Clean Sweep for Safety: Getting rid of expired food, products and medications

BHC expired safety tips main.jpgThrowing things away can feel wasteful, but when products are expired or out of date, it can be a matter of safety.

Seniors may be reluctant to throw things away that they believe still good, regardless of what the expiration date may say. Prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, pantry items and frozen foods are common culprits when it comes to things that linger too long in seniors' homes.

It's essential to do a sweep at least once a year to get rid of expired items. Make a note of things that need to be thrown out in the near future so you can stay on top of the process.

Dangers of expired medications

Expired medications and medical products are possibly harmful to your loved one's health. Check the expiration date on your prescription and over-the-counter medications. You will find an expiration date printed on the label or stamped onto the bottle or carton, sometimes following "EXP."

If the medicine has expired, it may no longer be effective, or worse, could be dangerous.

As medications age, they can have a change in chemical composition or a decrease in strength. Some medications are vulnerable to dangerous bacterial growth. Using out-of-date antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance and more severe infections.

Proper storage is one way to help make sure your medicines will remain safe and effective up to their expiration date. Be sure to read the label to see if there are specific storage instructions for your medication. Some medications should be refrigerated. In most cases, a bathroom medicine cabinet is too warm and damp for proper medication storage. A dark, cool cabinet away from heat and humidity is the best option for medications that do not require refrigeration.

If you need to throw away medications, read instructions for disposal. Check the medicine label for instructions on how to safely get rid of expired or unused medicines. A sure way to safely dispose of prescription drugs is to take them to a DEA-authorized collection site. You can find drop-off locations on the DEA website.

Household cleaning products

Dish soap, glass cleaner, all-purpose cleaner and bleach all have expiration dates that may be as short as a few months up of a couple years. If you pull out a bottle of furniture polish, for example, and the label gives you a childhood flashback, it's time to let it go. Household supplies that are past their date may undergo chemical changes that affect the effectiveness, the smell, or even the safety of the products.


Once opened, exposure to air, light and bacteria begin to break down products and make them less effective. Bacterial growth can also be hazardous to a senior's health. Even unopened products can change consistency, color, scent and safety over time.

Many cosmetic items expire after three months. Some things, if unopened, can last up to three years, including mouthwash, soap and deodorant. Throw away anything more than three years old.

Food safety

Make sure your senior loved one has a well-stocked supply of healthy foods.

The "sell by" date indicates that a product should not be sold after that date if the buyer is to have it at its best quality.

A "use by" or "best by" date indicates how long a product will be at its best quality. They are quality dates only, not safety dates.

  • Clean out the freezer and toss anything past its date, things that have freezer burn or items that are not in sealed packaging.
  • In the refrigerator, pay special attention to the condiments. Salad dressings, sandwich spreads, even ketchup may expire before seniors get through an entire jar or bottle.
  • Go through the pantry or cabinets and toss anything past its “good by” date. Move items that are going to expire first to the front of the shelf.
  • Help your senior loved one create a shopping list and menu that will minimize waste and reduce the temptation to use over-stocked products that are past their prime.


It's essential for seniors to protect their skin with sunscreen. But, it doesn’t do any good to use products that have been lingering on a bathroom shelf for several years. Sunscreen has a limited useful life. Most sunscreens are only effective for three years. If your sunscreen doesn't have an expiration date printed on the bottle, look at the manufacturer date or write the purchase date on each new bottle — the chemicals in expired sunscreen breakdown over time, which reduces potency and SPF rates.

Getting rid of expired items will keep your senior safer and healthier in their home. Belvedere home care can help with light housekeeping and make sure your senior loved one is taking the correct medications on schedule. Our caregivers can also prepare healthy meals and help seniors stick to prescribed diets.

For more information about Belvedere home health care, contact us at (518) 694-9400, Option 4, or