To get the most out of an article about expiration I think we need to first discuss expiration. It’s a term that has several meanings in our world today and those meanings will change when we hit TEOTWAWKI.
To make the easiest distinctions between the several types of expiration we must look at the effect they have on the product or the producer. There are different goals when it comes to managing the three distinct types of expiration.
To understand this type of expiration you must first understand what goes into creating a product like an Oreo cookie, for example. A product like this is tested and manipulated by food scientists until the product is as near to perfection as possible. Once the size, texture and flavor are mastered, batches are run and packaged.
Nabisco offers a best by date or expiration date for retailers so that these cookies will taste just like they should. They must taste just the same no matter where you buy the package of Oreos. Most retail expiration dates are based on quality and consistency of product.
Of course, there is a little bit of turnover involved these retail expirations. Once things are expired the likelihood that customers will buy them goes away or decreases exponentially. Therefore, retailers are left with nothing to do but purchase or inventory.
These retail expiration dates are stamped on the product.
Related: What Should You Do With Your Canned Foods After the Expiration Date?
All foods reach a point where the actual safety of the food comes into question. We do not see this type of an expiration date on the product itself. These are extended dates beyond that which is stamped on the can or package.
These are guidelines that are approved by national food safety governing bodies and are employed by food banks all over the nation. Food banks can be sued so these are legitimate guidelines to use. Most of our expiration will be based on these food safety expiration dates.
You can go even further beyond the safety expiration dates. This is taking matters into your own hands. When you go far beyond safety expiration dates there are several things you can look for to discern the potential for spoilage in that product.
- Condition of Package (damaged cans, packaging lead to quicker spoilage)
Understanding Canned Goods
The process of canning foods in tin or aluminum cans uses a vacuum seal and a protective layer that keeps the food from direct metal contact. The vacuum seal removes oxygen which is necessary for bacterial growth. If the vacuum seal or the protective layer is compromised the product inside the can will be in jeopardy.
High Acidity Canned Foods – 18 months after printed retail expiration date
- Canned Fruit
- Canned Tomatoes
- Tomato Based Soups or Sauces
- Canned Fruit Juices
- Canned Pasta
Low Acidity – 5 years after printed retail expiration date
- Canned Meats
- Canned Beans
- Canned Vegetables
Boxed Dry – 1 year after retail expiration
- Rice Mixes
- Mac and Cheese
Related: How to Keep Grains Edible and Fresh for Over 40 Years With Nitrogen
Bagged Grains and Beans – Indefinite but inspect before cooking and rinse
Cold premade foods – Premade foods will only last 3 days after they expire. In most disaster scenarios refrigeration will be compromised. If that’s the case these foods can only last 4 hours without proper temperature control.
Dairy – Most dairy can last between 7 and 14 days after the retail expiration
- Yogurt 14 days
- Buttermilk 14 days
- Cottage Cheese 14 days
- Milk – 7 days
- Chocolate, Strawberry, Vanilla – 7 days
- Aseptic Packaged Milk (shelf stable) – 3 months past best buy date
- Hard Block Cheeses – 6 months
Frozen Meats – 1 year after initial freezing
Medicines – the efficacy of medicines comes in to question after expiration. They will work but the dosing information will not be accurate. Overdose is possible if you are not careful. Read our article on meds and expiration for a deeper dive into this topics.
Health and Beauty
- Bug Spray – 2 years
- Sun Screen – 3 years
- Tooth Brush – 3 months
- Lip Balm – 5 years
- Peroxide – 6 months
- Bleach – 3 months efficacy will be affected for purifying water
- Laundry Detergent – 6 months
- Dish Soap – 1 year
- Baking Soda – Indefinite
- Vinegar – Indefinite
- Tire – 10 years
- Air Bags – 10 years
- Childs Car Seat – 6 years
- Break Oil – 3 years
- Motor Oil – Indefinite
- Smoke Alarms – 10 years
- Batteries – 7 years until these batteries fail you or offer much less power than you expect.
- Fire Extinguisher – 3 years
- Surge Protector – 2 years
- Paint – 10 years
Long Term Food Storage – While many companies purport that their food would will last for 25- 30 years, what most companies neglect to inform you of are ideal storage temperatures. To get that long shelf life you want to store the food at 55 degrees. I don’t know many people who are storing food at 55 degrees.
