If you are a health-conscious individual, there’s a good chance you have a kitchen cupboard or bathroom cabinet full of expired supplements and unwanted old vitamins.

In the spirit of spring cleaning, we’re going to help you clean out your medicine cabinet! That’s why we’ve put together simple tips for patients and practitioners on how to responsibly dispose of expired dietary supplements.

Find out more about expired supplements, what dates found on supplement labels really mean, if they are safe to take, and all the different ways you can dispose of expired supplements responsibly by reading on below.

Supplements and vitamins can be a great way to fill any nutritional gaps when appropriately taken and under professional supervision. However, when you misuse old supplements and don’t dispose of them responsibly, vitamins can transform into something potentially dangerous to yourself, people around you, your local water supply, pets, and wild animal species.

Did you know?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a regulation in the past several years to classify leftover dietary supplements as ‘hazardous waste pharmaceuticals’. (1)

Do supplements and vitamins expire?

Prescription medications and over-the-counter medications, including vitamins and other dietary supplements, all have an expiration and “best if used by” dates. Typically, prescription medications have a one-year shelf life, while vitamins and supplements generally vary from three months to two years.

Unlike prescription medications, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require expiration dates on dietary supplement labels. (2)

Did you know?
You can tell protein powder has gone bad by a huge fade in flavor. If it tastes like cardboard, dispose of it.

How do I know when supplements or vitamins “go bad”?

Even under ideal conditions, vitamins degrade over time, but this process is accelerated by poor storage conditions. Dietary supplements degrade fast and lose effectiveness when exposed to excessive heat, moisture, light, oxygen in the air, or humidity.

Although overly degraded supplements may be less potent, they are not necessarily unsafe – unless, for example, it’s a probiotic that’s grown mold.

Practitioner insight

Asking your healthcare practitioner is always a great idea. Dr. Lynch makes sure his patients are informed and that they pay attention to the expiry date window when choosing products. He is especially conscious of expiry dates of liquid products and less cautious on things like trace mineral complexes. Ashley Koff, RD, encourages her patients to bring their supplements in or shows photos of the supplements in question. As a general recommendation, she also tells her patients to take some time to look at the expiration dates around spring cleaning and back-to-school times.

woman opening her refrigerator and looking inside

When taking a probiotic that requires refrigeration, be sure to return the bottle quickly back to the refrigerator before moisture gets in.

Which expiration date do I look for on a supplement label?

There are a lot of different dates on a supplement label that can be confusing. Let’s break it down for you.

An expiration date refers to the shelf life of an unopened container stored under conditions that are specified on the supplement label by the manufacturer. If you see an expiration date listed – know that a manufacturer is providing this voluntarily and it is not the FDA. We recommend looking for products with expiration dates since the manufacturer is legally required to provide stable data to back up that date. (3)

Keep in mind exposure to heat and/or moisture can significantly shorten a supplement’s shelf life.

The “best by” or “use by” date that you can find on a supplement label shows you how long a supplement is expected to last before its potency falls below 100% of the listed amount. Though there are some good manufacturing practices (GMPs) established by the FDA for dietary supplements, requiring an expiration date is not one of them.

Wondering what “date of manufacture” means? It just shows you when the supplement was made – not how long the ingredients remain potent and stable.

Practitioner insight

“Expiry dates are best to go by as it shows the product has been stability tested to last until this date. Manufactured dates have no stability testing. It’s useful to know the manufacture date and the expiration date.” This advice comes from Dr. Ben Lynch, a Fullscript dispensing practitioner.

Generally, supplements are stable and potent if properly stored for two to three years, but it really depends. Probiotics and fish oil, for example, have much lower shelf lives.

Did you know?
You can freeze fish oil to keep it from going rancid. Freezing fish oil will not affect the oil and will, in fact, keep it fresh. (4)

“At the time of manufacture” is especially important for probiotics

If you see the wording “at the time of manufacture” date listed on a probiotic supplement without a “best by” date, take extra precaution. This is because you have no way of knowing how many colony-forming units (CFUs) you are getting.

Usually, probiotic supplements contain double the amount of colony-forming units (CFUs), which refers to the number of live and active micro-organisms in each serving of probiotic at the time of manufacture, when compared to the listed “best by” date.

Is it safe to take supplements past their expiration date?

We do not recommend taking supplements past their labeled expiration dates. Manufacturers have expiration dates on their products for a reason.

If a supplement has changed colors, has an unusual odor, or mold – you definitely should not ingest it. But if you accidentally take a supplement after it is listed to expire and it showed no signs of going bad, you don’t need to freak out. Most vitamins simply lose potency over time.

