Q Coupon TV programs usually show the stashes extreme couponers have in their homes. But what is the shelf life for these products?

We're not extreme couponers, but right now we have about 50 bottles of hand soap, 18 bottles of laundry detergent and even more stored away in our home. Is it OK to do this, or will this stuff go bad?

A: Many stockpilers have this dilemma. We stock up during a sale, wonder how much of everything to keep on hand and then wonder how long our stuff will last.

Obviously, any item with a printed date code has a lifespan. But dates, particularly on food products, aren't always “Do not use after this date” codes. Some dates are “Best before” or “Better if used by” codes. If you still have a product in your cupboard past its “Best before” date, it's usually fine to consume.

That said, when I buy groceries that may sit in my stockpile for a while, I always look for products that won't expire quickly. That way, I can keep the products in storage longer than I could keep a similar item with a shorter lifespan. Typically, I don't stock up beyond a three-month supply of food. But if a product has a particularly long shelf life, as many canned foods do, then I may buy beyond the three-month mark.

A good website to keep in mind is stilltasty.com. This website compiles food safety information from many sources, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and food manufacturers. Want to know if something is, well, still tasty? Just enter the name of the product, and the website lets you know whether it is safe to consume after its expiration date. It even lists how far beyond the date you can safely enjoy the product.

But you asked about nonfood items, such as liquid hand soap and laundry detergent. I'm not sure these products expire at all. But if you plan on storing them for a long time, remember to tighten the caps to prevent the liquid inside from evaporating, even minimally. I have used these products several years after their purchase dates with no issues.

For items such as bar soap or powdered laundry detergent, the sky is pretty much the limit for long-term storage, as long as you keep the items in a cool, dry place. Ditto for any paper products.

Jill Cataldo is a coupon workshop instructor. Learn more about couponing at her website, www.jillcataldo.com. Email your own couponing victories and questions to jill@ctwfeatures.com.