Preparing for a long-term disaster is part of critical thinking. Should such an event occur, it will be important to stay as healthy as possible. There is a good possibility that many will not be eating a balanced diet and will consequently suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies. The medical community may not be available to provide prescription drugs, so folks will want to have some over-the-counter items like pain relievers on hand as well.
The questions arise, “how long can we store them?” and “what about expiration dates?”
Medicines and most vitamins (though not required by FDA) have an expiration or discard after date imprinted on the bottle containing them. This date means that the manufacturer will not guarantee the full effectiveness of the product beyond that date. Most over-the-counter pain relievers have a shelf life of four to five years and vitamins two years, depending on the storage conditions.
Do not store meds. in the bathroom because humidity hastens breakdown. Same for the kitchen. It has moisture and heat. Vitamins B and C are more susceptible to these conditions. The best place is one that is high (out of children’s reach), dry and dark. Some vitamins should be stored in the refrigerator if they contain oil that will go rancid, like fish oil. Supplements like probiotics also keep better refrigerated. For the majority of meds and vitamins, the pantry or linen closet will work. For long term storage, keep them sealed and stored in an air tight container. Sealing them in mylar or Food Saver bags will remove the oxygen and moisture. Preparedness Mama suggests storing them in the freezer to extend vitamin life.
Even though there have been no documented cases of people getting sick from taking expired vitamins, why take the chance? If they have changed color or smell rancid, get rid of them. If they’re moldy, they could be dangerous.
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. 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.
There are some exceptions to using old medications. Insulin, eye drops and antibiotics, especially liquid ones should never be used beyond their expiration dates.
What to do with expired medicine and vitamins? Don’t just flush them down the toilet. They can end up in ground water or municipal drinking water. Mix the old vitamins or meds. with coffee grounds or cat litter (something disagreeable) and place them in a plastic bag. Dispose of the bag in your outdoor trash bin, close to the time for pick up.
When it’s time to replace vitamins, make sure you choose a quality product. Look for terms like “whole food multi-vitamin” or “ingredients derived from whole foods.” This will assure that you are not getting synthetic ones.
Billie Nicholson, Editor