After spending so much on vitamins, it is tempting to ignore the expiration date on your bottle of vitamins or overlook a missing expiration date. Yet that small date has a significant impact because it shows whether the vitamin still has 100% potency.
Vitamins are a great way to fill in any nutritional gaps.
Expired vitamins and supplements might not work as well as unexpired ones and should be thrown away.
Look for the seal of an independent lab that guarantees the accuracy of listed ingredients.
Store vitamins according to the label. Refrigerating some vitamins can cause the components to break down.
Vitamins: a shortcut?
Everyone wants to be healthier, but only some people have the time to prepare well-balanced, nutritious meals. Others, like pregnant women or people recovering from surgery or being sick, require extra nutrients. Many take advantage of the numerous vitamins and supplements available in stores and online to fulfill dietary gaps or special needs.
Taking vitamins is so popular that vitamin sales are predicted to show the fastest growth in the global dietary supplement market, a market that exceeded $155 billion in 2022.
After investing so much money in vitamins, it is disappointing to discover the vitamin has expired. But does this expiration date mean the vitamin has to be thrown away? And would buying a vitamin without an expiration date be better?
Which vitamin should I buy?
Choosing which brand of vitamin to buy is overwhelming. Store shelves and the internet offer an enormous variety. After the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act was passed in 1994, vitamins are no longer approved or inspected by the FDA before consumers buy them. This means the FDA does not evaluate vitamins to ensure the vitamin contains the labeled product in the labeled amount.
The seal of an independent lab ensures the vitamin contains the labeled ingredients. Three main labs offer their seal to manufacturers which pass their tests:
- U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)
- NSF International
The seal of one of these labs on the bottle of vitamins shows the manufacturer met specific guidelines, submitted to additional testing, and that the product contains the labeled amount. It also shows the vitamin contains no contaminants, bacteria, yeast, mold, mycotoxins, or pesticides. Some labs also require an expiration date with data to back it up.
If you are still determining what vitamins you need, consult your doctor, pharmacist, or nutritionist.
What does the expiration date mean?
The expiration date guarantees 100% potency at that date. Vitamins, like food, can degrade and lose strength over time, and an expired vitamin may not be as effective.
Not all vitamins have an expiration date on the bottle. The FDA does not require an expiration date on the label for supplements, but some labs, like the USP, demand it. To offer an expiration date, the manufacturer must have data showing the potency is 100% at that date and the independent lab confirms it.
Vitamins generally last for two years at full strength, but storage and type of vitamin can affect expiration. Liquids and water-soluble vitamins are more vulnerable to moisture, which causes them to lose potency more rapidly than other vitamins. Different dose forms like sublingual tablets and gummies also lose potency faster than tablets.
Understanding the difference between expiration and manufacture dates is also essential. The manufacture date shows the date the vitamin was made, not strength or potency at a particular date.
Therefore, if the vitamin is expired, it has degraded and is no longer as strong as it was. Unfortunately, this means that if it is expired, throw it away.
Are expired vitamins safe?
Generally, an expired vitamin won’t hurt you or become something harmful or toxic unless something unexpected happens, like mold or bacteria growing on the vitamin. But the vitamin will no longer be as effective.
Always inspect vitamins for signs of exposure to high humidity, which might appear as unexpected spots on the vitamin or moisture inside the container. If the vitamin looks odd or different than expected, do not take it.
Tips to get the most from vitamins:
When shopping for a vitamin, look for the seal of an independent lab that tested the vitamin. This seal ensures the quality of the vitamin. Some independent labs require an expiration date, which shows additional testing and if the vitamin’s potency is at 100%. Correct storage is also vital to ensure that the vitamin is still as effective as expected.
Seal of an independent lab
Check for the USP, NSF, or Consumer Labs seal when buying a vitamin. Manufacturers must agree to additional testing and inspections by the independent lab to earn one of these seals. The labs test the vitamins to confirm the ingredients on the label are in the vitamin. Additionally, the lab tests the vitamin for unexpected ingredients, like microorganisms, pesticides, or mold. Since the government does not test vitamins, it is essential to have an independent lab perform testing. This seal adds a valuable guarantee of the quality and safety of the vitamin.
Buy vitamins with an expiration date because this means the company performed additional studies to ensure potency. The FDA does not require expiration dates. If a product has an expiration date, the manufacturer must have data and have done testing to prove the vitamin retains 100% potency at that date. A manufacturer that spends time and money to study when the effectiveness of the vitamin wanes is likely to produce a high-quality product, which makes this a valuable tool to find quality manufacturers and ensure the vitamin retains its effectiveness.
Check the expiration date on the bottle and look for dates that allow you to use the entire bottle of vitamins before they expire. Pay attention to vitamin expiration dates and throw out expired ones. A vitamin that is no longer as effective will not be efficient in helping to reach nutritional goals.
The expiration date assumes correct storage. Therefore, incorrectly storing the vitamin could make it lose potency faster than the date on the bottle. A cool, dark, dry place is the ideal place to store vitamins. Here are some general storage tips:
- Avoid storing vitamins near heat or humidity. Both can shorten the expiration date. Kitchens and bathrooms are popular storage locations, but not ideal places for vitamins. High heat and humidity often occur in the kitchen and bathroom, which can degrade the vitamin.
- Store vitamins in the original container. The original bottle has vital information, like dosage, but some containers are specially made to improve longevity, such as a dark bottle to protect the light-sensitive vitamin.
- Follow the storage directions on the bottle. Only refrigerate if directed to do so. Refrigerators have a higher moisture level, which can decrease the potency of the vitamin. Also, keep the bottle closed with the lid tight to minimize moisture exposure. And try not to open the bottle in highly humid areas.
- Store vitamins in a safe place. For safety reasons, store all vitamins and medications out of the reach of children, especially.
Vitamins are an easy and affordable way to increase health and cover nutritional gaps. To get the most out of a vitamin, check for an independent lab seal and the expiration date. If it is expired, toss it out and get a new one to reach your nutritional goals. The expired vitamin won’t work as well as an unexpired one.
- Federal Drug Administration. Information for Consumers on Using Dietary Supplements.
- Mayo Clinic: Speaking of Health. Why take vitamin and mineral supplements?
- University of California San Diego Health. Vitamins and Mineral Supplements.
- New York Times. Ask Well: Vitamin Expiration Dates.
- NSF International. Product and Ingredient Certification.
Show all references
- African Health Sciences. Drug expiry debate: the myth and the reality.
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. Impact of Deliquescence on the Chemical Stability of Vitamins B1, B6, and C in Powdered Blends.