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The Truth About Food and Drug Expiration Dates July 25, 2012

Posted by federalist in Government Regulation, Healthcare, Markets.
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The FDA colludes with food and drug manufacturers to maintain a twisted myth about food and drug longevity. For example, here’s an FDA “Consumer Update” in which a pharmacist emphatically warns people not to use drugs after their expiration dates.

But how are expiration dates set, and what happens when drugs “expire”? A great article by Laurie Cohen in the 2000-03-29 WSJ investigated these questions. Key discoveries:

  1. Manufacturers can set expirations as short as they want.  It appears that they mostly choose dates to optimize the turnover of inventory.  I.e., they don’t want their products sitting in stores or medicine cabinets for 10 years, even if they’re good for that long.  They’d rather stamp a date a year or two out, forcing retailers and encouraging consumers to buy “fresh” replacements.
  2. Pharmacies typically mark dispensed drugs with a 1-year date of expiration, without regard to the expiration date of their supply.
  3. Military tests have determined that most drugs are safe and potent for years after their marked expiration dates.
  4. Storage conditions have a dramatic effect on food and drug longevity.  In general, the lower the exposure to heat, moisture, oxygen, and light, the longer they last.
  5. Most drugs begin to “decay” from the moment they are manufactured.  The risk of consuming old drugs is not that they will be dangerous, but rather that they will be less effective than fresh drugs.  E.g., an old 100mg pill might be only as therapeutic as 90mg of  a new pill.

For a lot of drugs “reduced potency” is not a reason to discard them.  Perhaps the most outrageous piece of this conspiracy:

[P]oor countries — under urging from the World Health Organization — often reject drug-company donations of much-needed medicines if they are within a year of their expiration dates.

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