Printed on a consumable’s packaging, expiration dates may or may not be an important indicator for evaluating consumption safety. Expiration dates are necessary for determining when it is safe to buy, cook and consume perishable foods like poultry; however, they may not be as vital for assessing the value of an herbal supplement. Before tossing your nutraceuticals in the trash, be sure to recognize the meaning and validity behind that expiry date.
It is relatively easy to identify foods in a grocery store that might spoil if not consumed right away. Most medications don’t exactly spoil, but they might become less effective if the active ingredients break down. Hence, the lines become blurry when assessing the effectiveness and safety of an ‘expired’ drug or supplement.
Drug Expiry Dates
Passed in 1979, U.S. law requires drug manufacturers to stamp an expiration date on their products. This is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the full potency and safety of the drug. Most of what is known about drug expiration dates comes from a military-requested study conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- With a large and expensive stockpile of drugs, the military faced tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years.
- The study found that 90 percent of over 100 drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) were safe and effective 15 years after the expiration date.
- Thus, the expiry date doesn’t necessarily indicate when a medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe.
According to a Harvard University publication, expired drugs are generally safe to take – even those that expired years ago. Exceptions include:
- Epinephrine (such as in an Epi-Pen)
- Liquid antibiotics
- Blood products
Barring the medications listed above, placing a medication in a cool and dry place, such as a refrigerator, will help a drug remain potent for many years. However, manufacturers will not make recommendations about the stability of drugs past the original expiration date due to legal and liability reasons. In addition, once the original container has been opened, the original expiration date (or hope of outlasting that date) is no longer reliable.