DALLAS — At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people across the country searched for Personal Protective Equipment, stockpiling it once they could find it. Now, over two years later, experts warn certain PPE may be close to expiring.
“iPromo bought millions of masks at the beginning of the pandemic and a lot of them had a two-year expiration date,” said Leo Friedman, CEO and founder of iPromo, a promotional products supplier based in Ohio.
For those with unused masks, COVID-19 tests, gowns and gloves just sitting around the house, Friedman suggests recycling or donating them. He mentioned places like Goodwill and local PPE recycling centers as options for people looking to get the products off their hands. If used past the expiration date, the quality of the materials becomes compromised, thus less effective in protecting one as a part of its intended use.
“The best comparison I can make is you know how you have expired medicine — if the medicine is expired, you think it’s better than nothing,” he said. “But, you probably want to get a refill. It’s still going to work most likely, but it’s just past its recommended expiration date.”
When TSA made wearing masks optional, iPromo’s sales tripled the next day, causing the company to sell more masks now than in the recent months.
Over the past few months, one of Friedman’s issues has been avoiding expired inventory. Unlike masks and gloves, Friedman says COVID-19 tests expiration dates have been extended from anywhere to between three to nine months. So, he insists that before trashing tests to visit the manufacturer’s website to verify the expiration date.
“COVID tests are new,” he said. “They have no idea how long they are going to last.”
As for his inventory of masks and other materials, Friedman says he didn’t hesitate to distribute it to places that can immediately begin using it rather than let it go to waste.
“So, we take it as an opportunity to donate,” he said. “We’ve donated over 2 million masks to… universities, charities, orphanages and just around the country. We will continue to donate, because we don’t want any of that stuff expiring and so once we see that we have a couple months left.”
According to the Food and Drug Administration, the items “may still offer some protection even when they are used beyond the manufacturer’s designated shelf life or expiration date.”
“The user should visibly inspect the product prior to use and if there are concerns (such as degraded materials or visible tears) the product should be discarded,” the FDA said. “As a conventional capacity strategy, expired products may be used for training and demonstration purposes where barrier protection is not needed.”