Milk Carton ‘Sell-By’ Dates May Become More Precise


The “sell-by” and “best-by” dates on milk cartons may soon become more meaningful and accurate.

Cornell food scientists have created a new predictive model that examines spore-forming bacteria and when they emerge, according to research published Aug. 1 in the Journal of Dairy Science.

“Putting dates on milk cartons is a big issue, because consumers often discard the milk if it is past the sell-by date,” said Martin Wiedmann, Ph.D. ‘97, Cornell’s Gellert Family Professor in Food Safety and a senior author of the research. “Often there is little science behind those dates, as they are experience-based guesses. The goal of this research was to put good science to use, reduce food waste and reduce food spoilage.”

All along the milk production path – from farm to processing plant to consumers’ refrigerators – some spore-forming bacteria can survive even the best pasteurization regimens or the cleanest dairy production plants. The bacteria can subsequently germinate and spoil milk.

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