Which God made the seven-day milk rule?

By Clare Cheney

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food standards agency

Clare Cheney
Clare Cheney
The European Parliament’s (EP’s) call for milk labelled as ‘fresh’ to be under seven days old raises the question of the meaning of ‘fresh’ in relation to any food.


The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines fresh as 'not stale, musty or vapid'. Vapid, in turn, means 'insipid, flat'. One of the examples of its usage in the OED is 'vapid moralisings'. Well, could the people behind this seemingly arbitrary definition of fresh milk be accused of vapid moralising?

Whether or not it is reasonable to call a food 'fresh' depends on the context and consumer understanding. For milk, 'fresh' distinguishes it from UHT. 'Fresh' cheese for the purpose of HM Revenue & Customs' import/export tariffs is merely that which 'is not fermented', thus distinguishing it from cheddar, say. The age doesn't enter into it.

The adjective 'fresh' is used to describe food when compared to some other forms fresh fish or peas as opposed to frozen. Incidentally, some frozen foods contain more nutrients than fresh because of the preservative effect of the lower temperature. In that case, younger doesn't always equate to more nutritious.

Other forms of preservation, particularly chilling, extend the length of time a food remains fresh. The Food Standards Agency guidelines say: 'Modern distribution and storage methods can significantly increase the time period before there is loss of quality for a product'.

Apart from the obvious concern about increased prices, there would be wastage if milk destined for a pack labelled 'fresh' went beyond seven days and had to be destroyed even though the organoleptic, nutritional or safety qualities were unimpaired.

Where did seven days come from? Unless there is a scientific reason it must be arbitrary.

Where will older milk be displayed without opening up the possibility that the retailer may fall foul of another new proposal from the EP, which could be interpreted that a product could be deemed to mislead the consumer if it is displayed alongside inferior products with which it might be confused?

Moreover the 'non-fresh' variety would have to be sold at a lower price. Consumers would be unconvinced as to the benefits of paying more for milk under seven days old in the absence of any discernible advantage other than perhaps an emotional one.

It would be simpler to remove the word 'fresh' from the name of the product and the status quo would prevail. That would render redundant this ill-thought through gold plating of an already overzealous set of proposals for European Commission food information regulations.

Clare Cheney is director general of the Provision Trade Federation.

Contact her at clare.cheney@provtrade.co.uk

Related topics: Dairy, Legal

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