Some time ago, the manufacturer of Polysporin held a contest to see who had the oldest tube of this antibacterial cream.  I thought I had a sure thing with my 25-year-old tube, but I guess I was wrong because I didn’t win.

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We all pay attention to expiration dates when we buy certain food products.  Even if we use the dates only as guidelines, there are tell-tale signs that a product has gone bad – moldy bread, chunky milk, or that layer of fur on the cream cheese – and we toss it out.

But what about those items sitting in your cupboard for years after a zealous bulk purchase that have no expiries?  How long do these products last?

I have had a jar of maraschino cherries in my fridge since my thirty-something sons were in elementary school.  They still look pretty, but how will they taste if I have a sudden urge to bake a pineapple upside-down cake?

Even though there are no expiry dates shown, most items don’t last forever as I recently discovered when I used an old box of dishwasher detergent. The undissolved soap sat in the holder in a congealed lump at the end of the cycle.

Related: Extended warranties – good deal, or cash grab?

Here is a handy keep-or-toss guide to expiration dates.  If you like to stock up when you see a great price, or buy mega-packs at the warehouse store, only buy what you can use within these time periods.

Beverages

  • Beer, unopened – 4 months
  • Gourmet coffee beans – 3 weeks in a paper bag
  • Ground beans – 1 week in a sealed container
  • Juice, unopened – 8 months from the production date.  Opened – 7-10 days

Food and Condiments

  • Dried pasta – 12 months
  • Frozen vegetables, unopened – 18-24 months.  Opened – 1 month
  • Maple syrup – 1 year
  • Brown sugar – indefinitely (Most people toss this out when it turns hard, but you can store it with a piece of bread, slice of apple, or moistened clay “Sugar Bear.”)
  • Honey – indefinitely. Re-liquefy in the microwave.
  • Marshmallows, unopened – 40 weeks.  Opened – 3 months
  • Mayonnaise, unopened – indefinitely.  Opened – 2-3 months
  • Mustard – 2 years
  • Maraschino cherries, unopened – 3-4 years.  Opened – 6 months, refrigerated
  • Olives, unopened – 3 years.  Opened – 3 months
  • Olive Oil – 2 years from manufacturing date
  • Tabasco Sauce – 5 years
  • Vinegar – 31/2 years
  • Baking soda, indefinitely (if not fresh use for cleaning not baking)

Toiletries

All dates are from the manufacture date, which is displayed on the packaging, or can be found on the website.

  • Bar soap – 18-36 months
  • Bath gel, body wash – 3 years
  • Hand/body lotion – 3 years
  • Shampoo and Conditioner – 2-3 years
  • Deodorant – 1-2 years
  • Hair spray/gel – 2-3 years
  • Lip balm – 5 years
  • Shaving cream – at least 2 years
  • Perfume – 1-2 years

Household Products

  • Aerosol air freshener – 2 years
  • Alkaline batteries – 7 years
  • Lithium batteries – 10 years
  • Bleach – 3-6 months
  • Dish soap (liquid or powder) – 1 year
  • Laundry detergent (liquid or powder), unopened – 9-12 months
  • Opened – 6 months
  • Furniture polish – 2 years
  • Windex – 2 years
  • Miracle Gro liquid, opened – 2-5 years.  Liquid water-soluble – indefinite
  • Motor Oil, unopened – 2-5 years.  Opened – 3 months

Miscellaneous

  • Replace pillows every year, 2 years if you use a pillow protector
  • A good mattress lasts 9 – 10 years. Replace if you don’t sleep well or wake up with a sore back.
  • Smoke alarm – change after 10 years. 20% of US homes have smoke alarms that don’t work.  Test monthly and replace batteries yearly.

In Conclusion

Expiration doesn’t necessarily mean the product will turn putrid or ineffective once the date passes.

Food colour or flavour may be affected but the product is still generally safe to consume.

Using detergents past their prime may not get your clothes as clean as a fresh package.

Related: Why today’s appliances look good, but don’t last

These dates are rough, conservative guidelines and depend largely on how you store the items.  Most need dry, stable temperatures.  Liquids will usually degrade faster than solid products and unopened products still in their vacuum-sealed packaging will last longer.

To keep track try writing the date of purchase on the label with a Sharpie before storing.

When you’re doing your spring-cleaning, pitch out any suspicious products.  It’s always best to discard any product that has separated, clumped or has a funny smell, or if your health and safety depend on it’s freshness.

What’s lurking in your cabinets?


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