We do not in any way, shape or form want to tell you not to take or use the medications or ointments in your cabinet, even if they are a year or two old. Just make certain you read the label(s) and if at all possible replace them with something fresher.
How to Correctly Store Medication
Most people will throw food out once it passes its ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date, as it is no longer guaranteed to be safe to consume. The same thing ultimately applies to medicine. Once beyond the expiration date, manufacturers cannot be held legally responsible for any damage the medicine does to you and can no longer guarantee the medicine will actually do what it is supposed to do.
So should you throw medicine out as soon as it reaches its expiration date?
The answer is somewhat complicated but – not necessarily.
Research carried out by the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency has suggested that most over-the-counter medication, including medicine bought from an online pharmacy, actually remains stable for several years after reaching its expiration date, assuming correct storage procedures have been followed.
Correct storage typically requires the medicine to be kept somewhere dry, away from extreme temperatures and below 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit). A cabinet, cupboard or medicine box is ideal for this purpose.
Medicine should also be stored in its original packaging and should remain sealed prior to use. Tablets that are packaged in blister packs are still classified as sealed even if the outer packaging has been opened. However, medicine that is packaged in a bottle, which has been opened, should be used before reaching the expiration date, as the medicine will have been exposed to oxygen within the air, leaving it prone to microbial contamination.
Salves are normally labeled with an expiration date at the end of the tube.
Generally, even years after the expiration date, most medicines will be safe to consume. Their effectiveness, on the other hand, cannot be so easily guaranteed. So, for instance, if you have a headache and you find acetaminophen tablets that are a year past their expiration date, it is safe to take them and they will most likely help, however, they may be less effective than acetaminophen would usually be in this situation.
And, just a reminder, you should never compensate for the loss of medication effectiveness by taking more of an outdated medication. This is especially true when it comes to children's prescriptions. If you are concerned or remain confused please check with your doctor or a pharmacist.
For more information on this topic please check out Common Sense Homesteading. This website has a wonderful overview of drug storage and the way to do it right.