After a recent trip to the dentist, I noticed that the little sample size Colgate dental floss has an expiration date of 01/07/2025. Really? Dental floss?

It turns out that dental floss is pretty sturdy stuff, meant to last long. The floss itself does not go bad, though the string might begin to fray a bit. The wax coating of waxed floss might start to break down. Any flavoring agents can start lessening after a long period.

So that made me wonder about the usefulness of other expiration dates.

Please note: what follows is information I found online—i.e., generally available information, not advice or recommendation.

How About Cleaning Products?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all disinfectants to publish expiration date information for all formulations that change significantly over time.

So, yes, cleaning products can expire. “Like many products purchased at the grocery store, cleaning products can degrade over time,” says Brian Sansoni, senior vice president of communications, outreach & membership at the American Cleaning Institute (ACI). “Even if they contain preservatives, that doesn’t mean they last forever. As they begin to break down, it might affect how well the enzymes work or change the pH, resulting in a less effective product,” Sansoni explains. You might need to scrub longer or harder.

Once it has expired, some of the claims a product makes (such as the percentage of germs it kills on a surface) may no longer be valid.


Surely everyone knows they do. Indeed, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all medications to have an expiration date.

Manufacturers create over-the-counter and prescription medication dosage instructions that reflect the product’s strength, quality, and purity when stored properly. This is indicated by “Expires: [DATE]” or “EXP: [DATE]” on the bottle or packaging. Think aspirin, neosporin, etc.

Beyond the expiration date, the manufacturer cannot guarantee the product will work effectively when taken as directed, and there is no easy way to determine the potency of the expired medication.

Rarely but more seriously, the drug manufacturer cannot ensure that the product will not degrade and produce toxic compounds that could cause harm.

The FDA has recently begun allowing manufacturers to extend specific medication expiration dates for the purposes of national emergency preparedness. However, you generally shouldn’t take expired medications without consulting a state-licensed, board-certified medical professional like a pharmacist or medical doctor.

The FDA has extended printed expiration dates for at-home COVID tests. Before throwing away an expired test, check with a pharmacist to see if it might still be accurate.

What About Skin Care Products?

Unless the product is classified as a drug, as acne treatments and sunscreen products are, you probably won’t find an expiration date on it, said Dr. Bruce Brod, a dermatologist at Penn Medicine. Still, if you can’t remember when you bought, you should probably toss it. Like cleaning products and medications, the effectiveness of active ingredients in these products can start to break down over time.

And Then There Is Food…

Generally speaking, it is safe to buy food on its expiration date. Expiration dates have more to do with the food’s overall quality and texture rather than whether it is safe or not safe to eat. As long as there are no signs of spoilage, you can eat it (though it might not taste as fresh as it once was).

What Foods Can You Not Eat After the Expiration Date?

Bacon and sausage1 to 2
Casseroles2 to 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes12
Frozen dinners and entrees3 to 4
Gravy, meat or poultry2 to 3
Ham, hotdogs, and lunchmeats1 to 2
Meat, uncooked roasts4 to 12
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops4 to 12
Meat, uncooked ground3 to 4
Meat, cooked2 to 3
Poultry, uncooked whole12
Poultry, uncooked parts9
Poultry, uncooked giblets3 to 4
Poultry, cooked4
Soups and stews2 to 3
Wild game, uncooked8 to 12
Recommended Freezer Times

Most shelf-stable foods are safe to eat much longer than their expiration date. But things like milk (and other dairy) should not be consumed past its expiration date unless frozen. One can tell that these foods have gone bad based on their appearance and smell.

Posted by Marianne Gravely, Technical Information Specialist, Food Safety and Inspection Service in Health and Safety: “Food poisoning bacteria does not grow in the freezer, so no matter how long a food is frozen, it is safe to eat. Foods that have been in the freezer for months (recommended freezer times chart) may be dry, or may not taste as good, but they will be safe to eat. Often seasonings and additional ingredients can make up for loss of flavor.

