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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.

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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 [2]).