The Truth About Expiration in Survival
These expiration dates are a powerful tool to help you manage your emergency food storage and other resources kept on hand in case of disaster. These guidelines are time tested by food pantries all over the country. When things are going well and haven’t reached a point of desperation I think these safety guidelines work well.
However, in survival there will likely come a time when resources run out and you are forced to eat foods that are far beyond the best buy dates or even the food safety expiration dates. You may come across foods that do not have dates or the dates have been rubbed off. If you are starving this will affect your decision to eat or not eat these foods.
When the condition of a food item comes into question. Be sure that you let the packaging tell you the story. The sturdier the package the better chance you have that the food inside is safe.
Look for undented seals on cans and cans that are not bulging. Look for cans that are free of excessive rust. When you are dealing with other dry packaged foods make sure your packaging is intact. Many of these foods will be fine to eat if they haven’t had visitors (pests) in and out of the package.
You may also like:
The Hidden Truth About Taking Expired Medications
How To Build The Invisible Root Cellar (Video)
Living without a Refrigerator – It Can Be Done!
30 Survival Items You Forgot to Buy
Vacuum Sealing Could Be Hazardous to Your Health
Everyone has their horror stories about foods and other products that have exceeded their sell-by/expiration dates. The best advice I’ve ever heard, and use, is to trust your instincts and when in doubt, throw it out.
I remember when there were no dates. Commonsense was the factor used in deciding. As Homesteader said. WHEN IN DOUBT, THROW IT OUT!!
I guess companies started adding expiration dates after the FDA was formed and started regulating everything. That’s pretty much what most government does today, take more tax dollars to make a pay check so they can tell us what to do. We are just dumb surfs anyway. A dog sniffs food before eating, if it smells bad they don’t eat it. I opened a jar of green beans I canned three and a half years ago, smelled good, looked good, and tasted great and it was not FDA regulated.
Common sense seems to be a very rare commodity these days.
I remember when there were no dates. Commonsense was the factor used in deciding.
The problem is too many people these days don’t have a lot of common sense. What they do have is a TV that’s always broadcasting commercials for personal injury lawyers, so if they get sick from their food they’re ready to sue the manufacturer. These dates are basically a CYA strategy, so manufacturers can say “You shouldn’t have eaten it; it says so right there on the tin.”
Great information. I always knew that the “good to eat” date was beyond the “best by” date. Thanks for the guideline times.
If you would like further information about this topic you might consult food assets.com and look for shelf life of food.
Well, I guess reasonable minds can differ. Child’s car seat – six years; automobile tires – 10 years; towels – 5 years; duvet – 5 years; air bags – 10 years?
I suspect there are a lot of child car seats still being put to good use long after six years. I hate to say how old some towels in our linen closet are and are still being used. In my household a duvet only five years old is still brand new. I guess I should run down and get my air bags replaced. My car is 15 years old. The PDRK is known throughout the automobile industry as the state with all those really old cars still on the road. Thanks to generally good weather, except for car tires, cars last a really long time out here so I have lots of company here in the PDRK with a car that is only 15 years old.
The automobile industry recommends giving your car tires really close scrutiny after six years, especially in the PDRK with all the fine additives we have in our air which rot car tire rubber quicker than climes where you don’t know what you are breathing because the air is clear and you can’t detect any chemicals in it.
PDRK ? Sorry for theQuestion but I don’t know what state that is thank you
Peepuls Demakratik Republik of Kallyforniya
LOL, I’m sorry you live there. Should move.
Good article. If I was a betting man, I’d say that they have dates on things like car seats, because they sit in a car and bake in the sun, and UV will destroy anything over time.
Remember back in the 70’s and 80’s how car dashes were always rock hard and cracking after a few years and you’d have a film on your windshield you could never get off? That was the sun baking the polymers out of the dash and making plastic hard and brittle and of course crack. The polymers would rise up and stick to your windshield and give you that streaky greasy film.
I don’t know, but I’m betting that they’re basing cars seats along those lines, so if one failed and broke and a child was injured, they have some sort of legal defense.
