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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Expiration Dates*


*But were afraid to ask.

Eggs are good for up to 5 weeks past the date stamped on the carton. Canned foods last forever. (So if you want to donate that year-old tuna to the local food pantry, don't feel guilty about it.) Dairy products are good for at least a week past their stamped date, if they stay refrigerated.

Meats are another story. Anything perpetually frozen remains safe, but who knows how good it will taste?

Here's a quick checklist of other products:

1. Beer:
It's a taste thing. According to Consumerist, many bottles of beer are imprinted with a coded expiration date that -- since it looks like hieroglyphics to the average consumer -- will make it hard to steer clear of the stale stuff. The code works like so: "Letters from A-M represent the month of the year. The next 4 digits are the day and year the beer was first brewed, and the last 2 letters are the state code where it was brewed."

So that bottle of Sam Adams (SAM) that says A0699MA? You might want to avoid it.

2. Soda:
Bottlers play the sell-by game -- soda doesn't go bad, it just starts to taste bad. The same goes for tobacco.

3. Condoms: Short answer: Don't play with fire. Condoms lose their elasticity as they age, and are therefore much more likely to break.

4. Prescription Drugs:
It's not completely cut and dried, but, according to the folks at Harvard Medical School, "the expiration date doesn't really indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use... [In fact,] much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date. Placing a medication in a cool place, such as a refrigerator, will help a drug remain potent for many years."

Harvard. What do they know?

5. Batteries, disposable cameras:
Anyone who's tried to use a flashlight that's been in storage for a year or 2 knows firsthand that batteries dry up and stop working. The same goes for that camera you left in the glove-box "just in case."

6. Vitamins:
Best to pay attention. They tend to remain stable for 4 or 5 years, according to the FDA -- but variables such as packaging, storage temperature, and capsule composition can affect their stability. Determine on a case-by-case basis.

I could go on forever. Here's a laundry list compiled by the folks at Real Simple.

Happy tossing!

What's the oldest product in your home? What's your policy for using things after their sell-by date? Weigh in on The Exchange.
No positions in stocks mentioned.
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