorder it should be viewed as a measure of food safety.
- Those at risk, including older people who may not be aware that their sense of smell is reduced, and who may be more vulnerable due to reduced immunity, should stick to BBE dates.
- Remember that many things drive the formation of micro-organisms in milk. BBE on any products will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the packaging. As a rule of thumb for yourself, it may be helpful to label all your foods with the date you bought and opened them.
“In our experience human sensory capabilities are a vital part of the quality control and food safety process. Anyone with a problem with their sense of smell or taste needs to take extra care when judging whether food is safe to eat.” Dale Smith, Technical Director, FlavorActiV
Fifth Sense will continue working with FlavorActiV and other partners to ensure that our voices are heard and that the food safety concerns of people with smell and taste disorders are recognised by the food, beverage and retail industries.
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