Business Halacha: Cottage Cheese and the Sell-By Date


cottage-cheeseQuestion: I bought three containers of cottage cheese before the “sell by” date. They sat in my fridge for almost a week, and when I opened them, they were spoiled. Am I entitled to exchange them?

Answer: If you kept the cottage cheese containers in proper refrigerated conditions and they spoiled before the “sell by” date, you can exchange them, since they were clearly defective. If you discovered that they were spoiled shortly after the date, it depends on how badly spoiled they were. If they were badly spoiled, they must have already begun to spoil when you bought them, so you can still exchange them (C.M. 232:16).

However, if they are only slightly spoiled, the seller is not obligated to exchange them, since the cottage cheese may have still been fresh when sold and only spoiled in your fridge. Since the defect was first discovered when the products were in your possession, the burden of the proof is on you, as the seller is in possession of the money and we assume that they spoiled here (kan nimtzau, kan hayu). (230:7; 232:11)

Despite this, some stores allow you to exchange spoiled merchandise with no questions asked and just require the sales receipt.

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Authored by Rabbi Meir Orlian
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  1. I also have a shaylo.
    How do you put a photo of a Cottage Cheese where you clearly see the Brand name, and recognize the container? Don’t you think? Do you realize that people may think that the spoiled brand was the one pictured? There are enough pictures of a plate of cottage cheese available.

  2. Return it to the store? Lol! My local grocer tells me, there are NO returns on refridgerated products. Period! It’s too bad. Your fault. Waldbaums won’t take back refridgerated items either. They tell me, call the company. Shkoach.

  3. I do not think it is right to put a picture of a J&J container, as people will associate that the no good cottage cheese was J&J.

  4. Why do most Jewish brands of food (ketchup, mayo, potato chips, etc) NOT list an expiration date? The national brand counterparts will always have a date, yet the heimish brands have only codes.
    This is very frustrating.

  5. Please beware that a “sell by date” means exactly that! The store has a right to sell it until the end of that date. However, it should remain fresh for an additional TWO WEEKS! The reason this doesn’t always work out is that the products are not kept at their proper temperture the entire time! I have a friend, a grocer, who tells me that when the milk is spoiling, he gets hundreds of returns. When he only gets a return from 1 or 2 people, he knows there is something wrong with their refrigerator! It’s time to vaccum the dirt that’s blocking the fins of the compressor. Also, many people complain YOM TOV time that their milk doesn’t hold out. The reason for this is, they are over stuffing their fridge. Refrigerators work with air circulation. If your fridge is stuffed, there is no room for the cold air to circulae & your milk gets spoiled.

  6. Maybe so, but I believe the law requires that products are good for at least a week past the sell by date, so unless the purchaser did not refrigerate the cheese promptly, the store is required to replace or refund the spoiled items.

  7. Point of information:

    For some reason, cottage cheese retains its freshness much longer when stored upside down in the refrigerator.

  8. make sure first that you didnt run errands on your way home from the store and left it in your car for over 1/2 an hour.