There’s not necessarily anything scientific or magical about the dates printed on medications

Those expiration dates stamped on everything from a gallon of milk to a bottle of acetaminophen don’t mean what you probably think. Food doesn’t suddenly become unsafe and medicine doesn’t magically lose its potency at noon on a certain preordained day.

But that doesn’t stop hospitals, nursing homes, businesses and households—just about every institution—from wasting billions of dollars every year by throwing out food and drugs that might still be good.

See, it’s more subtle than being OK one day and not OK the next. Expiration dates represent the latest date when the manufacturer guarantees a drug’s safety and full potency. While the...

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