Ask Our Doctors: Expiration Dates Exposed

Expiration Terms

“Sell by” is a guide for the store, to know how long they can display a product for sale. “Best before” or “Best if used by” refers to the quality of the flavor. “Use by” is an expiration date, similar to medication and using it after that date is not recommended. “Use by” is the most important date to keep an eye out for.

Towels, Linens and Mattresses

Did you know your own mattress could expire up to a dozen times throughout your life? Mattresses should be changed every five to seven years. Protect-A-Bed mattress and pillow covers can seal out dust mites, bed bugs and pet dander, extending the life of your mattress. Sheets and towels should be washed once a week.


Sabrina and Huck, who differ on matters of hygiene, were surprised with an entire bedroom makeover, including a Simmons Beauty Rest NXG mattress and furniture supplied by Living Spaces.

Household Products

Kristen worries about expired household products, which her husband, Rick, doesn’t want thrown away. Pediatrician Dr. Jim Sears does a house call to lend a hand.


OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson demonstrates a simple test to see if your eggs are still fresh or should be thrown out.


Most leftovers can last three to five days if refrigerated immediately. If the food sits out for two hours or more, throw it out. If it sits outside for more than an hour, toss it. Dr. Jim recommends marking your leftovers with the date you put them in the refrigerator. Click here for a more extensive list on food expiration dates.


Sunscreen expires after one to three years. If you can’t remember how long you had it, toss it. Are you using enough? E.R. physician Dr. Travis Stork demonstrates sunscreen safety.

Contact Lenses

Can you wear two-week disposable contacts for a month, or will that harm your eyes? Ophthalmologist Dr. Rex Hamilton weighs in on the proper care of contact lenses. Never store contact lenses in water, which can cause an eye infection. Only use eye solution specifically made for contact lenses.


Should you toss your toothbrush after you’ve had a cold? Dentist Dr. Bill Dorfman says no. A virus cannot live on your toothbrush for long, and your body creates antibodies to fight them. Dr. Jim says the one exception is when you have Strep throat. Start with a new toothbrush while you’re on antibiotics for this illness. In general, replace your toothbrush every two to three months or when bristles start to fray. Never share your toothbrush, particularly when you’re sick.

Teeth Cleanings

How often should you get your teeth cleaned? Dr. Dorfman says it depends on your plaque buildup and what your dentist recommends. Some people get more plaque buildup than others, so they should go more often. A photo comparison shows three scenarios and how often they should get a cleaning.


When should you replace your running shoes? Podiatrist Dr. Philip Radovic has the answer to shoe shelf life.


Dr. Radovic recommends getting three pairs of running shoes and rotating their use to make them last longer. You can also get a UV light shoe tree to kill bacteria and sterilize.




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OAD 09/29/09