Also, I did speak with a few food companies back in the 90’s about exp. dates and they all said the same thing. It’s not because the food is bad, it’s because with FDA rules, the label with food value to serving size has to be within a 2% accuracy range, if I recall correctly, and once food is out of that range, the labeling is no longer accurate, and thus has expired.
I was told that you can figure less than a 1% loss of food value per year after the exp date. Also, that 1% is one percent of the current value. So 1% of food value at 100 is 1%, but 1% of 50 is a half a percent. I hope I explained that clearly.
Of course this is taking into account that the packaging is good to go, and is more than just a box which has little to no long term protection like cans do.
So in a nutshell, the food hasn’t expired, the label has. You just need to increase the amount of food you eat, to equal the food value that’s on the label.
Towels – 5 years? Really? I’ve got towels that are 46 years old and still going. As long as they’re not full of holes or fraying, why get rid of them? When they get holes, they become cleaning rags.
Homesteader: Yeah, I got a chuckle out of that. We will be married 60 years this November. I don’t think we have any wedding gift towels left in service but I could be wrong. I know we have some orange ones from back when orange was the color rage. That was sometime in the 60s.
Congratulations on your almost 60 years! This would have been my 46th had I not received my freedom papers 10 years ago. At least we’re still friends. Glad I could give you a chuckle.
I remember that orange from back then along with the harvest gold, avocado and chocolate brown of the 70’s. Yeah, I know, I’m showing my age. Who cares? I’m just happy to have lived as long as I have.
Or underpants. Just stick your legs through the holes and voila!
lol I have towels that we received as wedding gifts in 1967. No holes, just
Are the experation dates on cleaning products and health & beauty products count after opening? Are they good way longer if still sealed in original packaging?
I don’t know, Wendy. I buy the largest jug of Tide that they make and it lasts me a couple of year. It still foams up in the washing machine and the clothes still come off the clothes line looking clean and they smell okay — or maybe my nose is past the Use-by-date too.
For sun tan lotion, do a self check. When you are going to be out in the sun put the old stuff on a small portion of one arm and the new stuff on the rest of your exposed skin. See if there is a difference at the end of the day. Be sure to reapply each every time you reapply the sun tan lotion. As far as chapstick goes, If it doesn’t seem to help your lips, then it is time to replace. If it helps your lips, who cares how old it is? Same with the other products.
If you are using your toothbrush every day, the bristles should be pretty worn out in 3 months. OTOH if it is still in its package after a year, how can it be worn out?
If you spray the Black Flag Mosquito Spray on the mosquito and it still zeros in on your arm, time to ditch the spray. OTOH if you spray it and it drops down dead on the patio guess it must still be working.
Examine the pretty chart with all the eye-catching colors. Look at it closely. No one is claiming authorship of that chart. There is a copyright notice down in the lower left hand corner. Maybe Mr. Walton drew it up or his crazy computer-nerd nephew down in his aunt’s basement. We don’t know, so be aware that an unidentified piece of information is just that. One has to be very discerning when viewing information on the internet. Much of it is just some nut job’s wild ideas. Good advice is from Wannabe, Homesteader and PA Mom — use your common sense.
Where it says toothbrush, is that supposed to say toothpaste? Did not know toothbrushes had an expiration date
Well, if you ask your dental hygienist the next time you have your teeth cleaned I’m pretty sure that person will recommend only using your toothbrush 3 months. At a certain point they get kind of mushed up and don’t clean as well as when they are new. I hope toothpaste doesn’t have an expiry date as I have stores of it for some unknown eventuality and I figure as long as I can squeeze it out of the tube it is okay to rub on my teeth.
Chuck, I read an article some time ago about how long different nationalities use their toothbrush on average, the US was on top of the list with changing their toothbrush each 6 weeks, the list mentioned about 20 countries, on the bottom of the list was Poland with a new toothbrush every 8 years. Yuk.
Well, I know I am out of step with most of the rest of the country but I change mine about every 3 months — when I remember or when it gets fuzzy and most certainly after a visit to the hygienist. Either the Poles are making their toothbrushes out of extremely durable material or they they don’t brush daily. In eight years I wouldn’t have any bristles left on my toothbrush.
