FDA Study Gets To the Heart of Expiration Dates and Safety
You wake up in the middle of the night with a splitting headache. So, you find a bottle of aspirin only to see the expiration date passed two years ago. Can you still take it? Will the moon fall on you if you do? Well, here is some news for you… expiration dates mean little to nothing!
We have the military to thank for this news. The military has a large and expensive stockpile of drugs and found itself tossing out and replacing its drugs every few years. So, they asked the FDA to do a study on how long drugs last. What they found from the study is 90% of more than 100 drugs were perfectly good to use even 15 years after the expiration date.
Why Do We Even Have Expiration Dates?
Is the expiration date a marketing ploy by drug manufacturers, to keep you buying (and filling their pockets) regularly? Mr. Flaherty, a retired FDA pharmacist says, “Manufacturers put expiration dates on for marketing … reasons. It’s not profitable for them to have products on a shelf for 10 years. They want turnover.” Joel Davis, a former FDA expiration-date compliance chief, explains, “Most drugs degrade very slowly. In all likelihood, you can take a product you have at home and keep it for many years….”
The only reason that we even have expiration dates is because the feds passed a regulation in 1979 requiring drug manufacturers to stamp an expiration date on their products. But the date simply means it is guaranteed to keep its potency until the expiration date. It does not mean that the drug loses its potency after that date.
If they want to guarantee it for only six months, that’s up to them. If they want to guarantee it for longer they can. The point is there is absolutely no reason why a drug can’t be just as effective many years after its so-called “expiration” date.
So the expiration date does not indicate a point at which the medication is no longer effective or has become unsafe to use. (Excluding nitroglycerin, insulin, liquid antibiotics and tetracycline, most medications are long-lasting.)
Now, it is true the effectiveness of a drug may decrease over time, but much of the original potency still remains even a decade after the expiration date. In fact, some drugs were good for 25 years after the date.
How About Nutrient Supplements?
Well, it is a little different since drugs are artificial chemicals and supplements are (hopefully) natural products. In general, most will last much longer than the expiration date. Oils, liquid products, and some vitamins now have natural preservatives in them that help them last longer but may still deteriorate faster than other supplements.
So, what is the bottom line? It seems good sense would say that, if the expiration date passed and it’s important that your drug or supplement is absolutely 100% effective, you might want to consider buying a new bottle. (A pharmacist is a great source of information about drugs.) With today’s supplements, be comforted that they so last much longer than in times past.
Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.
Jay M Pomerantz, MD Recycling Expensive Medication: Why Not? MedGenMed. 2004; 6(2): 4. Published online 2004 Apr 26.