For Immediate Release
August 29, 2008
CONTACT: Steve Merritt
Public Information Officer
Montana Department ofLivestock
MDOL Tackles 12-Day Milk Labeling Violations
Milk Labeling: Sell-by vs. Use-by
● Sell-by date: Milk must be sold by the date labeled on the carton. Montana requires a 12-day sell-by date, which guarantees a fresh, high-quality product for consumers.
● Use-by date: Milk must be used by the date labeled on the carton.
The Montana Department of Livestock is warning milk retailers and distributors that “dual-dated” milk – cartons of milk with two different expiration dates – cannot legally be sold within the state, and that selling dual-dated milk may subject retailers to penalties.
Dual-dated is a process used by milk distributors to meet requirements of more than one state. Montana uses a 12-day sell-by date: All milk within the state must be sold within 12 days of pasteurization (Administrative Rules of Montana, 32.8.202), and must be labeled accordingly. Other states have different rules, and distributors supplying milk to Montana sometimes label cartons with Montana’s 12-day sell-by date as well as a date that meets legal requirements in its own state.
While most consumers have probably never heard of dual-dating, the practice has recently caused some controversy. A milk distribution facility in Spokane, WA, is selling milk in Montana with dual dates – Montana’s 12-day sell-by date, and Washington’s 21-day use-by date. The distributor is protesting MDOL’s enforcement of the 12-day sell-by date.
“There should be no ambiguity whatsoever on the part of distributors and retailers,” said MDOL executive director Christian Mackay. “If you are distributing or selling milk with dual dates, you’re in violation of state regulations governing the sale of milk in Montana and are subject to citation. It’s that simple.”
Mackay said the department is simply enforcing a long-standing rule that protects Montana’s consumers.
“Our 12-day sell-by date ensures the freshest, highest quality product for consumers,” Mackay said. “We’re talking about a product with a short shelf-life, and our 12-day date guarantees that milk will be sold before freshness, taste and overall quality begin to degrade.”
The department has been advising retailers and distributors of its plans to strictly enforce the 12-day labeling requirement for the past several months. Despite months of advance notice, enforcement officers found illegal milk at all three of the locations – one each in Billings, Helena and Missoula – checked the past week. In one case, dual-dated milk was placed on retail shelves and being sold to an unsuspecting public six days after the Montana sell-by date had expired. In another, the 21-day use-by date had been blacked out with a marker, which also violates state regulations (Administrative Rules of Montana, 32.8.203 ).
When illegal, dual-dated milk is found, store owners and managers are ordered to remove it from shelves. The department also has the authority to seize and destroy illegal milk (Administrative Rules of Montana, 32.8.206), and to issue citations and impose fines for violating state law (Montana Code Annotated 81-22-104).
“There has certainly been no lack of communication about our intent to enforce the 12-day labeling requirement,” Mackay said. “We’ve given retail outlets and distributors ample time to make adjustments, and at some point, we’ll have to start writing citations and imposing penalties.”
Retailers critical of the 12-day sell-by date, and efforts to enforce the rule, claim that the department is protecting Montana’s milk producers by targeting out-of-state milk distributors. Such claims have “zero validity,” Mackay said.
“We welcome milk from other states as long as it’s a quality product that meets all of our standards and requirements,” Mackay said. “If you drive in Montana, you have to follow Montana’s speed limit regardless of where you’re from. It’s the same with milk. If you want to sell milk in Montana, you have to follow our rules and regulations.”
If retail store owners and managers want to continue selling milk from the Spokane-based distributor, they should ask the distributor to put a 12-day label on the milk.
“It’s an easy thing to fix,” Mackay said. “Just put a 12-day label on the milk.”
The distributor protesting the 12-day labeling requirement has unsuccessfully sought two injunctions and/or temporary restraining orders to prevent the department from enforcing the rule. Additional litigation initiated by the distributor is pending.