Before you throw out limp lettuce or brown bananas, consider the possibilities! Wilted herbs can infuse oils. Turn mushy fruit into pie or compote. Almost any vegetable past its prime can still make great soup. Leftover milk or cream make great ricotta or milk jam. Recently expired milk can even substitute for buttermilk in baked goods. You can even use expired food as cleaning agents or skin care ingredients!

While not food per se, baking powder and baking soda both have expiration dates that should be heeded—assuming you want your baked goods to turn out right.

Things You Never Knew Had an Expiration Date

They’re meant to keep you safe or to ensure that the product will still work, so don’t blow them off.

  • Infant/child carseats: every one has an expiration date, usually printed on the bottom of the seat. The longevity of a car seat varies by manufacture date and brand. For example, Graco and Britax car seats tend to expire after six to ten years, depending on the type of seat you have.
  • IOSAT (Potassium Iodide) Nuke Pills expire but have a shelf life of around 5-6 years. They are relatively inexpensive and provide assurance for nuclear accidents and attacks. Be sure to check the expiration date of your supplies of this “must have” if you are prepping for a radiation emergency. Ensure you have one packet for everyone in your household.
  • Kevlar clothing items have an expiration date. Yes, bullet proof vests and motorcycle pants have expiration dates, generally five years for Kevlar.
  • Condoms have an expiration date, usually printed on the package. Generally, a condom expires about five years after manufacture if stored under proper conditions—i.e., in a cool, dry place. Condoms with spermicide will last just two years. Heat, light, and humidity will affect condom integrity.
  • Disposable respirators (the majority, anyway) have expiration dates. The respirator mask should not be used after this date.
  • Bottled water has a date stamped on the bottle, though this is sometimes a sell-by or use-by date rather than an expiration date. Water, of course, does not go bad or expire. However, the bottles can start to break down and leak antimony and microplastics into the water when stored at high temperatures or for a long time.

“Sell By” or “Use By”

Then there are “sell by” and “use by” dates:

  • “Sell by” dates:
    • This is information for the store for their own stock rotation to let the stores know how long to display the food. It helps them keep track: out with the old, and in with the new.
  • “Use by” dates
    • Best if used by dates are for the consumer to advise about the texture, color or quality of the food. This totally voluntary information a manufacturer passes along to protect their brand. Generally, you can stretch the date and still enjoy the food.

Bottom Line: Pay attention to expiration dates, especially on products related to one’s health and well-being.


They say inspiration comes from everywhere. Interesting details to add to your writing also come from everywhere. To flavor your work, consider the onion.

(For a laugh, consider the satirical new website The Onion, but I’m actually talking about the plant in this instance.)

Onion Lore

There is a vast array of folklore surrounding onions. Onions are part of nearly every cuisine around the world, so nearly every culture has found uses for onions beyond cooking.

