Average Shelf Life of Sterile Supplies in a First-Aid Kit

First-aid kits seem like something you can buy once and then forget about, but this is not the case. Although we most often associate shelf life with food products, the sterile supplies in a first-aid kit also have a shelf life associated with them. 

On average, first-aid kits have a shelf life of three to five years after their manufacture date. But some supplies in a first-aid kit will expire sooner than others. You can replace individual items in your first-aid kit, so you don’t have to buy an entire new kit. 

Below, we outline the average shelf life for specific supplies in a first-aid kit.

Do All First-Aid Kits Have Expiration Dates?

Most first-aid kits will have an expiration date listed on them. Although these vary according to the specific kit, three to five years is the most common shelf life. 

Sometimes, specific expiration dates will be listed on individual items in the first-aid kit. Because some items expire before others, it makes more sense to replace items individually. This way, you can save some money while ensuring your first-aid kit is stocked and ready to use.

Average Expiration Dates for Sterile Supplies

Different manufacturers may list different shelf lives or expiration dates for their products. Defer to the manufacturer’s specifications for individual items. 

The good news is that many items in a first-aid kit have a long shelf life. Provided they aren’t torn, cut or otherwise damaged, these supplies can last five years or longer.  

These first-aid kit supplies usually have a long shelf life of at least five years:

  • Plastic or cloth strip bandages

  • Gauze bandages

  • Sterile gauze and pads

  • Adhesive tape

  • Compresses

  • Eye pads

  • Latex gloves

  • Scissors

  • Forceps

  • Tweezers

  • Instant cold packs

Check the above items regularly to make sure they are still in good working order. Although bandages don’t go bad, per se, they can lose their adhesiveness over time. If they are older than five years, it’s a good idea to replace them.

Likewise, compresses and gauze last indefinitely, but they can get moldy or damaged. If this is the case, replace them.

Here are average shelf lives for specific supplies in a first-aid kit:

  • Alcohol wipes: Two years

  • First-aid cream or ointment: Two years

  • Antibiotic ointment: Two years

  • Burn ointment: Two years

  • Burn bandages: Two years

  • Eyewash: Three years

  • Hand sanitizer: Four to five years

Resuscitation equipment, such as AED pads, also expire. Check the individual supplies for expiration dates.

Replace Supplies as Soon as They Are Used

If you use anything in your first-aid kit, replace it immediately. This ensures your first-aid kit will be fully stocked if an emergency arises. If you are regularly using your first-aid kit, you are likely replacing sterile supplies much sooner than their expiration dates. 

How to Inspect a First-Aid Kit

Review your first-aid kit annually. If any items have expired, replace them. 

Most supplies will have an expiration date listed on them. If they don’t, you can contact the manufacturer for that information because most sterile supplies do have an expiration date.

Check for damage to any of your supplies. Even supplies that don’t tend to expire should be replaced if they are damaged or no longer sterile. 

For example, if the packaging on gauze is wet, discolored, torn, open or otherwise damaged, the gauze is no longer sterile. You could keep and still use the gauze, but it should be treated as non-sterile gauze. 

Here are some steps to follow as you inspect your first-aid kit:

  1. Inspect the kit itself, making sure it opens and closes correctly and easily. Look for any cracks, breaks or rust and replace if needed.

  2. Remove the contents and lay them out, so you can easily check each item.

  3. Check the expiration date of each item, setting aside the ones that have expired.

  4. Examine each item, looking for tears, stains, leaks or openings in the packaging. Set aside those that are damaged.

  5. Wipe down the inside of the kit, removing any dust or debris.

  6. Replace the supplies that have expired or are damaged.

Can You Use Sterile Supplies Past Their Expiration Date?

Some supplies can still be used past their expiration dates, but it’s a good idea to replace them on a schedule because you don’t know how long they will last beyond that date. But if supplies are slightly past their expiration date, there shouldn’t be an issue using them. 

Bandages can still be used, but if they become less adhesive, they don’t work as well. Instant cold presses may stop working or getting as cold. You can still use expired tape, but it might not stick as well. If scissors, forceps or tweezers are rusted, corroded, bent or broken, they will still work; however, it’s likely that they are no longer sterile, particularly if they are rusted.

First-Aid Refill Kits

Most first-aid kit manufacturers sell refill kits. These kits contain the frequently used supplies in a first-aid kit, allowing you to refill the supplies without purchasing a whole new kit. 

You can also purchase sterile supplies individually, although this method is a bit more tedious because you are checking and then purchasing each item individually. Make sure to calendar when you should check your first-aid kit so you’re able to stay on top of replacement supplies more easily.

Let Alsco Help with Your First-Aid Supply Needs

When you work with Alsco, we can manage your first-aid supply needs. Our first-aid cabinets and first-aid rental services ensure that your first-aid cabinet or kit is always fully stocked with fresh, sterile supplies. You’ll never be caught in an emergency with expired or missing items. 

We’ll ensure your business is compliant with OSHA and ANSI/ISEA standards. We supply top-quality sterile items, a well-organized cabinet and supplies to treat virtually all workplace injuries or emergencies. Contact us today to learn more about how we can make the process easier for you.

References

Shelf Life for the First-Aid Kit. Honeywell. 

First-Aid Kits (Mandatory). U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.  

Medical and First Aid. U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

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