Expiration dates on your probiotic supplements may have you afraid to use them for fear of digestive health side effects. Good quality probiotic supplements contain live bacteria, and expired products may have less than or none of the advertised amount.
The good news is that expired probiotic capsules won’t hurt you, though they likely won’t give you the probiotic health benefits you were hoping for.
Key Probiotic Expiration Date Takeaways
Probiotics beyond their expiration date probably have too little live bacteria to make a clinical difference.
Store Lactobacillus & Bifidobacterium strains in the refrigerator for maximum shelf life.
Saccharomyces boulardii probiotics and soil-based probiotics may not need refrigeration, but refrigeration may extend their shelf life.
Be sure to choose probiotic products and brands that arelab test verified to contain the colony-forming units (CFUs) advertised on their label to ensure potency up until the expiration date.
If your probiotic supplement is near or past the expiration date, it’s probably best to buy a new product to ensure the best clinical effect.
Probiotic Supplement Expiration Dates: Do They Matter?
The goal of using probiotic capsules is to get a clinically-significant amount of live bacteria past your stomach acid and into your gastrointestinal tract.
The best way to ensure you will get the symptom improvement and other benefits you’re hoping for is to buy high-quality live culture probiotics that clearly display an expiration date and accurate information about the number of colony-forming units (CFUs) in each dose.
Colony-forming units in the billions are necessary to get the clinical benefits of probiotics. A probiotic product begins to degrade and lose potency the longer it sits on a shelf, and can degrade faster if it isn’t stored properly. Using probiotic products with the appropriate colony-forming units and with an expiration date far out into the future is good insurance that the probiotic is still viable when you use it.
Some probiotics don’t have an expiration date on their label. Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t have clear regulations on probiotics and other dietary supplements, many don’t have accurate labeling, and may even have misleading labeling.  Many products may also contain less than the amount advertised on the label.
If you happen to let your probiotic supplement go beyond its expiration date, you don’t risk negative side effects, just wasted money.
As a consumer, to get your probiotic money’s worth, use these criteria to choose products that have/are:
A clearly stated list of strains.
A clearly stated number of colony-forming units (CFUs), and expiration date.
Labeled free of common allergens.
Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification.
Been lab-verified for potency by third-party analysis.
Storing Probiotics for Maximum Potency
Though there are thousands of probiotic products, there are only three main types of probiotics :
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium blends – A blend of lactic-acid producing bacteria strains that are mostly Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotic strains (such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus, or Bifidobacteria infantis).
Knowing which types of probiotics are in your probiotic supplement is important because each of the three types has a different shelf life and storage requirements.
Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium probiotics should be refrigerated for best results.Even refrigerated, they will lose 10-15% of their potency per month. This loss of potency is faster if they are kept at room temperature.
Saccharomyces boulardii probiotics and Bacillus are shelf-stable and don’t require refrigeration, though storage in the refrigerator may extend their shelf life.
Can You Test Probiotic Supplement Potency?
Some sources recommend testing probiotic capsules for potency by opening them and leaving them to grow in milk or another medium. While this may tell you if the probiotic organisms are active or not, it doesn’t tell you how many CFUs are still viable.
If the probiotics are near the expiration date and were stored appropriately, there should be some good bacteria remaining. However, they may not be as potent as fresh product.
Are Food-Based Probiotics Preferred?
Other sources claim that probiotic foods, such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir and prebiotics are superior as a gut-reseeding source of beneficial bacteria. They claim probiotic supplements often have far less than the advertised amount and claim that research isn’t conclusive about the benefits of probiotic supplements. But the colony-forming units present in probiotic foods aretypically below the live bacteria threshold for clinical benefit.
Probiotic supplements that haven’t expired, have been well manufactured, and properly stored provide more digestive health benefits than probiotic foods.
For comparison, note the difference between probiotic food products, and their equivalent dose from a non-expired probiotic supplement.
Leuconostoc mesenteroides Lactobacillus brevis Pediococcus pentosaceus Lactobacillus plantarum
If you are using a quality probiotic supplement that has been 3rd party tested for potency and purity, the good bacteria should be viable up to the expiration date if the product was properly stored.
Though a product that has passed its expiration date won’t harm you, it may not have the full potency required to improve your gut health bottom line. If your probiotics have expired, it’s best to purchase new products to get the most benefit.
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Every product is science-based, validated by real-world use, and personally vetted by Dr. Ruscio, DNM, DC.