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How Important Are Expiration Dates?

How Important Are Expiration Dates?

Woman checking an expiration date on food in the refrigerator

From wiping down cabinets and walls to vacuuming, dusting, and mopping, there’s something therapeutic about spring cleaning. While you’re throwing open the windows, cranking the tunes, and banishing those dust bunnies, you should also take stock of any food or common household products that may be past their prime. Now is the perfect time to check the expiration dates on condiments, pantry staples, cleaning supplies, and beauty products such as makeup.

Open refrigerator

The Refrigerator
Once you’ve polished the stainless steel, take stock of your refrigerator’s contents. It’s easy for less-used items like condiments to get overlooked, sometimes for years.

Here are some basic guidelines for how long you can keep opened containers in the fridge:

  • Barbecue sauce: Four months
  • Horseradish: Three to four months (prepared)
  • Hot sauce: Five years
  • Jam and jelly: One year
  • Ketchup: Six months
  • Mayonnaise:Two to three months after the “use by” or “best by” date
  • Mustard: One year
  • Pickles: One year
  • Pure maple syrup: One year
  • Salad dressing: Six months or date on package
  • Salsa: Five to seven days
  • Soy sauce: Two years

Produce, lunch meat, juice, eggs, and other foods obviously won’t last as long as condiments, and you should check regularly for freshness. To learn more about the expiration dates of food, click here. Then, when you’ve cleared out what’s gone bad, give the fridge a deep clean.

Woman in front of pantry

In the Pantry
Pantry staples make last-minute meals possible. However, some of the food lurking in the back corners may no longer be safe to eat.

Check the dates on these common items:

  • All-purpose flour has a shelf life of six to eight months and should be stored in a cool, dry place to prevent spoiling or insect infestation. Whole wheat flour lasts four to six months.
  • It’s not uncommon to keep spices long after their expiration dates, but over time they lose flavor and strength, which can affect your kitchen creations. Replace them after six to 12 months.
  • Brown rice also doesn’t keep indefinitely. Although white rice has a lifespan of four to five years, brown lasts only six to eight months, whether opened or unopened.
  • Buying cereal in bulk often makes sense, but make sure you aren’t saving it past its prime. Opened cereal will last four to six months (although it will most likely be stale if you wait that long), and six to eight months unopened.

Cleaning supplies

Under the Sink/Laundry Area
Cleaning supplies can lose effectiveness over time. In addition, degrading plastic containers can alter formulas.

Here’s how to make the most of household cleaners:

  • Stored in a cool dry place, both liquid and powder laundry detergents will keep for six months to one year after opening. Fabric softeners of all types maintain power for about a year. Keeping your washer and dryer clean is also a good rule of thumb.
  • Versatile, multisurface household cleaners work best for up to two years. Antibacterial ingredients, however, can shorten that lifespan to one year.
  • It’s best to use dishwashing soap within 12 to 18 months, while the effectiveness of automatic dishwashing detergent lasts three months.

If cleaners have separated, clumped, or gotten lumpy, discard them regardless of when they were purchased.


In the Bathroom
Because many skin care products like moisturizers and face masks don’t include expiration dates, it’s up to you to track shelf life. A good rule of thumb is to toss anything past 12 to 18 months, or if it has started to dry out or crack.

Here are some other common items to keep your eye on:

  • Makeup: Foundation or cream-based products will last six to eight months, at which point they can start to grow bacteria that can harm your skin. You also shouldn’t take any chances with products you use near your eyes. With liquid eye products, keep eye liners, mascaras, etc., no more than three months to prevent infection.
  • Sunscreen: Because sunscreens and sunblock are regulated by the FDA, manufacturers are required to print expiration dates on the packaging. Use this date, because after it expires, the company does not guarantee that the product will actually protect your skin from the sun.
  • Hair products: Most hair care products contain alcohol as a preservative, so you can worry less about the expiration dates of shampoos and other hair care than about other types of beauty products. If a beauty product for your hair looks or smells funny, it’s probably time to let it go.
  • Nail polish: In general, opened nail polish lasts about two years. After that, it starts to get thick and difficult to spread. Nail polish remover, on the other hand, lasts indefinitely.

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