I'm living in Switzerland at the moment. I've just come back from a short holiday and realise I've left some milk in the fridge.

The top oddly has two dates. One marked a which was yesterday and one marked b which isn't for another week.

Knowing that swiss milk tends to be nuclear and last a while I tried the milk and...it does seem a bit off. The water and the solid have seperated slightly in some places. It doesn't smell but it does taste odd.

I think it's fair to say I shouldn't use it. I should do without milk for a day.

However the question remains: what are these two dates?

I guessed best before and use before but that seems wrong.

  • The later date is probably a use-by date. But was it open while you were away? Opened milk can go off faster than if it's still sealed.
    – Chris H
    Mar 28, 2016 at 7:54
  • Is there any text next to the dates? It could be a combo of sell-by and use-by.
    – Stephie
    Mar 28, 2016 at 9:14
  • And what is "nuclear" with regard to milk please? (Non-native speaker here, sorry.)
    – Stephie
    Mar 28, 2016 at 9:17
  • Note that today's processed milk doesn't go sour or clump (unless you bought some special lightly procesed milk, but you'd probably know it if you did, it's a niche product). All it does upon spoilage is to get a slightly off taste, and it's more bitter than sour. So it may very well be spoiled, regardless of the printed date.
    – rumtscho
    Mar 28, 2016 at 9:57
  • @Stephie nuclear in this use is expressive. I think he means that the milk in Europe has a very long shelf life if unopened, and I am thinking he's talking about ultra pasteurized box milk. Nuclear in real sense means of the nucleus of an atom (ex. Nuclear energy), but again it is used here to be expressive only.
    – Escoce
    Mar 28, 2016 at 15:48

1 Answer 1


I haven't been across the border in a while, but I just double-checked via image search.

Most dairy products (and other foods with a short shelf life) in Switzerland have or had two dates, a "sell-by" and a "best before" or "consume by" date.

Often, there will be a descriptive text, sometimes even in German, French and Italian, but there are brands that omit the text, probably because the average Swiss consumer knows how to interpret the double dates.

An example of a non-dairy product is this:

enter image description here Source

Interestingly, there was a debate about the double date, centered around the confusion of consumers and their impact on food waste. Some supermarket chains like Coop have removed the "sell by" date since 2016, Migros insists on keeping it. (Source, in German)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.