Yes and no. Vitamins don’t “expire” in the traditional sense. Instead of becoming unsafe to ingest, they simply become less potent.
That’s because most of the ingredients in vitamins and dietary supplements break down gradually. This means that they become less effective over time.
Keep reading to learn more about how long vitamins retain their maximum potency, how to boost their shelf life, and more.
Unlike with prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require vitamin and dietary supplement manufacturers to include an expiration date on the packaging.
Some companies voluntarily provide a “best before” or “use by” date on the lid or the label.
According to Shilpa Raut, a senior research scientist at Amway, the typical shelf life for vitamins is two years. But this can vary, depending on the type of vitamin and the conditions it’s exposed to.
For example, chewable vitamins and vitamin gummies absorb more moisture than vitamins in tablet form. Because of this, chewables and gummies tend to degrade faster.
When stored correctly, vitamins in tablet form often retain their potency for several years.
Taking an expired vitamin or supplement is highly unlikely to cause you harm. Unlike food, vitamins don’t go “bad,” nor do they become toxic or poisonous. At this time, there haven’t been any documented cases of illness or death resulting from expired vitamins.
Expiration dates on vitamins and dietary supplements are extremely conservative to ensure consumers receive quality products. For best results, avoid using vitamins that are past their expiration date. These vitamins may not be as potent.
It isn’t dangerous to take an expired vitamin, but it may be a waste of time — and money — if it has lost its potency.
If the vitamin in question has an unusual odor or has changed color, you shouldn’t take it. Dispose of it immediately, and buy a new pack.
Expired vitamins should be disposed of properly. Never throw them in the trash, as this can put children and animals in the home at risk for possible exposure.
Also avoid flushing them down the toilet. This may lead to water contamination.
The FDA recommends that you:
- Mix the vitamins with used coffee grounds or cat litter.
- Put the mixture into a sealed bag or container.
- Throw the entire container in the trash.
You can also search online to see if your city has a drop-off center for hazardous waste.
Vitamins should be stored in their original containers in a cool, dry place.
You may be inclined to store your vitamins in your bathroom or kitchen for ease of access, but these are actually two of the worst storage locations. The bathroom and kitchen typically have more heat and humidity than other rooms.
If you can, opt for a linen closet or bedroom drawer.
You should also avoid exposing them to light. Some vitamins — like vitamins A and D — will lose their potency after prolonged exposure.
Refrigeration can also help extend the shelf life of products that are less stable at room temperature. This includes:
When in doubtAlways check the label for specific storage directions. Some supplements require refrigeration or another type of special storage.
If you find a pack of vitamins that’s past its expiration date, you should probably dispose of it. Although expired vitamins aren’t unsafe, they aren’t as effective as they once were.
If you have any questions about the safety or effectiveness of a particular vitamin or dietary supplement, don’t hesitate to call your local pharmacist.