This week, I have spent some time going through my first-aid kits. I have learned through experience that if you don’t go through your first-aid supplies every so often, you may end up with a mess. Several years ago, I once opened one of my kits and found that something went bad, had deteriorated the packaging, and then spoiled everything that was around it. That wasn’t a good surprise, especially since I put a lot of time and money into making those kits.
I imagine many of you have put significant time and resources into your kits as well.
So, why should you routinely check your first-aid kits?
- First, and foremost, if you use your kits on a regular basis as I do, they will need to be restocked. One trick I use is that I maintain a list of all the contents I stock in every one of my kits. I have four levels of kits I use, and I have lists for each one. With these lists, I can quickly verify I have everything I hope to store for any emergency, large or small. (I know it may be some effort up front to put together such a list, but I found it to be worth it. I recommend typing it up on a computer in a spreadsheet or a table. That way you can easily reprint, alter, or add to any such list.)
- Second, you should check for any broken or ruptured packaging. This is especially true for medicines or for any items which should remain sterile. For example, recently I found some sterile gauze in my kits which had torn packaging. Obviously, at that point, the gauze was no longer sterile and it was then in need of being replaced. You should also check medicines for any clear evidence of spoilage. If something doesn’t look right, replace it. Here is one tip I highly recommend: keep items separated from one another in small plastic zip bags. That way, if something does spoil, the rest should be unaffected.
Third, you should also check to see if anything is expired. Now, just because something is past its expiration date, it does not mean that you need to throw it away. In fact, recent studies (the Shelf Life Extension Program [SLEP] by the FDA for the Department of Defense  and a study done by UC San Francisco and UC Irvine ) have shown that many medications last well beyond their expiration dates. This is not true of all medications, however. Liquid medicines are much more likely to spoil, and certain types of medications in which potency definitely matters, such Epipens or insulin, should be replaced if expired. As you go through your kit and find “expired” items, you should weigh their uses, the importance of their functions, and their costs to decide when and if to replace. From medical literature, I have only found one isolated record of toxicity from taking expired meds, (and that was from the use of a degraded form tetracycline which is no longer used in the U.S.,) so that should not be a concern. So, the overriding factor should be your dependence on its potency to do the job. Also, common sense should prevail. If it looks bad or smells bad, throw it out. Otherwise, the studies cited above claim most medications work well after their expiration date. As for essential oils, you should educate yourself on the shelf life of all the oils you store so you will know when it is best to replace them.
- Fourth, going through your kits will give you the chance to reevaluate and reorganize. Often when I go through my kits, I think of other things I may want to include. Other items I may decide that they are not as important to store. In addition, there are newer items and medicines that arrive on the market all the time. For example, I have chosen to store Celox for blood clotting, a product that was not available when I first put together my kits years ago. As you go through your kits, you may also decide that you may want to include newer items in place of something else. Going through your kits will also give you the opportunity to reorganize them in order to make them more efficient to use.
- Fifth, and finally, as you go through your kits, this gives you a great opportunity to review your skill set. Evaluate what first-aid skills you may need to brush up on, or what new ones you may need to learn all together. There are always skills we could learn and/or practice.
I highly recommend taking some time to go through all your first-aid kits. You wouldn’t want to be in an emergency and find that you are without the necessary supplies you would need. Now is the time, while the sun is shining, to make sure you are prepared.