July 9, 2008

Shelf-life Vigilance

Be on high alert for expiration dates. If you were raised like I was you probably still get a bit twitchy when thinking about throwing things out.  It seemed like my parents didn’t believe in throwing anything out.  And I see the same trait in many of the seniors I work with. But for health and safety reasons, there are some items that just have to go.

And, as most moves begin with discarding of unwanted items, purging items with past due  expiry dates is a good first step. Ironically, everyday items we have are often those we often keep for too long.

First and foremost are prescription medications.  Most medical professionals agree that at the very least the effectiveness of the drugs is questionable after the expiration date. In addition, most people don’t store their medications in optimal conditions, so keeping them too long can have a more severe impact.  Remember too, you should dispose of expired drugs at your pharmacy.

Most vitamins also have expiration dates on them that are often around two years after the date of purchase, which should be plenty of time to use them.  The same issues will affect these pills, although some experts suggest definitely tossing them within a year of the expiration date.

Once the medicine cupboard has been purged, move on to the kitchen and pantry. “Fresh” food such as milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables begin to show, and smell old within a few days, and should be disposed of promptly. Dealing with packaged goods, processed foods,  and canned food requires a bit more thought.

If our client is moving to a Retirement Residence, we like to donate these grocery items to our local Food Bank. As a rule-of-thumb: would I purchase this item in a grocery store with the same expiry date? If I can say “yes”, then it goes to the food bank., if not then it goes to trash.

Finally, check the freezer.  Frost build-up and freezer burn are definite signs that it could be unhealthy to consume the frozen product.  Guidelines for keeping frozen food are readily available on the internet, and if the item does not have a “date frozen”, err on the side of caution.

After you’ve tackled these items, it may be easier to go to the next cupboard and toss that hardened shoe polish (when did I have red shoes?), year old mascara, and dried up nail polish.

Cleaning out your cupboards of items past their due dates on a regular basis will quickly give you more shelf space. And, it’ll make it that much easier to pack up when you move.

I’ve just checked my medicine cabinet and I spotted two containers of 2005 vintage pills to drop at the pharmacy.  It feels less cluttered already!

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