That being said, we always recommend you err on the side of caution and touch base with your healthcare provider or call the number of the supplement manufacturer for further guidance.

Did you know?
Vitamins lose potency over time, so taking extremely old vitamins even though they do not expire may not give you the desired results that you’re trying for.

How can I responsibly dispose of supplements?

According to the FDA, there are several different approaches you can take to dispose of old vitamins, so you don’t put anyone, or the environment, at risk!

At home disposal: a 4-step guide

  1. Remove the supplements from their original containers
  2. Mix supplements with something dry that will deter anyone (or anything) from ingesting it, but do not crush up tablets or capsules. Examples include dirt, cat litter, ash from the fireplace, or coffee grounds.
  3. Put the mixture in something you can close, like an empty can, mason jar, or another resealable container to keep the vitamins from leaking or spilling out.
  4. Throw the supplement or vitamin container or packaging in the trash and recycle the original container or packaging. (2)

A safe 4-step guide for at home disposal of supplements.

Can I flush expired supplements down the toilet?

You shouldn’t. The EPA and FDA both recommend not to flush expired vitamins or supplements down the toilet. This could lead to water contamination. When dietary supplements are flushed down the toilet, they pass through waste-water plants and may end up in rivers, lakes, and other parts of the water supply. (5)(6)

Drop off your supplements at your local pharmacy or waste collection site

Don’t feel comfortable disposing your old vitamins at home? You don’t have to! You can also go to a local pharmacy or hazardous waste collection site (7), in-person at any time for proper disposal.

Did you know?
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) actually sponsors a national drug take-back day. National take-back day is a safe, convenient, and a responsible way to dispose of expired or unused supplements. You can visit their website to search for a collection site near you. (8)(9)

Some larger chain pharmacies have safe medication kiosks where you can safely and responsibly dispose of supplements. Can’t find a kiosk at your pharmacy? Ask your pharmacist about a disposal envelope, box or other ways you can dispose of expired supplements safely. (10)(11)

When dropping off supplements at your pharmacy, bring your supplements in their original container or packaging and drop them off. No preparation required.

Can my unused supplements and old vitamins be donated?

We don’t recommend it. The FDA warns never just to give away old vitamins or dietary supplements you no longer need to someone else, but the legal answer to this question depends on where you live. There are some resources online for reuse or donation programs for dietary supplements by state. You can also check with your pharmacist or healthcare provider for practical advice. (12)

Did you know?
In 1997, Georgia passed the first known state law permitting reuse within a long-term care facility. (12)

How should I store my supplements?

Be sure to always read the product label for specific storage conditions. How you store your vitamins has a significant impact on how long your vitamins will retain their potency!

Practitioner insight

Ashely Koff, RD – CEO, The Better Nutrition Program – recommends the following when it comes to storing supplements, “avoid light and store away from the heat of a stove. While carrying cases are great you don’t really want to put more than a few days in a case and use a case with a good seal.”

Storing non-perishable supplements in tablet, liquid, topical, tincture, capsule, or powder form

  • Cool, dry conditions are best – think office drawer – not kitchen or bathroom cabinet
  • Keep supplements in their original containers
  • Make sure always tightly to close your supplement’s lid after each use
  • Avoid storing in areas with humidity, heat, and direct sunlight
  • If suggested on a product label, refrigerate your supplement

Storing probiotics, fish oil, and other perishable supplements

  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations. When in doubt, refrigerate your supplement and follow up with a doctor, dietician, or pharmacist
  • When taking, properly seal the supplement right away after use – if storing in the fridge, immediately put it back in
  • Avoid storing them in your car (you may bast heat if cold outside)
  • If ordering product by mail, double check there is refrigerated shipping
  • If hot out, arrange for the package to be delivered at a time when your home

Studies have shown that moisture-rich conditions (like the one created inside your fridge) can reduce the potency of vitamin C, B vitamins, and other water-soluble vitamins. And airtight lids don’t help; once opened, moisture is let in. (13)

Practitioner insight

When we asked Dr. Ben Lynch about best practices to retain a supplement’s quality, he told us, “storage & handling is key, as well as ingredient selection and packaging selection. Dietary supplements should be stored according to storage information on the labeling. As a general rule, products should be stored at room temperature, away from both, excessive light and humidity. Storage information will vary depending on the form of the dietary supplement and ingredients used to make it.”

person talking to pharmacist in store

The FDA recommends talking to your pharmacist about proper ways to dispose of old vitamins.

The bottom line

If you’re still unsure about what to do with your old supplements or are worried about taking probiotics you left out on the counter overnight – know that you would be in the right to ask exactly these types of questions to your healthcare provider. Both, your comfort and your safety are important, and neither should be compromised!

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