Expiration dates are necessary and complicated. The best expiration date is when something smells bad or looks weird and your gut tells you to toss it. But then there are other products where the expiration isn't as obvious so much as it just tastes… wrong. A good example is expired ice cream -- who knew that could happen? It's frozen and the easy assumption would be that frozen foods would last eons.
On that thought, my Ben and Jerry’s should last a few years, right? Then again, maybe it’s our fault for leaving any Ben and Jerry’s uneaten but the point is that most things go bad and there’s a difference between the “Best By” label and an expiration date.
There’s also the difference between companies not wanting to get in trouble as well as the desire to eat the expired box of ramen noodles because you're sick and no stores are open.
Let’s shine some light on the cans at the back of the pantry and hold up a candle to that freezer-burned bag of Brussel sprouts. What can be salvaged, what’s not worth going near and what falls somewhere in between… It's pretty useful knowledge, whether or not you’re raiding a decades-old fallout shelter for sustenance.
Aspirin is a tough one to tell but it can go bad… eventually. For the liquid capsules, most sources recommending adhering closely to the expiration date. However, the dry pills last far longer.
That said, the US military ran experiments on millions of dollars worth of technically-expired medications (excluding antibiotics) and found that after a decade or more, the pills still hadn’t lost much of their potency. That’s why recommendations for how long aspirin lasts run the gamut with conservative estimations saying around two years and other sources placing it closer to fifteen years. Either way, it's a great staple for your in-case-of-emergency box.
19 Body Wash Gel
There are a lot of chemicals we never consider that go into most commercial body gel, but amidst the scents and dyes, there are also components that allow the liquid to lather.
Sure, you assume your shower gel and shampoo will lather but also, that’s a totally unnatural reaction in pretty much every other liquid. It feels weird when it doesn’t happen with shampoo but isn’t it weirder that it’s happening in the first place?
Body gel lasts an estimated three years. It's also one of those products that either lose its potency or actually causes adverse effects, such as rashes and skin irritations.
18 Frozen Dinners (Unopened)
Just how long can the loneliest form of eating last? About twelve months to eighteen months, depending on the product. It’s unlikely the food ingredients will spoil past that much but the taste might not be quite right. There’s just a point that you pass with frozen foods that make it not right anymore.
In this case, we’re talking about mac and cheese being frozen. Steady temperatures and air-tight storage help, of course, but it’s important to remember that even the most seemingly processed, long-lasting food doesn’t stay good forever.
I guess that’s a reason to carpe diem and munch on frozen dinners while you have the chance… or just cook yourself something that will make you actually happy.
It's your call.
17 Car Seats
Oh boy, another literal lifesaver. The thing with car seats is that it might seem like giving a friend (or acquaintance) a hand-me-down car seat is a nice thing to do, but it’s really not. The reason is that car seats expire in two to three years and besides, they’re frequently recalled for issues that just can’t be fixed. It might seem wise to keep old car seats for future babies but don’t wait too long. At some point, you might be better off just throwing it in the trash and getting a new one.
But if you do need to throw it out, make sure to cut the strap and write with a Sharpie that it's expired.
16 Smoke Detectors
There’s a big difference between these things screeching for a new battery and being full-on, end-of-the-line out-and-out expired. After ten years, it’s just not safe to assume your smoke detector is as sensitive as it once was.
While expiration dates may vary between products, the general rule is that a smoke detector lasts a decade.
Then, thank it for keeping you safe (even when you only burned a piece of toast and it didn’t have to be a big deal) and trash that thing. It’s the end of an era and the start of a new chapter in your smoke detector owning life.
15 Olive Oil
Let's move from one of the scariest and unforgiving liquids to one of the most life-giving. Can the liquid that is able to transform garlic from a sinewy, acrid little pebble into a luscious delight ever go bad? For sure it can.
Olive oil varies in quality and purity but it can definitely spoil, which is why you should only use it within two years of the manufacturing date. In this way, it’s a little different than prescribed expiration dates or just guessing from when you opened it. There’s a time set as soon as its made, and while storing it away from sunlight helps, you should use the stuff up.
Pickling absolutely adds some longevity to produce and that’s proven in how long a pickle stays fresh for: 18 months. That’s one year and a half to make enough sandwiches that your pickle is a side for. Or, I guess, just snack on them if that’s what you’re into.
Anyway, staring into the depths of that neon green brine it might seem impossible that a pickle could ever go bad. After all, the pickle is eternal, suspended in its own pickled juices!
But alas, everything comes to an end and that pickle will someday be a far cry from the crunchy treat it once was.
Look, obviously you shouldn’t be touching bleach. Under special circumstance and with adult supervision (not just for kids- bleach is so scary that adults should have other adults supervise them) you could splatter it on your jeans.
But you might only do that after reading a ton of how-to’s or that stuff will eat through your denim way faster than was planned. With that being said, one of the most toxic liquids that is easily available within a fifteen-minute drive away only lasts three months.
Isn’t that weird? You’d think something like that lasts forever as all it has to do is destroy, right? I guess it’s harder to be a toxic goo than I once thought.
Vinegar has already gone bad, right? Isn’t it just controlled spoiled food or something? Vinegar is like socially accepted garbage juice that just so happens to accompany salt on potato chips.
That’s not a value judgement on its taste, just a semi-informed scientific guess. Anyway, a bottle of the stuff lasts 42 months.
Vinegar also has a seemingly unending array of uses so it’s definitely worth stashing away. Of course, after forty two months (or more than three years) you may not remember when you even got the vinegar. Which is yet another sign it's time to toss it.
