By March 7, 2012 Read More →

The Truth About Expiration Dates

Hey Preppers,

I get a lot of questions about expiration dates on medications and whether medications should be thrown out once they hit that date. Those of us in the preparedness community accumulate medicines for use in an uncertain future. Part of the uncertainty is if and when a collapse situation will descend on our society. Even government agencies wonder if their medical supplies will still be effective; it’s time to clear the air about what an expiration date really means.

Expiration dates have been mandated for medications since 1979. This is what they mean: The expiration date is the last date that the pharmaceutical company will guarantee that the drug is at 100% full potency. There is nothing, except in very rare cases, that suggests that there is anything harmful about that medication if used after that date. They don’t magically become poisonous or cause you to grow a third eye in the middle of your forehead. Now that you know that, the question is whether the drug loses its beneficial effects and how fast it does so.

FEMA and the Department of Defense are government agencies that stockpile huge stores of medications for use in the event of a major emergency, such as a natural disaster or national emergency. FEMA has seen massive stores of medication expire, and so a study was commissioned to find out how effective these expired medications still were. This study is known as the Shelf Life Extension Program (SLEP). This program has evaluated at least 100 medications that were expired for at least 2 to 10 years at the time they were evaluated. This includes many commonly used antibiotics and other medications that could mean the difference between life and death in a collapse situation.

After extensive study, the vast majority of these medications were found to be effective for their intended use, including some that were 10 years beyond their expiration date. In the most recent flu epidemic a couple of years back, the SLEP granted an official use authorization for a popular anti-viral drug, Tamiflu, that extends its use to 5 full years after its expiration date. The other medicines have not had official use authorizations announced, even though this information would be useful to millions of people. I first wrote about this in my article on survivalblog (7/28/10) called “A Doctor’s Thoughts on Antibiotics, Expiration Dates and TEOTWAWKI”. Since that time, I have found that I can no longer access the results of the study, as it now takes special access to get to the information in it. Could it be that big Pharma doesn’t want this information available to the average person? Make you own conclusion.

Despite this, I put forth to you this recommendation: Do not throw away medications that are in pill or capsule form after their expiration dates if you are stockpiling for a collapse. Even if a small amount of potency is lost after time, they will be of use when we no longer have the ability to mass-produce these medicines. I’m aware that this is against the conventional medical wisdom, but we may find ourselves in a situation one day where something is better than nothing. Also, research natural remedies that may have antibacterial action, such as garlic and honey. Remember that drugs will retain their effectiveness best if stored in a cool, dry, dark location.

Liquid medications are different, such as insulin or liquid pediatric antibiotics; their formulation causes them to degrade too quickly. A sign of this is a change in the color of the liquid, among other things. Try not to accumulate drugs in liquid form, if at all possible.

Planning ahead, we all must consider all alternatives in the effort to stay healthy in hard times. Don’t ignore any option that can help you achieve that goal.

Dr. Bones


Posted in: Expert Panel

About the Author:

Joe and Amy Alton are the authors of the #1 Amazon Bestseller "The Survival Medicine Handbook". See their articles in Backwoods Home, Survivalist, Self Reliance Illustrated, and Survival Quarterly magazines, and at their website at Twitter: @preppershow Facebook: drbonesand nurseamy Doom and Bloom Hour Podcast:

14 Comments on "The Truth About Expiration Dates"

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  1. ZombieFreakk says:

    And good websites about home remedies?

    • has many different home remedies and guides.
      Every Prepper needs to be their own doctor and should have essential oils on hand. These are often overlooked for other choices such as colloidal silver, etc.. Which can be ineffective on their own. You need to have many different weapons in your health arsenal.
      For instance Bella Mira Oregano Oil is inexpensive, has no expiration date, and gets stronger with time. It has been proven in the laboratory to kill every known pathogen. Many other blends can keep you and your pets from incest bites, stop mice and spiders etc..
      Use this code:promo10% for 10% of your order.. They have free shipping at $150.00..
      The nice thing is the small size and value of the bottles. You can easily have one in your car, bug out bag, hidouts, etc..

  2. Debbie says:

    I believe this may be the journal article you mentioned but I was only able to find the abstract as I am in the graduate program but my school apparently does not have a subscription to the Journal of Pharmaceutical Science. Thanks for your position on this critical issue.

    J Pharm Sci. 2006 Jul;95(7):1549-60.
    Stability profiles of drug products extended beyond labeled expiration dates.
    Lyon RC, Taylor JS, Porter DA, Prasanna HR, Hussain AS.
    Division of Product Quality Research, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, Food and Drug Administration, HFD-941, White Oak, Life Sciences Building 64, 10903 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland 20993-0002, USA.


