Many of the products and foods we bring into our homes carry an expiration date of some manner. Some are suggestions like "freshest by", "best if used by" or "best before". These terms are generally guidelines for getting the most out of the product. A box of crackers might have a "best if used by" date that would indicate the crackers might not be as crisp if eaten after the date, however they would still be edible. However an "expiration date" is a completely different kind of date that tells us not to use the product after such a date. Expiration dates are typically reserved for perishables that may not be safe for consumption after the date.
In general most people know about expiration dates for perishable items such as raw meats and dairy products. But many other items found in the grocery store also carry expiration dates and have some kind of shelf life that we should be aware of. For instance batteries can lose their effectiveness after sitting too long or if not stored properly. The same goes for sunblock and many medications.
For this reason it is important to routinely go through cabinets, cupboards, drawers and pantries to check expiration dates. It won't do you any good to discover your cough medicine expired 6 months ago at 11pm when you are desperately trying to get some sleep. It is better to throw away expired items before you need them and give yourself plenty of time to go to the store and replenish your supplies.
Some general tips concerning expiration dates:
- When in doubt, throw it out.
- Medications can lose effectiveness after the expiration date. To help manage the medicine cabinet, write expiration dates on the bottle cap. Writing the date will make it more noticeable when glancing through the cabinet.
- Although the ramifications are not as severe, the same applies to herbs. After time they become stale or lose potency. Stale herbs can turn a great recipe into a mediocre one, so try the same technique and write the expiration dates on the containers. Then before going to the store, a quick glance should uncover any items that need to be replaced.
- Your grocery store manager understands the importance of making sure that the oldest items sell before the newest items. That is why they rotate stock and are constantly bringing items from the back of the shelf to the front. You should do the same. When putting away canned goods bring the items from the back forward and place the newest items towards the back. This will help prevent the back of your cupboards from being a storage locker for 5 year old soup cans.
- Be careful of "sell by" dates. The grocery store often stores foods at lower temperatures than our home refrigerators. So items may last a little longer in the store than at home. For instance most butchers and grocers store meat at 30 degrees, while the majority of home refrigerators are 40 degrees, making the shelf life of meat significantly less at home than at the grocery store. Meat should only be stored for 2 days in a home refrigerator.