I began the process of reorganizing my first aid cabinet yesterday, taking care to check the expiration dates on the medications I have stored. I do wish someone would write the definitive guide to those pesky dates. I am fairly confident when it comes to food but much less so when it comes to pills and tinctures.

I tossed all of the opened bottles of children’s Tylenol and Motrin that were more than 1 year out of date. The problem with them is that my kids are very rarely ill. Phoebe had the flu during the outbreak but, before that, it had been years since she had a fever. Karen got the tummy rumbles a few months ago but generally has the constitution of a goat. So I will open a bottle of Tylenol, use it once or twice, then put it away where it sits until I start to worry about the date, then gets tossed. I have smartened up about restocking. I get the small bottles of most things, even though the cost per dose is higher. Nothing is cheap if it goes in the landfill.

But about pills. What I need are the skills of a good pharmacist. I just threw out the vicodin and Oxycontin that I got when I broke my hip four years ago. I have no idea if they were still good or not but who wants to take the chance. The same is true with antibiotics. I have several bottles of sulpha but no clue about how long it’s good for. And what about inhalers? The labels all indicate that you should discard after one year but I suspect that is a legal rather than chemical date. The same is true for salves and ointments. I have a copy of Rosemary Gladstar’s book on herbal remedies and a box full of seeds for medicinal herbs. I really need to learn more about their uses. Then expiration dates are not a problem.

As most of us are doing a spring cleaning of the food we put up last fall, we are thinking about our food rotation. There is not a problem with the food I put up myself. I am working hard to get in the groove of putting up a one year supply of the things I count on like tomato and apple sauces, pickles and jams, fruits and compotes, relishes and vegetables. The difficulty is with commercial products. I do store some things like canned vegetables but I would have to be in dire straights to eat a canned pea. So how long will  canned pes last? Until the can rusts out is my guess, even though the label gives a date a year or so in the future. Sometimes I wish I had spent the money and bought the number 10 cans of freeze-dried produce and not bothered with the cases of canned. At least I would have been sure of the quality. Another case of penny wise and pound foolish I’m afraid.

I had been told that shortening would last forever and that it was the one fat that you could count on so in my “before pig” days I bought six cans of the loathsome stuff. I never used it and now I hear that it not only doesn’t last indefinitely, it actually goes rancid pretty quickly. What does one do with six cans of something that is dreadfully unhealthy, you don’t use in any case and is probably bad to boot? You throw it out of course but it is not easy for me. I know some people would give it to the pigs but I can’t see myself doing that. I shudder to think of the money I’ve wasted as I learned about food storage. It was expensive experience for sure.