If you currently use or have previously taken dietary supplements, you may have accumulated a collection of unfinished supplement bottles or expired vitamins in your cupboard. Like prescription and over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements have shelf lives that ensure their potency when taken before the indicated “best before” or expiration date typically found on the label. Over time, dietary supplements begin to lose potency and may not be as effective in providing the desired outcome. For this reason, taking expired supplements is not advised. In the case of leftover supplements, some considerations for disposal should be taken in order to protect the health of others and the environment.
Continue reading to learn more about proper storage, expired supplements, and how to safely dispose of supplements.
How to properly store supplements
Most non-perishable supplements in tablet, liquid, topical, tincture, capsule, or powder form should be stored at room temperature, away from extreme temperatures, moisture, light, and oxygen. Avoid storing dietary supplements, prescription medications, and OTC medications in warm and humid environments, such as in a kitchen or bathroom medicine cabinet. To limit oxygen and moisture exposure, be sure to tightly secure lids. (5)
Certain probiotics and perishable dietary supplements may require refrigeration. If a supplement requires refrigeration as recommended by the manufacturer, it is typically indicated on the label. (3) Storage recommendations for perishable and heat-sensitive supplements include:
- Adhere to manufacturer’s storage recommendations, typically found on the supplement’s label. When in doubt, store the supplement in the refrigerator and follow up with your practitioner, call the manufacturer directly, or contact Fullscript’s customer success team.
- If ordering supplements online during warmer months, check your package’s tracking details so you know when to expect it, or consider requesting expedited delivery. Upon arrival, place the unopened bottle or container into the fridge and allow it to cool completely before opening.
- Properly seal the supplement after each use.
Did you know? Moisture-rich environments, such as refrigerators and bathroom medicine cabinets, may reduce the potency of water-soluble vitamins, such as vitamin C and B vitamins. (6)
Do dietary supplements expire?
Unlike food, most dietary supplements, over-the-counter (OTC) medications, and prescription medications do not necessarily expire, but their potency can diminish over time. As a general rule, medications have a one- to five-year shelf life, whereas dietary supplements vary depending on their formulation type (e.g., capsule, tablet, liquid) and included ingredients. (14) Some supplements, including certain liquid supplements and products requiring refrigeration, have a short shelf life of only a few months, while other supplement forms, such as capsules and tablets, may have a shelf-life of up to a few years. (1)(7) Numerous factors influence the degradation and shelf-life of supplements, including acidity, molecular structure of chemicals, susceptibility to microbiological growth, and sensitivity to light, moisture, or oxygen. (1)
Additionally, many supplements contain stabilizing compounds that prevent the growth of unwanted mold or bacteria, and manufacturers cannot guarantee their quality or safety after reaching their expiration date. (1)
Identifying expiration dates on supplement labels
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not require dietary supplements to display an expiration date on the supplement’s label, however, many manufacturers voluntarily include either an expiration date, date of manufacturing, “best before”, or “use by” date on the label or lid. (2)
The expiration date on a product refers to the shelf life of an unopened container stored under ideal conditions as determined by the manufacturer. Products with an expiration date are typically tested for stability. (5)
Date of manufacture
The date of manufacture indicates the day the product was produced. Some products may include a manufactured date instead of an expiration date. Products with only a manufactured date potentially have not been tested for product stability. Products are generally expected to maintain their potency for approximately two years after their date of manufacture, however, recommendations may vary depending on the brand or product.
Best before or use by
This specifies the recommended date to stop using the product and indicates the final date the product is expected to maintain its quality and 100% potency. (11) Best before and use by dates are determined by the manufacturer and are included voluntarily.
How do I know when supplements or vitamins “go bad”?
It’s normal for supplements to degrade and lose their effectiveness over time. Certain supplements, such as fish oils and probiotics, are more sensitive to storage conditions and may deteriorate faster than other types of supplements.
The most tell-tale indicator that a supplement has “gone bad” is if the product tastes unusual or unpleasant. (4) Expired products may also appear discolored or cloudy, or have an unexpected odor. (5)
Are expired supplements safe to take?
It is not recommended to take supplements past their expiration date. In most cases, taking an expired supplement will not result in any adverse effects. (5) However, it’s always best to err on the side of caution. If a supplement has changed colors, has an unusual odor, or has grown mold, refrain from taking it. If you have questions regarding the safety or efficacy of taking a supplement beyond its expiration date, consider speaking with your integrative healthcare provider or call the number of the supplement manufacturer, which is usually found on the product’s label, for further guidance.
