We've all been there: You sniff, shake, and poke a cosmetic or kitchen product, wondering if it's still safe to use. You think you bought it ages ago, but it smells, looks, and feels perfectly fine. All those crazy old wives' tales of when you're supposed to throw away certain things run through your head, but you can't remember which apply and whether they're actually true. If there's not an expiration date printed on the product, how in the world can you know if a thing is past its prime?
Of course, you should never take chances with anything you put in or on your body, but it's a shame to waste something that's still safe and effective. So we did some digging to understand the hard-and-fast rules of the shelf lives of five common household items. Let's put these myths to rest once and for all.
A lot of people think that a tube of mascara that has been opened can be safely used until it dries up or becomes clumpy. This is false. Regardless of how it looks or feels, the older mascara gets, the more likely germs are growing in it. And every time you pull out and put back the wand, you're pushing germy air right into the tube. Throw it out after three months, every time.
It's a common misconception that butter doesn't expire for more than a year. It actually lasts one to three months in your refrigerator. Even though it seems like butter lasts forever if you keep it cold, it does start to turn after a month or two. It might look and smell OK, but its composition is deteriorating and it's turning rancid. If you're on the fence and it's been there more than two months, toss it. Butter will last six to nine months in your freezer.
There's an old story about honey being found in the tomb of an ancient Egyptian king, as good as new ... and it's actually true. A jar of honey stored at a pretty consistent temperature can last for centuries. There's something about its makeup that prevents mold growth. If it's been in and out of different temperatures, it could darken or crystallize or lose its flavor, but it never technically rots or spoils.
Oregano vs. salt
Every time I move, I think I should toss the jars of oregano, cinnamon, and such in the spice rack, but I end up packing them up, then unpacking them at my new digs, time after time. I thought that dried herbs lasted forever, because they don't seem to go bad, but studies show that after six months, they've lost half their original flavor.
Salt, on the other hand, is in a class by itself. It is known as a chef's (and cowboy's!) best friend because in any temperature, through thick and thin, it can add flavor, cauterize a wound, preserve pretty much any other food, and clean pots and pans! Even if it gets wet, if you evaporate the water, there's your friend salt, same as it ever was.
There's not always an expiration date on a bottle of sunscreen. If you've got a bottle that's not printed with an expiration date, assume it will last for at least three years. The clue to this is the very fact that many sunscreens don't bear expiration dates — the FDA doesn't require it of products that are stable for at least three years and don't have dosage limits.
Dannielle Kyrillos is editor-at-large at DailyCandy.com, the free daily e-mail covering fashion, food and lifestyle.
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