Recently, the Wife threw away some baby aspirin I was taking because the expiration date on the package had passed six months earlier. I knew instinctively that it was not necessary to toss them, but I wasn’t sure why. Then I came across this letter to Mark Evanier from a reader that shed some light:
Reading about… the bit about the expiration dates on the low-dose aspirin you found there, don’t worry about it. Most pharmaceuticals do not go bad (note I did not say all). Many drugs including aspirin never go bad unless the various ingredients somehow precipitate out and separate themselves from the other ingredients…
Stable medications like aspirin are still effective for years after their “expiration dates.” Aspirin (just to keep it on topic) didn’t have an expiration date at all until it became a requirement.
Yes, requirement. The Food and Drug Administration back in the late ’60s or early ’70s issued a requirement that all medications have an expiration date, usually five years after a drug is manufactured or packaged, unless the medication itself warranted a shorter time span. In many cases the five year timeframe had nothing to do with the effectiveness of the medication. My late father, a pharmacist for 50 years, jokingly speculated that it was simply to force him to replace old pills and keep the drug companies in business.
The Wikipedia article on shelf life touches on the topic as well.
WebMD took on Do Food Expiration Dates Really Matter? Perhaps not: the FDA notes : “With the exception of infant formula, the laws that [it] administers do not preclude the sale of food that is past the expiration date indicated on the label. FDA does not require food firms to place ‘expired by’, ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ dates on food products. This information is entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.
This post explains the difference between expiry date (the UK English term) and Best Before date. The former tells “consumers the last day a product is safe to consume. You should never consume food after the expiry date.” Whereas Best Before date is designated by the manufacturer when “the product reaches peak freshness. The date does not indicate spoilage, nor does it necessarily tells you that the food is no longer safe for consumption.”
This is not just an academic observation. From The Atlantic : “In 2010, U.S. supermarkets and grocery stores threw out 43 billion pounds, or $46.7 billion worth, of food, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).” And much of that food was edible.
This item about the dates on store-bought eggs, which went viral, created more buzz than insight.
“Food that is tossed out is a meal that a hungry person will never be able to enjoy. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization reported… that [there are] 795 million people without enough food to eat. For reference, about one in seven Americans lack reliable access to food, and an extra 15 percent in saved food could feed over 25 million Americans…”
Another factor in this calculation involves how food is stored. The folks and Groom+Store have put together Your Guide to Food Storage for Healthier Eating. To cut down on food waste, check out the section Ways to Rescue Foods that Are About to Go Bad.