Did you know? Dietary supplements lose potency over time. Taking expired supplements may not cause harm, but they may not provide the desired effect.
How to dispose of supplements
Properly disposing of supplements and medications is important for human and environmental health. Outlined below are some of the disposal methods recommended by the FDA.
Outlined below, are four easy steps for properly disposing of supplements in the trash:
- Remove supplements from their original containers.
- Mix supplements with unappetizing dry matter that would prevent someone from consuming it, such as dirt, potting soil, coffee grounds, or cat litter. Do not crush or break open capsules or tablets.
- Enclose this mixture in a secure container, such as a jar or garbage bag, to prevent spillage.
- Toss out the enclosed container into the trash and recycle the original packaging. (13)
If you don’t feel comfortable disposing of your unused supplements, other options for safe disposal include:
- Dispose of supplements at a hazardous waste collection site. Check with your city to determine if they offer hazardous waste collection near you. (9)
- Drop off your unused supplements at your local pharmacy. Some large chains have kiosks where you can safely dispose of supplements and medications. If your pharmacy doesn’t have a designated kiosk, ask your pharmacists for other suggestions for disposal.
- Visit a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ‘Take Back Day’. If you are living in the United States, check the DEA’s website for events near you for the disposal of unused supplements. Many local communities sponsor their own disposal programs, as well. (13)
- Contact the supplement manufacturer. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer or your integrative healthcare practitioner, as they may be able to provide additional instructions
Did you know? In 2017, 26.8 million tons of plastic ended up in U.S. landfills. Help reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in landfills by recycling your empty supplement bottles. (10)
Can I flush expired vitamins and supplements down the toilet?
Both the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FDA advise not to flush expired or unused supplements down the toilet. Doing so can contaminate sewage systems, which then passes through waste-water plants, where it later may end up in rivers, lakes, and other parts of the water supply. (8)(12)
The bottom line
When decluttering your supplement cabinet, be sure to throw out your expired supplements safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. If you’re still unsure about what to do with your expired supplements or have concerns about storage, speak to your integrative healthcare provider.
- American Herbal Products Association. (2011). Shelf Life Dating of Botanical Supplement Ingredients and Products. AHPA: Silver Spring, MD.
- Consumer Healthcare Products Association. (n.d.). FAQs about dietary supplements regulations. Retrieved from https://www.chpa.org/FAQsDS.aspx
- ConsumerLab.com. (2017a, August 8). Which probiotics need to be refrigerated? Retrieved from https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/which-probiotics-require-refrigeration/probiotic-refrigeration/
- ConsumerLab.com. (2017b, November 11). How can I tell if my fish oil supplement is rancid (oxidized) or spoiled? And if it is spoiled, is it still safe to take? Retrieved from https://www.consumerlab.com/answers/how-can-i-tell-if-my-fish-oil-supplement-is-rancid-oxidized-or-spoiled-and-if-it-is-spoiled-is-it-still-safe-to-take/rancid-oxidized-fish-oil/
- Gikonyo, D., Gikonyo, A., Luvayo, D., & Ponoth, P. (2019). Drug expiry debate: the myth and the reality. African Health Sciences, 19(3), 2737–2739.
- Hiatt, A. N., Ferruzzi, M. G., Taylor, L. S., & Mauer, L. J. (2008). Impact of deliquescence on the chemical stability of Vitamins b1, B6, and C in powder blends. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(15), 6471–6479.
- Temova, Ž., & Roškar, R. (2016). Shelf life after opening of prescription medicines and supplements with vitamin D3 for paediatric use. European Journal of Hospital Pharmacy, 24(2), 115–119.
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Dispose of medicines, vitamins and other supplements properly. Retrieved from https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=P1007BCF.TXT
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2020a, May 13). Household hazardous waste (HHW). Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/hw/household-hazardous-waste-hhw
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2020b, September 10). Plastics: Material-specific data. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/plastics-material-specific-data
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.-a). Confused by date labels on packaged foods? Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/confused-date-labels-packaged-foods
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (n.d.-b). Medicines recommended for disposal by flushing listed by medicine and active ingredient. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/85219/download
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2020, September 10). The best way to dispose of it is through a drug take back program. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/where-and-how-dispose-unused-medicines
- Zilker, M., Sörgel, F., & Holzgrabe, U. (2019). A systematic review of the stability of finished pharmaceutical products and drug substances beyond their labeled expiry dates. Journal of Pharmaceutical and Biomedical Analysis, 166, 222–235.