Though you could just incorporate more high protein foods into your diet, a great protein powder is a convenient, nutritious option to bulk up meals and reach your health goals. A scoop added to smoothies, oatmeal, baked goods, and more can make it easier to get enough protein in your day. And with so many options out there, like protein powders for weight loss, vegan protein powders, and protein drinks, you may find you have multiple options on hand to choose from. But, can protein powder expire? We chatted with food safety experts to determine when protein powder expires, if expired protein powder is safe, and when it’s time to toss the protein powder in your closet.
Does protein powder expire?
What can get confusing is when your protein powder has a “best-by,” “use-by,” or “sell-by” date printed on the container. But, these dates aren’t strict rules when it comes to the safety of the product and is actually a note to the retailer instead of the consumer, explains Tamika Sims, Ph.D., senior director of food technology communications at the International Food Information Council.
“A ‘best if used by’ date indicates when a product will be of the best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date,” she says. “The sell-by date tells the store how long to display the product for sale for inventory management. It is also not a safety date.”
Sims adds the last label you may see is a “use-by” date, which is the final day the company suggests the product will be of peak quality. Other than infant formula, this type of label does not imply the exact safety date but the longest the company promises quality.
In short, these dates only promise quality, not the safety of a product. “A best-by date is set by the manufacturer and it’s designed to inform the customer when the product will have the best quality. Products that are consumed before the best-by date should taste acceptable. A product that is past its best-by date may not taste as good,” says Donald Schaffner, Ph.D., distinguished professor at Rutgers University, extension specialist in food science, and co-host of the podcasts Food Safety Talk and Risky or Not.
When does protein powder expire?
So, if the labels of protein powder don’t really mean anything safety-wise to a consumer, how do you know when protein powder expires? You can confidently use the dates as a guide for when the protein powder is in its best or highest quality state for the best taste, appearance, texture, and smell, Sims says. “Food manufacturers add these date labels to inform consumers of the date up to which the food will be at its peak quality and flavor,” she says.
As for when the product expires, no one can tell you when food becomes unsafe to eat, explains Mitzi Baum, M.S., CEO of STOP Foodborne Illness. But if you store products correctly and use your senses to determine freshness (more on that later), you’re likely going to be fine, she says.
Is expired protein powder safe to consume?
The biggest risk to eating expired protein powder that looks, smells, and tastes fine is likely just the quality, Schaffner says. The manufacturer no longer promises a high-quality product after the expiration date, so you’re risking eating a less-than product.
Dry goods like protein powder don’t have enough moisture to grow mold or bacteria, because there isn’t much moisture present, salmonella and other bacteria aren’t as much of a concern, Baum adds. But, there is a risk if the product isn’t tightly sealed or is being stored in a humid environment, Schaffner says.
How to keep protein powder fresh
Storing protein powder properly is the most important step in keeping it as safe and fresh as possible, Sims says. Follow the package’s directions for storing, which is typically in a cool, dry place. Refrigerating a protein powder can lead to it clumping, she adds.
Additionally, store protein powder in its original packaging as they’re designed to keep light out, and don’t store protein powder on top of the fridge or they’ll overheat and could spoil quicker, Baum warns.
How to know if protein powder has gone bad
If you notice any changes in texture, color, smell, mold, or slimy film on any food, Sims says it has likely gone bad. Spoiling indicators look like pink yeast, bubbles in fresh juice, dairy getting chunky, or moldy, Baum says.
For a dry good like protein powder, it will often clump and taste rancid from the small amount of fat present. Sometimes dry goods like oatmeal or flour can get little bugs in them, Baum adds, but this isn’t going to make you sick, it’s simply a quality issue. She encourages using your senses to determine if food has gone bad.
And it’s important to note, you shouldn’t purchase a product with a past best-by date, Schaffner notes. Inform the retailer if they have products on the shelf beyond their best-by date and inform the manufacturer if a product goes bad before the best-by date, he says. This should very rarely be the case.
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