And that’s only an average figure, so I guess some of them buy a new toothbrush after 50 years.
Being able to squeeze it out of the tube should not be your only or even first critera. You can squeeze anchovy paste out of the tube but I am not sure it is okay to rub on your teeth.
No, it is supposed to say tooth brush. You should throw out your tooth brush after 3 months of USE due to the bacteria it gets from your mouth. This COULD be extended by cleaning the tooth brush, say in vinegar or alcohol. Not sure of the time, but the bristles will start to soften and get scraggly-looking too, so you should not extend the use too long or you would loose the efficiency of brushing.
You’re also supposed to change your toothbrush if you have an infection i.e. the flu or strep so you don’t reinfect yourself. That being said, soaking it out thoroughly with alcohol or antiseptic mouthwash should work ok. I usually wind up tossing mine when the bristles get all spongy and start falling out. Very useful article nonetheless.
There is a plethora of web articles on auto tire life expectancy. Here is an excerpt from Hagerty Insurance Company. It first discusses a loss payable they had on a Corvette with eight year old tires. Then it discusses auto tire life in general:
“There are no hard and fast “expiration dates” on tires, but because rubber begins to crack and deteriorate over time, most experts suggest that eight years is the maximum safe life expectancy of a tire. If you don’t drive your classic at all and it just sits on display, you can get away with keeping the original tires as they’ll hold air. But if you drive the car at all, you need to know how old the tires are. The U.S Department of Transportation (DOT) requires that all tires manufactured since 2000 have serial numbers, and those numbers easily identify their age. Using the last four digits, the first two numbers will reveal the week and last two the year. For example, a serial number ending in 4905 tells you the tires were made during the 49th week of 2005. If there are no recognizable serial numbers, you already have your answer – the tires were made prior to 2000 and need to be replaced.”
If there are no serial numbers that means your tires are at least 17 years old and you are skating on very thin ice. This apparently is an older article. I grabbed it because it was by an insurance company and not a tire company.
I am writing on tire life because it is a topic on which I have done considerably reading. Tires today are remarkably better than they were when I started driving long, long ago and far, far away. it used to be a tire rated for 20,000 miles was a top of the line tire and was far more expensive in terms of the buying power of the dollar than a top of the line tire today.
Flats used to be a monthly occurrence. I haven’t had a flat in more than twenty years. A few years ago I had a slow leak because the doofus who balanced the wheel put the fastening tab under the bead of the tire and it let air leak out slowly. Since Ford’s problem with Explorers and tires, I notice that tire shops are much more careful about their work than they used to be.
I would like to print a copy of your chart and I cannot get it big enough to read. I have clicked on the image and it is too small. Can you help me?
Take a screen shot of it and print it off the photo if using a smart device
I clicked to enlarge, then manually enlarged it using the scroll wheel on my mouse, then I took 4 screen shots – each time moving the screen down to about where the end of the old one was. With each screen shot, I went to a Word page and pasted the screen shot and Entered. Going back for another screen shot.
When I had all 4 shots, I clicked on each and Cropped it to the edge of the page [all 4 sides] and deleting the Enter space. Then you can print it and tape it together matching the circles.
Try copy & paste in your office suite then change the font size to 12 -14 … hope it works
Here there is a larger image: https://s31.postimg.cc/ve0p4omjv/Expiration-date-cheat-sheet.png
If you package your dry goods in air tight packages and fill with nitrogen the nitrogen displace the o2 and stops spoiling from blocking oxidation and it also sufficates any creature infestatation …. i have alsi read if you freeze your loose dry goods such as dry beans it will also kill those nasty beetles …. so i started butting them in freezer a few days when i bring them home from store because i have had bean beatles issuas in.past with bagged beans
Just so you know, there are bacteria that don’t need air to live in your canned food. They’re called anaerobic bacteria, and botulism is one of them that will make you very, very sick. The TEMPERATURE that the food is canned at is what kills the bacteria. If the seal is broken, it can allow more bacteria inside. That being said, I don’t think Oreo cookies HAVE an expiration date. I used to let them get just the tinist bit stale, so they wouldn’t crumble everywhere, but the company “improved” them, so I did an experiment once, and left an open bag on top of the frig for SIX MONTHS, and they tasted like I had just opened the package. The indestructible cockroaches will be dining on fresh-tasting Oreos long after we humans have bit the dust!
