When a piercing headache comes on, you reach for that ancient bottle of ibuprofen. But it expired, like, two years ago. Can you still take it? What's the worst that could happen? And why do over-the-counter medications -- or any meds -- expire in the first place?
What expiration dates mean (and what they DON’T mean)
Way back in 1979, the very same year McDonald's introduced the Happy Meal, the Food and Drug Administration put a rule on the books requiring drug manufacturers to stamp an expiration date on their prescription and over-the-counter products.
But the rule is tricky. Its meaning denotes that the manufacturer can guarantee the drug's safety and effectiveness up to the point of "expiration" -- but it doesn't indicate that the drug isn't safe or effective past the expiration date.
Confused? The expiration date tells you at what the point the manufacturer stops its testing of its product. If the aspirin in your medicine cabinet has an expiration date of two years post-manufacturing, it means that the company that made it only tested its lifespan over two years. After that, it's anyone's guess how it will perform.