Cooking with Dairy

Shopping Tips to Reduce Dairy Food Waste


Woman buys cheese in the supermarket

There are many things you can do at the supermarket to shrink your food waste, particularly when it comes to maximizing your use of dairy products you put into your shopping cart. Here are some shopping tips that will help you reduce and save.

Decode Labels Correctly

Research conducted by the Midwest Dairy Association found that roughly half of consumers always look at the “Sell-By” dates found on the packaging of dairy products. However, results also revealed there is much confusion surrounding these dates, with many consumers prematurely tossing dairy products because they misinterpret the meaning of dates. In fact, dairy products are thrown out more often than other foods.1 Let’s clear up the confusion.

The “Sell-By” date is the last day the grocery store should sell the product. You should buy the product on or before this date.2 But what does this mean once you get products, like dairy, home? When properly stored in the refrigerator, dairy products can be safely consumed beyond the “Sell-By” date:

  • Milk can be used up to one week past this date.3
  • Soft cheese can last one to four weeks after the “Sell-By” date.4
  • Hard cheeses can be consumed one to 10 months after this date.4
  • Enjoy yogurt for up to 10 days after the “Sell-By” date.5

The “Best-By,” “Best if Used By” and “Use-By” dates indicate the recommended timing in which you should consume products for the best flavor and optimal quality. These are not safety dates.6 Even if the date expires during home storage, a product may still be safe to use if handled properly.6 How do you know when it is time to toss milk, cheese or yogurt?

  • Discard dairy products that develop an off flavor, odor or appearance.
  • Mold found on hard cheese should be removed by cutting off a one-inch square around the affected area and discarding it – the rest is safe to eat.3,6
  • If mold appears on softer cheese or yogurt, the product should be thrown away.6

Use a Grocery List

Couple reading the ingredients on a milk bottle

Planning your meals for the week and making a grocery list will help you avoid purchasing unnecessary items. The following shopping tips can help you reduce food waste:

  • Make a list of any items on hand that need to be used quickly and plan meals around these foods. For example, fresh broccoli that is past its prime can be used to make this Parmesan Chicken Fettuccini. A large container of yogurt can be used to treat your family to these Easy to Please Breakfast Yogurt Parfaits.
  • Make sure your recipes for the week include proportions that allow you to use the full portions of dairy products that you are purchasing, or plan to freeze extra portions so you can enjoy as an easy future meal.
  • Once your meals are planned, check the refrigerator and pantry to avoid purchasing food you already have. Add any needed items to your shopping list and include quantities of each of the foods you’ll need to avoid overbuying.

Keep Food Safe

If you are running errands, make the grocery store the last stop on your list, particularly if you are planning to purchase any dairy products. Buy dairy products and other perishable foods at the end of your trip so they stay as cold as possible.6 Take groceries home and refrigerate or freeze perishable foods as quickly as possible. You can even keep a cooler and ice packs in your vehicle to store perishable items during the drive home.


  1. Midwest Dairy Association. Midwest Dairy Clean and Clear Survey. March 2016.
  2. USDA/FSIS. Food Product Dating. Accessed April 13, 2016.
  3. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Keep Your Dairy and Egg Products Safe. Accessed April 15, 2016.
  4. Save the Food. Food Storage Directory – Dairy, Eggs. Accessed April 21, 2016.
  5. Accessed April 15, 2016.
  6. Schmutz P, Fraser A, Hoyle E. Handling of Cheese for Safety & Quality. Clemson University Cooperative Extension. 2008. Accessed April 18, 2016.
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