Well that is good to know, littleredhen. I am going to add Oreos to my in-car supply of 5,000 year shelf life food. It may not be nutritious but with a cup of hot instant coffee, life might look a little rosier as we trudge to some unknown destination pulling our gear on our luggage carts along I-5.
lol, that was kind of my thought also.
Common sense…of course, it is what we rely on. Under normal situations we smell just about everything. Uhmm…good;…Yuooo…bad. In a SHTF situation, where you havn’t had food for many days, your common sense will tend to be heavily modified. For instance, the food may smell bad, but will it kill you? Because if it just gives you cramps, you still get nourishment from it (maybe?). I you are starving, how are you going to tell the difference? My thought is (but I have no experience to back it up), taste a little bit, see how sick it makes you. Not too sick? Try a little more.
Or, taste a bit, and if you throw up…maybe try dining in a more high class SHTF local. But I don’t know the truth of any of this…however I do feel that this is the direction that the discussion needs to go. Here is an example (again, I don’t know the truth of) : I once read a story of the old west, where there was this doctor on a train, and he observed a woman feeding her children green meat. The doctor did not interfere because he knew that she was doing it out of desperation: she had nothing else to feed her children. My point is, in desperate times, we are capable of desperate acts. It would be good if people could express ideas about that in this forum; that is what I would like to read.
The problem is, if you throw up you’re not just getting rid of the bad food before it poisons you anymore; you’re also getting rid of any other undigested food in your system, and you’re losing a lot of fluids too. Throwing up is something you want to avoid if possible. Let’s not even get into the risk of choking on it if you’re weakened.
It’s a real risk. Jimi Hendrix is said to have choked on his own vomit.
I sure am glad Mother Nature doesn’t have sell by dates on all her fresh, delicious, organic goodies. 🙂
Buy a wild eatable guide and STUDY.
I’ve wanted to take up foraging, but what do you do when two plants look alike but one is poisonous and the other one is safe? I have trouble telling some plants apart even with field guides for both edible plants and plants in general. Unless I’m 100% absolutely sure, I leave it alone which is usually the majority of the wild plants. I know I’m probably passing up a lot of good food by doing that but the phrase “better safe than sorry” keeps coming to mind.
The army survival manual has a formula for testing foods for deleterious affects. First, crush it and rub it on your wrist. Wait 24 hours and see if you develop a rash. No rash, rub a bit on your lip. Wait 24 hours. No rash, chew a bit but don’t swallow it. Wait 24 hours. No adverse affects, chew a small amount and swallow it. Wait 24 hours. No adverse affects, eat a larger small amount and ditto ditto. Then go for it, but in moderation until your system becomes accustomed to something new. Yeah, it takes some time and if you are really, really, really hungry, it take some stainless steel will power, but you might be able to decide ahead of time what is edible and what is not.
I have the same problem. Is this an edible wild onion or is this the plant that looks just like a wild onion but will kill you quicker than a shot to the gut with a .308 rifle?
By the time the 3 days is up the open canned food will for sure be bad ….. but this is great for a foraging in nature situation
Roro: you are correct! I forgot to mention that was the test for plants that you are not sure if they are poison ivy or some kind of wild lettuce. However, as a practical matter if that is the limit of your expertise a la Euell Gibbons, may I suggest that you limit your foraging to break rooms in office buildings until you bone up on plant identification a little more.
Actually, that is a source of supply that I think might be significantly overlooked in the early days of a bad situation. I think most office scavengers will be looking for computers and useless electronic toys. Lots of folks keep snacks in their desk drawers. You might be quite surprised at what all you would find going through the desk drawers of big offices. I would wager that there are some surprises that one would not ordinarily suspect would be in a desk drawer in an office building.
