The Truth About Expiration Dates

by Joe Alton, M.D., aka Dr. Bones of

Expiration Dates and Preparedness

Hey Preppers,

medicinesAs a physician, I get a lot of questions about expiration dates on medications, and whether medications should be thrown out once they hit that date. In the preparedness community, most of us accumulate medicines for use in an uncertain future. Part of that uncertainty is not knowing when or if our society will finally enter a full-blown collapse. Even government agencies wonder if all the medical supplies they’ve stockpiled will still be effective years after expiration. So, let’s discuss what an expiration date really means.

Expiration dates have been mandated for medications since 1979. The expiration date is the last date that the pharmaceutical company will guarantee that the drug is at 100% full potency. Except in very rare cases, there is no evidence that suggests that there is anything harmful about that medication if used after that date. In other words, 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 completely effective for their intended use, including some that were 10 years beyond their expiration date. In the most recent swine flu epidemic a couple of years back, the SLEP granted an official use authorization for a popular anti-viral drug, Tamiflu, that extendrf its use to 5 full years after its expiration date. The other medicines, however, 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. My guess is the pharmaceutical industry might have had a hand in this; they prefer that people throw away their medications the day after the expiration date, so they can buy “”fresh” merchandise. Despite this, you can obtain a back copy of The Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Vol. 95, No. 7, July 2006, where you will find a summary of the SLEP data.

Medical Preparedness: Keep Your Capsules and Tablets

Therefore, 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. 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 unless there is no other choice. On the other hand, tablets or capsules will be effective when we no longer have the ability to mass-produce these medicines, even if they lose some potency over time.

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.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

Are you prepared to deal with medical issues in disaster situations where help is NOT on the way? With the Doom and Bloom(tm) Survival Medicine Handbook, you will be!

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  1. I can verify your statements in a small way. Had a large bottle of Ibuprofen which expired in 2006 and I used the last pill in mid 2013. Did not notice any loss in potency and they took care of my aches/pains and headaches just fine.

  2. I look at these dates as guide lines, if the item is stored well(cool dry,dark place) it should be fine, use some common(OK not so common) sense, if the pills for example, look like the are not compromised, their color, form, and surface appear as good as ‘new” pills, then for the most part they should be OK. The problem that created this dating in the first place was unthinking folks who stored opened pills in bathrooms, subject to high humidity, and poor ventilation, and huge shifts in temperature.

  3. wonderprepper says:

    i read this article somewhere yesterday and enjoyed it. they linked it up to the nurse video. i didnt have enough time to write the websites down. it flashed to quickly on the video. but i thank you for the info.

  4. Hunker-Down says:

    Big pharma isn’t going to like this. They held a test of military medicines shelf life in secret for decades. They wouldn’t do the testing until the military agreed to the secrecy. It saved the military millions of dollars (but not us).

    NOT NOT We are supposed to flush all meds down the toilet the day after the printed expiration date so we have to buy more ASAP!!! (Sarcasm off). [Grammar geeks, don’t get in the way of our communicating].

    Thank you SO MUCH Dr. Bones for researching this and distributing it to us EVEN THOUGH IT WILL HURT YOUR MED. SALES. You are a rarity in the business world.

  5. I love this post! What my husband and I do anytime we are sick, we go to our local walk in clinic, where you are basically guaranteed a steroid shot and an antibiotic shot, then you are handed a prescription for more antibiotics and steroids along with the occasional expectorant or some other drug. Usually 9 times out of 10, the two shots in the bum do the trick to knock out our cold. BUT we get the prescriptions filled anyway, come home and toss them in with our stored medication. I also keep the printed information that the pharmacist puts in the bag with the medicine. We also write on the bag what our symptoms were, what the doctor diagnosed us with etc. for future reference. Also, we ordered the DOOM and BLOOM survival handbook and if you do not have it, you NEED to order it! It has an amazing amount of great information from Amputation to Poison Oak, that book covers it!

    • Melissa,
      I agree with you, everyone should have a copy of Survival Medicine Guide. I keep a highlighter with me when I read it and also jot down supplies for ‘first-aid’ kit. I’m a nurse and am very confident w/my skills.
      This book should be part of everyone’s preps.

      • Thanks R-Me!! That Handbook is amazing! My Hubs and I only have basic First Aid/ First Responder Certifications…but the Doom and Gloom Handbook has brought us to a whole new level of confidence AND taught us what we need to buy/store for the future!!

    • You go to a clinic for a cold?? Tell me you are kidding.
      NOTHING can help a cold but bed rest.
      Get you some Elderberry and save your self a fortune.
      You must be insured??

      You do NOT know the definition of ‘sick’. Geeze, people, what will you do if a real SHTF happens??

      • Wow JayJay. Yes we go to the clinic for colds. It is a rare occasion, maybe twice a year, but we do. We do know what really being sick means and I do not appreciate your blatant assumption that we do not. I am a two time cancer survivor thank you very much. However, my husband and I run our oilfield business and put in 50-60 hours a week at work. While rest sounds splendid and the stuff of dreams during an Oil Boom..we don’t get paid to rest. Turmeric and ginger root teas work as well for curing a cold. But I do know this one thing for sure, our medical preps are second to none. And thanks to our awesome insurance that we provide FOR FREE to our employees, we go to the clinic!!!

  6. Hey Doc, I thought there were a few notable and important (as in dangerous) exceptions related to x-cycline drugs. I barely know what I’m talking about, but as I remember it… that drug family expires quite fast and can actually hurt users. Right?

  7. illuminoughtu says:

    The research article that Dr Bones referred to in his article above is titled:
    Stability Profiles of Drug Products Extended beyond Labeled Expiration Dates
    and is available online at:

  8. planosteve says:

    Here is the link to the document. Hope this helps and thank you for the info.

  9. S'wt Tater says:

    Dr, The days of resistant bacteria are here…now. How will you treat bacteria that is resistant to all antibiotics for your family?

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