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Pandemic Preparedness: Respirator shelf life dating

As a leader in respiratory protection in Canada, 3M would like to ensure our valued health care customers are prepared in the event of a pandemic. 3M’s goal is to help our customers ensure that disposable respirators stored for extended periods of time will meet the performance requirements for which they were approved and function as intended. As part of ensuring pandemic preparedness, it is imperative our customers confirm that stockpiled inventory is within the established shelf life range.

Responding to the need for shelf life dating

In 2013, 3M established shelf life information on 3M NIOSH-approved Filtering Facepiece Respirators (disposable respirators) as a way to communicate to our customers the storage conditions and potential longevity of our disposable respirators.

The life cycle of disposable respirators commonly used in health care workplace applications, from date of manufacture to use, was historically short in duration since they are disposable and were not stockpiled, thus there was not a need for an established shelf life or expiry date. However, with the increased attention to respirator stockpiling, many customers have requested information on storage conditions and shelf life.

In response to our customers’ needs and as part of 3M’s due diligence, 3M conducted aging testing and analysis of its disposable respirators to determine shelf life and optimal storage conditions. We hope that by adding this information to the respirator packaging it will encourage our customers to employ good practices such as appropriate long-term storage, rotation of stock and inventory management.

How shelf life is determined

When establishing a shelf life, 3M takes into account the filter media as well as the component parts of the respirator such as the headstraps, nose foam, nose clip and any staples. Based on the aging tests and analysis, we can be confident that the respirators will meet performance requirements when the identified storage conditions are met.

However, when respirators are maintained outside of the established storage conditions, which includes storage beyond the shelf life, 3M cannot ensure that the respirators will meet performance requirements. In this event, many different kinds of changes can occur to the respirator including cosmetic changes and degradation of components such as headstraps, nose foam and nose clips. Examples of cosmetic changes include discoloration of materials. Examples of degradation include crumbling of nose foam or breaking of headbands.

It is important to note that, regardless of any shelf life claims or lack thereof, facilities are responsible to operate a properly functioning respiratory protection program. In addition, users must always read and follow all instructions, including inspecting the product before use and performing a user seal check prior to entering a contaminated environment.

Determining the shelf life of your stockpile

In order to determine product shelf life, refer to the packaging (the shipper case, corrugated box or the primary box) for a use-by date. 3M recommends that respirators be disposed of after the stated use-by date. Always inspect the respirator and conduct a user seal check before use per the instructions for use. If the person wearing the respirator cannot achieve a proper seal, then the respirator should not be used. Even for respirators within the stated shelf life, the respirator should be disposed of immediately if it has damaged or missing parts. 

We suggest the following:

  • For products with a shelf life listed on the packaging, follow the guidance indicated.
  • For those respirators that have established shelf life but which packaging is not yet marked with a “use by” date, 3M recommends they not be used if five 5 years has passed since the date of manufacture (if particulate only).
  • For filtering facepiece particulate respirators with ozone, nuisance organic vapour, or nuisance acid gas relief, 3M recommends they not be used if three 3 years has passed since the date of manufacture.
  • For obsolete or discontinued items beyond a stated shelf life or lacking shelf life information, discard the product or contact the 3M Canada Safety Centre, at 1-800 -267-4414.

Recycling expired disposable respirators

In order to assist our customers with environmentally-friendly disposal of expired disposable respirators, 3M encourages users to recycle their respirators or dispose of them in an environmentally friendly manner.

For assistance with your pandemic stockpile or assistance in interpreting disposable respirators’ date of manufacture, please call the 3M Canada Safety Centre at 1-800 -267-4414 or get in touch with us online.

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