11 Dish Detergent
Sure, the ingredients are a laundry list of words you can’t pronounce. Even though they’re chemicals that most of us lacking a doctorate degree in chemistry can’t come close to comprehending, they still expire eventually.
Dry and liquid dish detergents actually last about the same amount of time, which is one year.
Is it surprising that they last the same amount of time? On one hand, it seems like dry should last long but on the other hand, most of us clearly have no idea what’s even in that stuff.
10 Fire Extinguishers
Oh look, one of the most important products ever to know the expiration date on. Not only will you really be kicking yourself if you find out that this has expired when it’s too late (just kidding, you’ll be too busy to kicking yourself because there’s clearly a big problem that needs attending to) but the range for expiration dates is wide- five to fifteen years.
That’s a great reason to check the date on yours and set yourself a reminder to replace it, however many years down the line. Yeah, it’s a boring chore but oh boy will future you thank you.
9 Dry Pasta
Store-bought, boxed pasta seems like it should last a while, right? As long as insects or mold don't get into it, all it has to do is get exposed to boiling water and become soft. Theoretically, that hot water should eliminate anything living on it too, right?
Well, a box of dried pasta is only recommended to keep in the pantry for up to about a year. After that, the noodles might not be worth the trouble, even if you like them particularly saucy. No one wants to see the ugly side of pasta as it is one of those great comforts in a wide and scary world and a pasta betrayal would be really rough.
None of us like to consider how truly, profoundly smelly the apocalypse would be but the fact is that unopened deodorant lasts two years.
After two years, it’s not worth the abandoned grocery store raid to steal some of the last remnants of Dove products because they’ll either not work or again, cause a rash.
Or, in way less dramatic terms, there’s a reason to throw out the mini-deodorant you received in a middle school health class -- if you’re still holding on to that thing, that is. It’s not intrinsically wrong to give it a whiff just to be sure, but know that it belongs in the trash can.
7 Facial Lotion
If a facial lotion doesn’t contain any SPF, it can last three years. If you’re concerned about your skin drying out (and good on you for being so realistic because that would be really uncomfortable), maybe set aside a push bottle.
If it contains SPF, you better stick with your specific product’s expiration date because that’s a huge wrench in the machine. SPF just makes things get a little trickier in this department, although it’s definitely worth it since sun protection is important.
Wow, that’s off topic for a discussion about expiration dates but definitely true, if we’re taking the time to be responsible. Also, let's not forget the importance of flossing, just while we’re on the subject.
6 Salad Dressing
Now, consistencies and ingredients in salad dressings differ but if it’s the kind that’s sold unrefrigerated then it’s a safe bet that the stuff is good until 12 months after "best by" date. The “best by” date is exactly that -- the optimal date when you should consume it.
It's a food producer's way of staying safe, but they’re not in the kitchen with us when we eat food we dropped on the ground. Or drizzle very old salad dressing on a hopefully far younger salad. By the way, if you’re eating old salad dressing, don’t feel too bad; You’re still eating salad and that’s impressive.
In theory, a bottle of shampoo can last between two and three years. This definitely varies between products and the ingredients.
A shampoo with less chemicals most likely has fewer preservatives, meaning it won’t age as gracefully.
The aging of products and humans seems to be totally opposite. McDonald’s burgers have the most chemicals and last more or less forever (for a burger), whereas the fewer chemicals a person has on or in themselves, the better they age.
This means, use up that bottle of shampoo before it turns bad! Expired shampoo can seep through your skull and make your thoughts evil! Totally kidding- that’d be slightly amazing.
And finally, the most important one. Oh, you’ve never eaten a stale marshmallow? Then you don’t know the pits of despair that the human heart can plummet to. No, you can totally know unhappiness without biting into a marshmallow past its prime but it is a bummer. It’s all hard on the outside… and the inside. That’s just the opposite of what a marshmallow is meant to be.
Weirdly, it takes the same amount of time to make a human baby as it does for a marshmallow to go bad: 40 weeks. Sooner can work for either, but the technical time period is all forty weeks.
You have about two to three years to finally use up those celery seeds. Even if the most fragrant basil can and will become an odorless powder that’s more like sawdust than the stuff that saves any meal.
Honestly, you can tell when a spice has gone bad because it doesn’t smell the way it's supposed to anymore.
The stuff loses its potency long before it actually goes bad but everything is easier to keep track of if you add labels to remind yourself when it was opened. Sure, that’s next level but in this world there are overachievers and some of us are lucky enough to know them.
2 Canned Ground Coffee (Unopened)
Making your own coffee is like having an aquarium -- you can get really, really into it. But you don’t have to. So here’s the deal: unground coffee lasts longer because once its ground, oils and chemicals are released that dull the taste even if the bag is super air-sealed.
That’s why unopened, whole coffee beans last approximately 2 years. It’s probably not barista-approved at that point, but the great news is that most of us add enough milk and sugar to not notice the difference anyway. That said, if you’ve got a bag of coffee in an emergency kit, it might be worth finding a grinder to help them last.
1 Teeth Whitening Strips
Most of us would not consider tooth whitening strips an essential, so while they may not have a place in your Doomsday kit, they’re still a product you spend money on and would like to make use of. That’s why it’s helpful to know that they last about 13 months.
After that, their potency definitely diminishes and it’s just not advisable for your teeth to be in contact with those expired chemicals since who knows what happens when those decay.
But the chances that an old chemical that is falling apart would do anything to help the health or appearance of your teeth is just very, very low.