  • If you stick pins into a small onion and keep it on your windowsill, it dispels bad spirits from your home—or so says folklore. (Garlic has been used for the same purpose.)
  • Onions are also thought to ward off snakes and witches.
  • American colonists hung onions outside their doors to deflect evil spirits and keep them from coming inside.
  • If you throw onion peels on the floor, you’ll throw away your luck.
  • In many prehistoric societies, onions were the symbol of eternity, fit only for the gods. Additional symbolism includes protection, memories, jealousy, envy, divine healing, and mood swings.
  • Onions in dreams may represent the layers the dreamer needs to get through to find the source of a problem or issue. Alternatively, the dreamer may need to cleanse something in order to start afresh.
  • Put an onion under your pillow if you wish to dream the identity of your future lover.
  • In Egypt, an onion held in the right hand was a sign of fealty, used to swear allegiance to Cleopatra, and were a farewell offering carved into Tutankhamen’s tomb. They have been found in the pelvic region of mummies, in the thorax, and flattened against the ears. In 1160 BCE, King Ramses IV was entombed with onions in his eye sockets.
  • In other cultures, onions were associated with the devil. In Persia, it was said that when Satan was banished from paradise, onions sprang from the print of his right foot. 
  • Romans believed that eating onions increased the quantity and vitality of sperm. Some Middle Eastern cultures considered onions an aphrodisiac.
  • In England, onions predicted the weather: a thick skin meant a bad winder ahead, a thin skin, a mild one.
  • Schoolboys used to believe that rubbing their bottoms with onion juice would numb them to the sting of disciplinary caning.
  • If you want to make a wish on Friday morning, sprinkle salt and pepper on an onion skin and toss it into the fire while thinking the wish.  Other days or times? Who knows?
  • When undecided about something important, scratch each option on a different onion and store them in the dark. The first one to sprout reveals your best choice. This applies to choosing one’s lover/husband as well!
  • In English-speaking countries, some people believe that putting onions under the bed of a sick person aids recovery. 
  • Stringing onions up around the house, especially at the entrance will guard against illness, accidents, and curses.
  • Put a slice of onion under the doormat to keep away unwanted visitors.
  • If onions sprout in your kitchen, plant them. If they grow, you will come into unexpected money.
  • The cut side of an onion has been used to relieve the effects of insect stings, and to draw poison from the bites of venomous snakes and rabid dogs.
  • Snakes hate the smell of onions, so carry one when you walk in snake territory to ward them off.
  • Get rid of warts by rubbing the edge of an onion on the warts and then throw the onion over your right shoulder without looking back.
  • Onion juice provides extra sulfur which can support strong, thick hair, thus preventing hair loss and promoting hair growth. The sulfur from onions may help collagen production which, in turn, promotes healthy skin.

Onion Medicine

Folk medicine often contains a kernel of truth, and onion medicine is no different. Modern medical researchers study onions’ palliative properties for everything from high blood pressure to cholesterol levels. 

  • Because eating onions causes one to perspire, they’ve been used in folk medicine to cure colds. 
  • Onions are low in calories yet high in nutrients, including vitamin C, B vitamins, and potassium. 
  • Research shows that eating onions help reduce heart disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated triglyceride levels, and inflammation. 
  • Red onions are rich in anthocyanins, which are powerful plant pigments that may protect against heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. 
  • Onion consumption is associated with improved bone mineral density. 
  • Onions are a rich source of prebiotics, which help boost digestive health, improve bacterial balance in your gut, and benefit your immune system. 
  • Onions have been shown to inhibit the growth of potentially harmful bacteria like E. coli and S. aureus
  • Onion juice can cure colds, cough, high fever, and sore throat. (One might want to eat parsley to combat onion-breath!)

Onion Facts

Even without their miraculous fortune-telling powers or magical healing properties, onions are pretty nifty vegetables!

  • Most people cut onions before eating them, often tearfully. Chilling peeled, halved onions in the fridge or in a bowl of ice water for 30 minutes can lessen the onion tear production.
  • FYI: onion tears are chemically different from tears caused by pain or sadness. 
  • No one knows for sure where onions first appeared. Some believe they originated in Central Asia; other say onions were first grown in Iran and West Pakistan. But onions were surely eaten long before they were cultivated, and now they are grown in 135 countries.
  • When Europeans came to the New World, they brought onions with them, only to find that Native Americans were using wild onions for food, in syrups, as poultices,  as an incident in dyes, and as toys!
  • Worldwide, people consume and average of 11 pounds of onions per year, but onion  eating varies widely by geography. Turkey has the highest consumption, with 80.7 pounds per capita per year. In the US, the figure is 18.6 pounds per person per year. 
  • WARNING: all parts of onions (and related plants, like garlic) are toxic to dogs and cats! Raw or cooked, as little as 1/4 cup can make a 20-pound dog sick. 

If that’s not enough onion-y brain fodder, check out the National Onion Association, the Encyclopedia Britannica, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, and the story of The Oldest Onion in Denmark.

I like learning when I read, and I try to include bits of lesser-known information in my stories. For example, gasoline cost ten cents a gallon during the Great Depression, and around the time of the Civil War, the census’s listed the occupation of prostitutes as seamstresses. 

Bottom line: Consider adding a little onion to your writing!