Euell Gibbons died from stomach cancer…so much for eating pine needles…
Its the sub bark in the pine & the nuts inside the cones ….. that i think are the safe parts
I gathered some pine cones that grow near our house. I don’t know what kind of pine tree. They are very large pine trees and the cones are quite large. HOWEVER there are very few nuts in those big pine cones. You would need several hundred of the pine cones to get a meal of pine nuts from them. They obviously are not pinyon pine trees as those are supposed to be the most bountiful pine trees for pine nuts. Unfortunately I wouldn’t know a pinyon pine from a ponderosa pine.
…Eating Mother Nature!
If you are not certain, common sense should tell you to leave them both alone.
Thanks for the help.
Ya wild potatoe is good example of duel lookalike plants one be n fine & the other being a toxin causing dehydration from loss of apitite and diarria
OK I agree with most of this but I had a fire extinguisher 23 years old and it still worked like new. I bought a new one and used the 23 year old one on a camp fire in the back yard just to see what it would do. Work like a new one.
TI have a halon fire extinguisher I bought in the 80s. The pressure gauge on it still shows that it is under pressure, so if I use it in my garage, I am going to have halon come out under pressure. That’s all a halon extinguisher is, halon under pressure in a metal pressure vessel.
I volunteer at the largest food bank in the nation in Houston. We have guides there for what the gov’t allows for time past the “use before” dates. Most are months past and up to 7 years for tuna:) The “Best Buy” dates are also marketing ploys to have you throw away good product and replace it to ensure future sales.
Your toothbrush goes bad quickly because the yuck on your teeth get imbedded into the bristles of the brush and you can’t just rinse that off. Make your toothbrush last longer by rinsing out the brush and then dipping it in your mouthwash after use; do not rinse out the mouthwash.
Another issue is the medications, especially prescriptions, which are mentioned in this article. Unless you are a pharmacist and legitimately know the ins and outs of medicines, do not keep them more than a couple months beyond expiration. Aside from the danger of the dosage changing, over time the chemical composition of the drug/medication breaks down AND BECOMES A DIFFERENT DRUG/MEDICATION which can be outright deadly or make you very very sick – something you never want to be in emergency situations. Some medications that we take are dangerous just as they are, but the doctor felt the benefit outweighs the damage it causes you. That danger could rise significantly if the drug is too old. (And never ever ever ever flush medications down the drain or toilet because it WILL go into your local water supply… don’t assume it will be filtered from your tap – you can call your local police department or hospital to ask if your community has an expired drug disposal program; if not, keep the medication in its container and be sure it goes into a trash bag).
And remember that anything you apply to your body that comes in or operates by an applicator (stick or roll-on deodorant/antiperspirant, lipstick, lip balm, mascara, make-up pads, etc) eventually turn into a petri dish of your body’s germs.
This article will explain a few things regarding the drug expiration dates – Dr. Mercola’s Natural Health Newsletter – “Drugs Frequently Potent Past Expiration”:
https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2000/04/02/drug-expiration-part-one.aspx , and this one as well – “Drug Expiration Dates – Are They Still Safe to Take?”: https://www.drugs.com/article/drug-expiration-dates.html
Years ago, when I discovered my favorite cheap lipstick on sale (normally $2 per tube, then on sale for $1), I bought several. They kept marking the price down, and I kept buying. When it got to a nickel per tube, I ended up with more than 2 dozen tubes. The child I was pregnant with then is now 30, and I’m still using some of that lipstick. How does lipstick “go bad”? It’s fine!
We buy discount and dingged cans. When they hit expiration, most can be canned in glass of dehydrated. The number one major food bought canned is tomatoes and chilis and those are easy. Right now, mangos are at every farm market and -stand and cheap. Those are being cleaned and frozen for now. Later, they and a lot of fruit, chilis, and so on that are frozen can be dehydrated. Frozen at this time because we’re in the monsoon season, and humidity averages about 70%. Later, when it drops back to normal (4% to 20%) the drier goes to work. niio
this is another questionable re-run article originally posted years ago. some of the information is reasonably accurate like using frozen meats within a year of freezing, some is false like claiming there is an expiration date for towels, so how do you tell the difference between the realistic and the bogus? do your own research for factual information, and always follow the common-sense advice to use your senses and judge whatever may have “expired” by looking, smelling, and maybe even a tiny little taste test to judge if you want to eat/use or toss.