It may come as a surprise to you, but did you know that your ostomy supplies can and do expire? Yup, but there’s an easy way to find out how “fresh” your products are, and in this article I’ll be explaining what to look for.
Risk of Using Expired Ostomy Products
For most products that contain adhesives (wafers, barrier rings, wafer extenders, medical tape, etc.) using expired product means that you likely won’t experience the same adhesive strength that you might be used to. This can not only cause leaks but complete device failure (i.e. your bag falls right off).
For powdered products, you may find that they don’t do their job of absorbing moisture very well, and sometimes you may find that they are clumpy instead of free-flowing.
Liquid products such as pouch deodorants may still work past their expiry date, but there’s an increased risk of bacterial contamination.
Common Symbols Found on Ostomy Supply Packages
In order to make the best use of the product labeling, it’s important to know what you’re looking at. Many packages include text which are self-explanatory, but some packages include symbols, which aren’t as easy to understand.
Towards the end of this article, I’ve linked to a few references which can help to identify most symbols on the packages, but I’ve also explained specific symbols in the photos further below.
How to Identify Your Products Expiry Date
Fortunately, nearly all ostomy products will have expiry dates clearly listed on the packaging. I should point out that many products will list both a manufacture date AND expiry date on the box, so don’t confuse the two.
Below, you’ll find examples of labels on various ostomy products. I’ve pointed out the expiry date, manufactured date, lot number and various symbols you should know about in each example.
Wafers and Pouches
Barrier Rings and Wipes
Adhesives and Adhesive Removers
Other Stoma Care Products
Special Note: ConvaTec
I received some information from a reader who had inquired about two ConvaTec products that did not have any expiry dates on them.
The two products in question were the Allkare Adhesive Remover Wipes (Item # 037436) and the Protective Barrier Wipes (Item # 037439). The Lot number codes look like this: 16012B
This lot number represents a date:
16012B = [YEAR][DAY][BATCH NUMBER]
So in the example above, we know that lot number indicates that the product was manufactured in 2016, on the 12th day (Jan 12) in batch “B”.
For ConvaTec wafers and ostomy bags, their format is different and would look like this:
4J01475 = [YEAR][MONTH][MACHINE CODE]
The letter representing each month would correspond to the following list.
So in the above example, the manufacturer date of that product is 2014 (“4” = 2014 in this case) of October (“J”).
ConvaTec says that all of their ostomy products have a five (5) year shelf life, so knowing the manufacturer date is quite useful.
It’s important to understand that expiry dates on sealed products are only valid as long as the seal hasn’t been broken.
Think of it like your favorite non-dairy milk, which may be fine for weeks or months before opening it, but will go bad after a week or so after being opened.
Unlike many personal care items, which have a special symbol indicating how quickly a product should be used (looks like an open container with a number in it, which represents the months).
Storing Ostomy Supplies
This is a really important point to remember!
If you’re keeping your wafers in the glove compartment of a hot vehicle all summer long, it won’t really matter if they expire in three years or not, because you’ll ruin them well before then!
You’ll notice that in most cases, you’ll find storage instructions next to or near the expiry date.
Pay attention to those, as you’ll want to make sure that you’re storing supplies according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you can’t find those details on the packaging, check out the instruction booklet that came with your supplies or on the products themselves (bottles, blister packs, etc).
When you’ve got a lot of supplies to work with, things can get a bit confusing.
If you get your products in bulk
I tend to order only about a month worth of product at a time because I have to pay for it before my insurance can reimburse me, but many ostomates get months of supplies at a time.
I would suggest that you always use “old” product (by expiry date) before using the new stuff. If you’ve already opened a package or bottle (broke the seal), then use those before opening a new one.
Seems like common sense, but I find myself wanting to use newly purchased supplies right away and need to remind myself to finish what’s leftover.
Use an app!
Keeping track of your supplies can often be a job in and of itself, and when you’ve got many supplies to manage you may end up ordering more than you need, ordering the wrong product or forgetting the item numbers altogether.
I use the OstoBuddy app to keep track of not only my appliance changes but my supplies. Check out my review on it HERE.
Don’t throw away the packages
I know that it may seem convenient to remove product from its packaging so there’s less bulk to store in your ostomy drawer, but this will make it difficult or impossible to know when certain products will be expiring; you also lose the ability to know the lot number, which is often only found on the package.
If this is something you do, at the very least, keep the label with the expiry date until you’ve used up those supplies.
Don’t overstock on products that expire quickly
For the most part, you’ll notice that many products have a shelf life of several years, so you’ll be fine to stock up on those. However, don’t go crazy ordering products that you might rarely use – for me, this includes stoma powder.
If you are in a situation where you really only need a few items and not a full box, check to see if your supplier can send you individual product.
You may also get away with requesting samples for those few items from various manufacturers, but please don’t take advantage of this too many times, since sampling shouldn’t be a substitute for purchasing.
Donate unused supplies before they get too old
Whether you’ve switched brands of wafers/pouches, or you simply don’t have a need for a certain supply, donate it well before the expiry date to ensure that the next person will have enough time to use them.
Looking for ideas on what to do with unwanted and unused ostomy supplies? Check out THIS article.
If you keep an emergency or travel kit
If you keep an emergency kit handy, like I do, you’ll need to remember to rotate those supplies with fresh ones, since you’ll probably not be using them very often.
While we usually have many months or years to use our ostomy supplies before they expire, we should still be aware of how to store them properly and how to identify the expiry dates on these products.
References and Further Reading
- FDA: Use of Symbols on Labels and in Labeling of In Vitro Diagnostic Devices Intended for Professional Use (http://www.fda.gov/RegulatoryInformation/Guidances/ucm085404.htm)
- Emergo: EN 980 and ISO 15223 symbols and descriptions (http://www.emergogroup.com/resources/articles/iso-15223-symbols)