Safe stowaways: What and when to stockpile

Safe stowaways: What and when to stockpile

Dear Jill,

Coupon TV programs usually show the stashes extreme couponers have in their homes. But what is the shelf life for these products?

We're not extreme couponers, but right now we have about 50 bottles of hand soap, 18 bottles of laundry detergent and even more stored away in our home.

Is it OK to do this, or will this stuff go bad? — Dick S.

Dear Dick,

Many stockpilers have this dilemma. We stock up during a sale, wonder how much of everything to keep on hand and then wonder how long our stuff will last.

Obviously, any item with a printed date code has a lifespan. But dates, particularly on food products, aren't always "Do not use after this date" codes. Some dates are "Best before" or "Better if used by" codes. If you still have a product in your cupboard past its "Best before" date, it's usually fine to consume.

That said, when I buy groceries that may sit in my stockpile for a while, I always look for products that won't expire quickly. That way, I can keep the products in storage longer than I could keep a similar item with a shorter lifespan.

Typically, I don't stock up beyond a three-month supply of food. I don't want my stockpile to creep out of its designated space in the laundry room! But if a product has a particularly long shelf life, as many canned foods do, then I may purchase beyond the three-month mark.

A good website to keep in mind is stilltasty.com. This website compiles food safety information from many sources, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and food manufacturers.

Want to know if something is, well, still tasty? Just enter the name of the product, and the website lets you know whether it is safe to consume after its expiration date. It even lists how far beyond the date you can safely enjoy the product.

But you asked about nonfood items, such as liquid hand soap and laundry detergent. I'm not sure these products expire at all.

But if you plan on storing them for a long time, remember to tighten the caps to prevent the liquid inside from evaporating, even minimally. I have used both of these products several years after their purchase dates with no issues.

I have a story for you that relates to stockpiling: A popular brand of liquid hand soap came out with a new style of bottle about three years ago.

During this time, the pumps were free with a coupon deal I used often, so I accumulated a large supply. Just last month, I realized I was down to the last three pump soaps in my stockpile, so I started looking for more deals like the one I used before.

But none of my stores carry this kind of pump soap anymore. I assume that it was discontinued. If you stock up long term, sometimes the products in your stockpile can outlive the products in the store!

For items such as bar soap or powdered laundry detergent, the sky is pretty much the limit for long-term storage, as long as you keep the items in a cool and dry place.

Ditto for any paper products — paper towels, toilet paper and facial tissue are all items I'll do larger-than-average stock-ups on if the price is right.

Jill Cataldo, a coupon workshop instructor, writer and mother of three, never passes up a good deal. Learn more about couponing at her website, http://www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.

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