Expiration dates: What do they really mean?

JACKSON, Tenn. — We see them every day on our food and medicine — expiration dates. But do we really know the meaning behind them?

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-5-35-44-pm“The expiration date is the label that’s been put on a prescription bottle or a standard stock medicine bottle by the drug manufacturer that it’s the final date of safety and full potency,” Community Pharmacist Brooke McMaster said.

McMaster said most medicines won’t be as effective the longer you keep it — and others can be potentially dangerous.

“Antibiotics are harmful after an expiration date,” McMaster said. “They’re the ones to look for the most, and that would be the one that if you needed to take in a dire situation, please call your pharmacist and ask.”

Experts said it’s best to check the items in your medicine cabinet at the first of the year, and if it’s past the expiration date, then you have a couple options to get rid of them.”

You can wait for drug take-back days in your area or drop off medications at your local sheriff’s department.

“And last thing we want, the least medication being poured down the sink and down our toilets, because that gets into our water system, affects our wildlife and in return affects us,” McMaster said.

If you’re grocery shopping, what about the dates on food items?screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-5-36-06-pm

“Those are just dates that the product is at its freshest quality,” registered dietitian Chrystal Hayes said.

Hayes shared some good news. When it comes to food, just because something is expired does not mean it’s dangerous. You more so want to watch out for spoilage, and that can be a change in smell, color or taste.

“You want to refrigerate any perishable items,” Hayes said. “Your meats, anything that requires refrigeration, you want to do that immediately as soon as you get home.”

If there’s one thing you don’t want to eat after the expiration date, it’s your lunch meats.

“Lunch meats tend to spoil, and they have the ability to grow bacteria that can be harmful such as listeria,” Hayes said.

Sometimes it’s about how well you take care of your groceries once you get them home.

“Just have to watch where you put it and what you do with it to make sure that it doesn’t spoil,” Hayes said.

The only thing required by law to have an expiration date on it is baby formula. “And that’s because those nutrients break down after that can has been opened,” Hayes said.

Typically, a can of baby formula can only last 30 days before you need to discard it. Experts say to remember that once you open a container or package, the freshness decreases.