Expiring Products – Disinfectants & Medications
Did you know medications and even disinfecting products expire? In this post, we cover the basics around medication and disinfectant product expiration dates.
Are medications and disinfectants legally required to have an expiration date?
Yes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires all medications to have an expiration date.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires all disinfectants to publish expiration date information for all formulations that change significantly over time.
How do medications and disinfecting products expire?
Unlike expired foods or cosmetics most shelf-stable medications (e.g., non-refrigerated pills) and disinfecting products do not expire because of an increase in microorganism growth, rather, the active ingredients in drugs and disinfectants begin to lose potency or degrade over time (1.2).
How does losing potency or degrading differ from spoiling?
When a medication or disinfectant loses potency or degrades, it’s a more gradual process than you’d experience with food like a dairy product spoiling. Unlike identifying spoiled foods and cosmetics that you can easily and quickly recognize as expired via sight, touch, or smell, there may not be any obvious sign that a drug or disinfectant is no longer effective.
A drug in pill form that’s lost efficacy may be the same color and shape as it was when it was at full potency. The same can be true for many disinfecting products, the product may look and smell identical to the purchase date, but it may no longer work effectively.
Should I consume expired medications or use expired disinfectants?
It’s not recommended to consume expired medications or use expired disinfecting products.
Manufacturers create over-the-counter and prescription medication dosage instructions that reflect the product’s strength, quality, and purity when unexpired and stored properly.
Manufacturers typically print the expiration date using the language “Expires: [DATE]” or “EXP: [DATE]” on the bottle or packaging.
Beyond the expiration date, the manufacturer cannot guarantee the product will work effectively for the dose and dose-rate recommended, and there is no easy way to determine the potency of the expired medication.
More seriously, yet rarer, the drug manufacturer cannot ensure that the product will not degrade and produce toxic compounds that could cause harm.
While the FDA has recently begun allowing manufacturers to extend specific medication expiration dates for the purposes of national emergency preparedness, the general public shouldn’t take expired medications without consulting a state-licensed, board-certified medical professional like a pharmacist or medical doctor.
Manufactures also develop usage and hazard protocols for disinfectants that reflect the product’s strength, quality, and purity when stored correctly.
Like medications, disinfectants lose potency and degrade, so the manufacturer cannot guarantee that the product will disinfect effectively for the written instruction because there is no easy way to determine the potency of an expired disinfectant.
Expiration dates for disinfectants will read, “Not for sale or use after [DATE].”
Sodium hypochlorite, commonly found in bleach, is the only exception. Labels for products that contain the active ingredient sodium hypochlorite read, “Degrades with age and exposure to sunlight and heat.”
You can learn more about sodium hypochlorite expiration dates at go.msu.edu/bleach.
The good news.
At the time of publication, we are still battling COVID-19 and we may feel the need to stock up on medications and disinfectants. Paying attention to expirations dates on these products, helps us make better decisions regarding the quantity we can realistically use before they expire.
It also reminds us that if we choose to purchase over-the-counter medications and disinfectants, we should store them properly and use them promptly, so they are not unintentionally wasted.