What is Shelf-Life?

Well, this one is easy.

A product that possesses a shelf-life is a product with a timer strapped to its chest (metaphorically speaking, of course). Shelf-life refers to the time that a product has before its usefulness runs out.

The term is used on a whole host of products. In fact, most of us are aware of the shelf-life in our everyday lives since it is found in the food and drug industries. Ever pick up a loaf of bread at the supermarket? Then chances are you have seen the expiration date. What about your latest bottle of allergy medicine? Yup, that expires too.

But SkyGeek doesn’t sell food or drugs so why am I posting about it? Well, because chemicals have shelf-lives. And we got a whole bunch of products consisting of chemicals. Fuel and oil, the lifeblood of a plane, has a shelf-life. And if you use fuel with a 0% shelf-life guess what: your plane isn’t going for a happy joyride.

Due to its composition, a product may be susceptible to limited use and its function can be compromised if exposed to certain elements or factors. This includes light, temperature, moisture, and even handling during transportation. Also, if packaged improperly, an item’s shelf-life may diminish.

A higher shelf-life means a more potent and thus effective product. Think about a piece of fruit or meat—the older it is the more it spoils and the less nutritional value it possesses. It is a similar concept with regards to chemicals that are unstable.


Figure 1 – Diagram of the shelf-life process as it relates to select SkyGeek products. Type I shelf-life items use alpha codes while Type II products use a number system to indicate how much time remains since date of manufacture. (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

According to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), there are generally two types of shelf-life products.

Type I products are “critical end-use items, the failure of which could endanger human life or cause major systems (such as an aircraft) to fail.” This would also include some adhesives and sealing compounds as well. Type II products are “those for less critical applications, and which can be reinserted periodically to determine their continued fitness for use.” Thus, most shelf-life products are Type II. Some examples include paint, adhesive tapes, disinfectants, and yes, chemicals.

Shelf-life is a hard thing to monitor. One of the most commonly asked questions is, “What is the shelf-life [of a product]?” This is a legitimate question and we definitely understand why customers ask it. You have to purchase something but don’t plan on using it right away. However, you don’t want it to expire by the time you do. It’s a preventative measure to ask and also saves you money because additional costs are incurred on disposal of shelf-life items. If you buy something, why wouldn’t you want it to fulfill its purpose?

What many may not realize is that our products are not situated in our office so we cannot simply get up from our desk and get the answer. We contact our warehouse and have personnel check. But the warehouse at our headquarters does not contain our entire inventory. We have other warehouses we use in remote locations as well. This requires contacting personnel at these warehouses which—depending on their schedule—may take additional time to contact and track down the answer.

Unfortunately, shelf-life will always be an issue that requires careful handling; the headaches it causes will never truly expire. Regardless, we try to ensure that the most shelf-life is shipped to our customers in as timely a manner as our resources will allow. And as our internal processes and systems improve the intended effect is to have it so that we can get shelf-life problems resolved with less customer complaints. It’s a work in progress so stay tuned. In the meantime you can checkout SkyGeek’s Shelf-Life Policy Warning.

For more information about shelf-life, an excellent source is the GSA’s FAQ page.

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About Skylar

Woah! This is Skylar. I am THEE Sky Geek. I like planes, trains, and automobiles, but really just planes. I love aviation and anything related to it. If you shop on our site you will see my mug plastered throughout since I am the official mascot. I enjoy talking to Sandy, Otto, and Mach since they share my passion for flight. Researching for news and events and other information that affects our customers is what I can't wait to nose dive into. The sky's the limitless!