Understand shelf life and storage instructions
Clinically reviewed by Jonathan Valdez, RDN, CDCES, and CPT
Scoop, Mix & Drink – Protein powder is a convenient way to meet your protein needs. Whether for muscle recovery, weight management, or holistic nutrition, these powders have become a staple in many kitchens across the united states.
But like any food-related item, protein powders don’t last forever. What happens if you’re about to mix up your post-workout shake and realize your giant containers of protein powder are past their expiration date? Is it safe to use or do you throw it away? It depends.
This article discusses protein powder expiration dates, why they matter, the factors that affect the shelf life of your protein powerhouse, and how you can keep your supplement fresh, potent, and safe to use—even after its expiration date.
Related: The best protein powders for women
Does protein powder expire?
Although they’re generally shelf-stable, protein powders don’t last forever. It does not mean that dietary supplements expire, but that the quality of the product deteriorates over time, including its nutritional quality. If you check your protein powder packaging, you will find the expiration date. Or, more commonly, a date labeled: “Best if used by”.
There are no set standards for how food manufacturers classify their food items. They may use different phrases like “best by,” “sell by,” or the expiration date on the label. As a consumer, it’s important to know that the date on a food item—no matter what phrase the manufacturer uses—is an indication of the food’s quality, not necessarily its safety.
The expiration date on your protein energy package lets you know how long the supplement will keep its best taste and nutrition. These dates are not required by law and it is up to you to decide if it is safe to consume the product after the expiration date.
Note that while it may be safe to consume protein powder after its expiration date, we generally recommend discarding protein after this date for the best nutrition and taste.
Understand shelf life factors
As a shelf-stable food item, it is safe to store protein powders at room temperature (Unless otherwise noted). There is no set storage time for protein powders and expiration dates are set by the manufacturer of the product. In general, the shelf life of shelf-stable foods ranges from six to 24 months. You may find the best dates in your container of protein powder fall within this time frame.
There are many variables that affect the shelf life of a protein powder, including the type of protein, added ingredients, and packaging. For example, milk protein powders such as whey protein may not last as long as plant-derived proteins.
Factors affecting the shelf life of protein powder
Ingredients (i.e. does it contain proven ingredients, such as lecithin and maltodextrin)
An opaque, airtight container is optimal
Manufacturers may add shelf-stable ingredients such as lecithin and maltodextrin to extend the shelf life of their protein powder. Manufacturers also package your supplements in opaque containers with lids to protect them from light, heat, and moisture.
However, time is the biggest factor that affects the quality of your protein powder. Over time, the protein and nutrients in your dietary supplement degrade, reducing its nutritional quality and altering its flavour.
Related: The best whey protein powders, tested and reviewed
Decryption expiration dates
Expiration dates are a major cause of food waste in the United States. You can throw away food if it has passed its expiration date. This is why the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) encourages food manufacturers to best use the phrase by date rather than by expiration date.
It is generally safe to take food and supplements such as protein powders that are past their best date as long as the item has been stored properly and has no signs of deterioration, such as a funny smell or discoloration. Read your protein powder’s label to learn how to properly store the supplement so that it maintains its nutritional quality and taste for as long as possible.
Storage guidelines for extended freshness
Heat, humidity, and light affect the quality of your protein powder. Protein powder should be stored in a cool, dry, and dark place to maximize freshness and prolonged use.
Research shows that most protein powders store well at ambient room temperatures, or no higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the cap tight to protect the supplement from moisture and light.
Signs of damage or deterioration
There are some signs to look for after the best-in-date that could indicate that your protein powder is not safe to use. Any change in color, smell, or texture is a sign that your protein powder has gone bad. The powder may look darker than it did when you first opened it, or it might smell rancid. You may also notice that he doesn’t shuffle as well as he used to.
Protein powder spoilage and degradation is caused by chemical reactions between the elements in the powder. Maillard browning is a chemical reaction that occurs when proteins interact with the carbohydrates in the powder. This reaction breaks down the protein in the powder so that it is no longer a quality protein supplement – meaning it no longer contains all of the essential amino acids.
When exposed to heat, light, or moisture, any fat in your protein powder becomes unstable, causing it to shift and break down. If your protein powder shows any signs of deterioration, it’s time to throw the can away.
Maximize the freshness of your protein powder
Keeping protein powder in a cool, dark place can extend freshness. So, instead of keeping the case on top of the fridge (which can get hot and humid), put it in the cupboard.
You also want to make sure the scoop is dry before putting it back into the container and that the lid is firmly closed after each use. You may also consider transferring your protein powder to an airtight container to maintain freshness.
If protein powder is not a regular part of your daily routine, consider using individually portioned protein powder packets. While single-package protein can be a bit pricey (and not so good for the environment), it can save you money in the long run if you end up throwing away half of your large container of protein powder due to spoilage,
Safety precautions and quality assurance
For safety and quality, buy powders made by reputable companies. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate dietary supplements like drugs or food, and the manufacturer is required to follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP).
Look for products that display the seal of quality assurance from independent supplement testing groups such as ConsumerLab.com or NSF International. Also, check the protein powder’s expiration date before purchasing it and follow recommended storage guidelines so that the powder remains safe and effective. And always check your protein powder for signs of spoilage before using it.
Related: 8 creative ways to use protein powder
Protein powders are a dietary supplement, but you still need to treat it like food. Check the expiration date and store your container in a cool, dry place until you get the most bang for your buck. It is safe to take your protein powder after the expiration date, unless it shows signs of spoilage such as rancidity.
However, even if your protein powder shows no signs of going bad after the expiration date, its nutritional quality may still be compromised. When incorporating protein powders into your meal plan, it is always a good idea to prioritize safety, quality, and freshness so that you get what you expect without compromising your nutrition or health.
Related: Is It Safe to Take Expired Vitamins?