    The American Medical Association has questioned whether expiration dating markedly underestimates the actual shelf life of drug products. Results from the shelf life extension program (SLEP) have been evaluated to provide extensive data to address this issue. The SLEP has been administered by the Food and Drug Administration for the United States Department of Defense (DOD) for 20 years. This program probably contains the most extensive source of pharmaceutical stability data extant. This report summarizes extended stability profiles for 122 different drug products (3,005 different lots). The drug products were categorized into five groups based on incidence of initial extension failures and termination failures (extended lot eventually failed upon re-testing). Based on testing and stability assessment, 88% of the lots were extended at least 1 year beyond their original expiration date for an average extension of 66 months, but the additional stability period was highly variable. The SLEP data supports the assertion that many drug products, if properly stored, can be extended past the expiration date. Due to the lot-to-lot variability, the stability and quality of extended drug products can only be assured by periodic testing and systematic evaluation of each lot.

    [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  3. kelley says:

    I’ve been a piil hoarder for twenty plus years have taken and lived lol taking medications (pill/capsule) 5 to 10 years past their date and they worked. When I was over seas on the Dark continent the drug manufactors dump drugs etc on the market that are 5 plus years out of date

  4. Jake says:

    One thing you really want to avoid after expiration is Pepto Bismol and anything with bismuth in it. Bismuth has a relatively short half life and decays into lead. One liquid I researched that was safe after expiration was iodine for topical use.

    • DirckB says:

      Nonsense.  Bismuth-209, the isotope occurring in nature, has a half life greater than 10¹⁹ years, which is more than a billion times the age of the universe.  You are right about iodine, though.

  5. eeep says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I have epilepsy following a (resected/considered “cured”) brain tumor, and while I do keep an additional supply of Keppra, I have wondered how long pills *might* be viable if I was forced to taper and/or ration them due to a protracted emergency. (They’re made in India….and I’m not sure if any anticonvulsants are made in the USA? Something to check next.)

    I have also read a bit about natural remedies, but regardless would prefer to keep something on hand in case I ever had or witnessed a serious episode–i.e. “status”– during an interruption/emergency.

  6. ArtD says:

    I have a daughter that has Type 1 Diabetes. In the artical it spoke of liquid medications. What should we do for insulin. Very concerned!

    • PamRN says:

      Insulin is good until the expiration date as long as it is refrigerated. If not refrigerated then 30 days. Keep in mind ALL of the studies on the effectiveness of unrefrigerated insulin are done by the manufacturer and they are in the business of selling as much product as possible.

    • nobody says:

      dont take my word for it and do your own reasearch but i THINK you can buy insulin at farm and vet stores just do some reasearch first!

  7. SGT G says:

    My wife is B-12 deficient, and relies on liquid insulin medication to help manage. The piece of writing talked about the volatilities of amassing said medication, what should we do?

  8. Dianna says:

    Does the information in this article also pertain to mediciations for heart issues? I.E. Blood pressure, AFIB, VFIB etc.

  9. Thanks for sharing that real helpful information. Like ArtD, I, too, am curious about alternatives to degraded insulin.

  10. Susan Munroe says:

    There is another way to acquire at least a small stockpile of prescription drugs.

    Most people who get prescription drugs can only get a one-month supply, but that is ONLY BECAUSE YOUR INSURANCE COMPANY WANTS IT THAT WAY.

    The next time you’re in to see your doctor, tell him/her what you’re aiming for: an extra month or two of your meds in case of a local disaster (hurricane, earthquake, ice storm, firestorm, etc). Your doctor can write you an extra prescription, but you have to pay for it yourself. That’s the only difference: you have to pay for it yourself, your insurance company is not involved.

    If your med is horrendously expensive, ask if there is something similar that would do as well. Doctors are very subject to new-med-itis, and sometimes you do have to politely remind them that there ARE other meds out there that are just as good. And if it isn’t quite as good, it would probably be better to have an 85%-effective med in a pinch rather than no med at all.

    Then, once you get these prescriptions, rotate them in with your normal supply, don’t just park them in a bag or on a shelf. That way, you always have extra, and it’s always fresh. Just remember to renew your usual prescription every month — mark your calendar.

    Unless your med has some kind of high-danger level, your doctor should have no problem with helping you with this. If he/she won’t, find another doctor — they’re not all smart and caring, you know.

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