Protein powder can be super handy to have around. Toss a little in your smoothie or brownie batter and voila, your favorite eats now pack extra protein.
Tubs of protein powder always seem to be Costco-sized, though, making it nearly impossible to power through them before that date stamped on the side, which begs the question: Does protein powder expire? Is it that big of a deal to use old protein powder?
Luckily for anyone who’s had the same tub of protein sitting in the pantry for what feels like years, the date stamped on the package is a quality date, not a safety date.
“That’s when the manufacturer believes it’s going to be the tastiest for you,” says Mitzi Baum, CEO of Stop Foodborne Illness and an adjunct instructor on food safety at Michigan State University. “Consumers have a misunderstanding about what those dates on those foods actually mean.”
Does that mean you’re free and clear to keep using your protein powder well after the date printed on the container?
“Dry products like protein powder have a very low risk of making you sick,” Baum says. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you want to keep using old protein powder for months and months on end. I mean, the stuff’s gotta go bad eventually, right?
Here’s what food safety experts have to say about getting the most out of those protein smoothies—and what to know about expired protein powder.
So, does protein powder ever truly expire?
To understand this whole thing about whether protein powder expires, you have to understand what the dates printed on containers really mean.
Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “best by” dates indicate that you’ll want to buy and use a product by said date for it to be at top-quality. “Use by” dates say pretty much the same thing.
“Sell by” dates, meanwhile, let stores know that food is less likely to spoil if sold before a certain date.
Though different protein powder brands may use different types of date labels, you’ll likely see a “best by” date on their containers. Basically, using a protein powder past this date isn’t necessarily dangerous.
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While different types of protein powders may have different shelf lives since they’re all dry powders, they’re less likely to truly spoil than other foods, says nutritionist Jessica Cording, RD, author of The Little Book of Game-Changers.
However, even protein powder won’t stay good forever. “Like pretty much any food, protein powder can really expire,” she says.
Generally, foods tend to truly go bad because of bacteria, fungi, oxygen, heat, and moisture, says dietitian Scott Keatley, RD, founder of Keatley Medical Nutrition Therapy. If you can keep those five things out of your tub of protein by keeping it tightly sealed and stashed in a cool, dry place, it may last for months beyond the printed date.
Is expired protein powder safe to use?
As long as it’s been stored properly, a protein powder that’s past its “best buy” date won’t go rancid overnight or make you keel over.
In fact, you can probably continue to use a protein powder for weeks and months beyond that date, suggests Jennifer Quinlan, PhD, associate professor at Drexel University’s Department of Nutrition. “It’s such a dry product that it’s fairly inert, like a canned product,” she says.
Generally, the protein and carbohydrates found in a protein powder don’t really break down over time, she explains.
However, there is one component of a protein powder that might cause trouble beyond that “best by” date:” fat. Most protein powders do contain some fat, which can go rancid, Quinlan says.
How can you tell if protein powder has really gone bad?
If too much air, heat, or moisture gets into your container of protein powder, it can affect the unstable fat in the product and cause it to spoil.
Luckily, if this is the case you’ll notice a funky, rancid smell as soon as you open the container, says Quinlan.
If the stank doesn’t give it away, spoilt protein may also start to clump up, which can indicate mold growth, according to Quinlan. Rancid protein powder will also taste funny (not like the mint chocolate chip heaven you paid for).
If any of these factors seem off, throw that tub out.
How can you keep protein powder fresh for longer?
To keep from wasting half a container of your precious protein, follow these four storage tips and keep it fresh:
- Always store protein powder in the container it comes in. The dark or opaque packaging protects the contents from light.
- Keep the container in a cool, dry place, like the cupboard or pantry. (You can even freeze protein powder if you won’t use it for ages, says Quinlan.)
- Don’t store protein powder on top of the fridge. The mechanical heat and humidity there will shorten its shelf life.
- Make sure the spoon or scoop you use is always dry. Getting water into the container can spur mold growth which then causes bacterial growth, says Quinlan.
The bottom line: Though you can use protein powder beyond the date printed on its label, it can spoil. Always store protein powder properly and check for signs of spoilage, like a rancid smell or clumping.
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