Monday, August 27, 2012

Products and Expiry dates: All you need to know

How many of us care to check the expiration date on products before buying them? While some like me are quite particular (almost finicky) about these dates, I know a majority of people including many of my own family members, who never care about such things. It just doesn’t come to them naturally. My particularity at times shocks the people around me. Knowing how products are stored and handled in India, I think I am doing the right thing.

Expiry date, shelf life, best before date, use by date difference

The expiration date, shelf life, Use by date, best before dates etc are just a guideline based on expected handling and proper storage of a product. While these are generally taken at face value, please note that these dates DO NOT guarantee the safety/goodness of a product within these time values. A lot depends on how they are stored: temperature, humidity, direct contact with sunlight, re-freezing a melted food product etc etc. A product may go bad much before its expiration date, while another may be quite safe to use even past the mentioned date.

Expiration date and shelf life are used synonymously, but are they the same? The answer is NO. Surprised?


As the name says, shelf life = time spent by a product on the shelf in a shop, until it is bought and opened by the customer. Shelf life is related to the quality of a product. This means, after the shelf life, the product’s quality/effectiveness reduces, though it may still be good/safe to use. Again, this holds true only if the products are stored in the proper storage conditions as mentioned on the packaging for most products (personal care, cosmetics, medicines, food items etc).

Product expiry dates, use by date, shelf life and best before dates
Food Storage Conditions mentioned on the pack
In case of food, the shelf life is specified by the ‘Best Before’ date.  This means, under proper storage conditions, a food item may still be good to use after the ‘Best before’ date, though it’s quality may have come down in terms of taste, nutritional value, color, appearance, texture etc. 

For example, the normal white or brown bread available in the market has a use by date of 4-5 days from the date of packing. Many times, I have seen fungus on just a 2 days old bread. This is because shopkeepers in India mostly display such food items on racks, out in the scorching heat and humidity, which makes the bread ‘sweat’ and go rancid. So in this case, the product is still within the shelf life, but has been spoilt due to poor storage conditions. On the other hand, a fresh bread bought directly from the bakery, or picked up early morning on the day it was just delivered, can survive months if sealed properly in a good plastic bag and frozen. Similarly, eggs stored in the refrigerator can be used even a few days after the best before date, though it’s flavour/nutritional value may have decreased.


Expiration date is related to the product safety. NEVER use products after the expiration date as they are NOT SAFE to be consumed after the expiration date. In terms of food, expiration date is mentioned as ‘Use by’ date. The ingredients of such food items usually go rancid quickly and may be dangerous to eat after the Use by date. 

Food items are usually affected by microorganisms which may lead to food poisoning or more serious conditions if consumed after the expiry date. This is particularly true of bread spreads, cheese, sandwich spreads, dressings etc. 

I have seen people blindly buying big packs of fruit juices especially when they are at some discount in stores like Big Bazaar. Under heat and humidity, the fruit juice ferments easily and the packet swells due to the released gases that stay within the closed container. NEVER buy a fluffed up fruit juice packing as it is hazardous to your health and may cause food poisoning. Fermentation makes it equivalent to the ‘desi’ liquor brewed illegally which kills several hundreds every year. In case of medicines though, most pill forms are safe to be used even after the expiry date, it’s just that their effectiveness reduces.


Make up and personal care items usually have these date guidelines indicated through the picture of an open tub with a number inside it (see the first pic). The number indicates months. This means, once you open the packaging, use the product within those many months. Only a very small percentage of people understand or ever notice this indication. I have seen most people (including beauty specialists at saloons and other people with a very high knowledge of makeup) keep using their makeup items till the expiry date mentioned on them. 

A product may have a shelf life/expiry date of 3 yrs from packing, but once you open it, use it only within the number of months mentioned in the open tub picture. You can go a little beyond this timeline if you store your products as per guidelines, in very good storage conditions. But do not keep using a Kajal or Eyeliners for 3 yrs. Your eyes are more precious than the money you spent on those cosmetics. 

Product expiry dates, use by date, shelf life and best before dates
Open Tub graphic indication of usage period after opening

  1. Never dilute shampoos by directly putting water into the shampoo bottle (a very common practice in India). If you like to use your shampoo diluted, dilute it in a separate mug.
  2. Never take out conditioner from the tub packing with your wet hands.
  3. Keep your makeup items in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight.
  4. Most people carry around eye makeup like Kajal/ liner pencil for touch up during functions and quickly do that with dirty hands. Always wash your hands properly/sanitize before starting to apply makeup, when at home or outside.
  5. Clean the dust off your makeup/toiletry bottles with a clean cloth regularly.
  6. Never leave the lids or covers of makeup/toiletries open unnecessarily.
  7. Avoid touching the tip of eye pencils/Kajals with your hands.
  8. DO NOT share lipsticks, eye makeup, makeup sponges etc.
  9. Once you have opened an item, discard it after you have reached the number of months mentioned in the tub, even if you have used it once or twice. Particularly in case of eye pencils and lipsticks. Lipsticks may still survive longer if stored properly in the fridge.
  10. Always check the date on an item before buying.
  11. Never pour contact lens solution from the bigger bottle into the small sample bottle. Such products may change chemically upon coming in contact with light/air.
  12. In case of food items, always check the storage conditions before buying from a shop/store. Most shop keepers switch off their freezers at night and then switch them on next morning. This adversely affects food items while poor/ignorant customers never suspect this.
I hope this information is helpful and you are welcome to add more information or your valuable comments in the comments section below.


  1. WOAH Gagan!!! Wonderful article and an eye-opener!
    Am ur new follower , do follow my blog and support me :)

    1. Thank you so much Ruby. I visited your blog and liked it too. Couldn't find where to follow. Am not following any other blogs so couldn't figure that out. Thanks for the invitation though. I will keep checking manually :)

  2. Keep it up dear... You are right most of the people don't care about these small but valuable things. Thanks for spreading awareness!!! Hats off to you!

  3. Hi, I am visiting your blog for the first time. I am very particular about expiration dates, packaging, etc. too. Good article!

    1. Thanks René and happy to know there are more aware people out there :) Keep it up and spread the awareness.

  4. Hey Gagan....I hv an award waiting fr u.....Grab it here

    1. Dear Doctor (that's out of pure respect)/ Ruby, thanks so much for the award and I feel honored. This is my second one and I haven't yet completed the task related to the first one. Don't have that much time at disposal. Please give me some time and I will do the post on the award :) Thanks again for the Sunshine Award.

  5. hi..u hav a nice blog. am ur new follower. it wud be great if u visit mine n support me too..:)

  6. great info gurl! thanks alot for sharing!
    do check my blog too!

  7. Nice article! I am also very particular about expiry dates, especially on makeup, food products, medicines.


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