Most First Aid kits generally last for about 3 - 5 years but that can change depending on the situation, for example, where you store the kit or how frequently it is used. For this reason you need to be checking the whole kit regularly. It is advised that you check your First Aid kit every year; it doesn't take long and is beneficial in the long run.
Expired First Aid items can dry out and become less safe to use. For example, expired bandages may refuse to stay in place or dried gloves may crack or break. This may mean the user is exposed to germs and other potential safety risks. In an emergency very few people are going to take the time to check the date on the items they need to use so they may not realise that they could be putting themselves or the injured person at risk.
What items can expire?
Not all items in a first aid kit can expire. Provided they stay sealed and dry, things like non adhesive dressings and scissors or tweezers should be fine.
Items that contain liquids that can be contaminated, adhesive which can break down, chemicals that can lose effectiveness or anything that may be exposed to extreme heat, sunlight or moisture can all expire. Items such as sterile wipes, bandages, gloves, eye wash, instant ice packs, tape...
Any items that contain liquid can dry out or be contaminated, chemicals can lose their effectiveness, the adhesive on paper that protects bandages can break down. These things can be made worse if the kit is exposed to more extreme situations - eg high heat, exposure to sunlight or moisture.
Some items may be okay to use after their expiration date for example if you have gauze that still looks to be in good shape it should still be usable but don't assume that it is still sterile - use it as you would use non-sterile gauze. Gloves could be repurposed - no longer medically usable but potentially usable for keeping paint, oil... off your hands while working. Tape should be fine as long as it is still sticky and not wet or stained.
What to do with expired items?
You need to remove any expired items from your First Aid it and replace them so you don't have any that could pose a safety risk. But what to do with the expired supplies?
- Donation: some groups, veterinary clinics and even poorer countries may accept some first aid supplies where the shelf life is technically longer than the expiration date allows. They may be willing to take the risk of potentially faulty supplies.
- Return: some companies may have a returns policy so that they can recycle the items or dispose of unique items properly
- Throw them away: unfortunately this is sometimes the only option and, whilst it is unfortunate that things have to go to wast, safety comes first. Do not throw medications in the rubbish or down the drain.