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Best before date: food supplements and supplements expired - what to do?

For many people, the best-before date is the first and usually only indicator of whether a product is still fit for consumption. As soon as the best-before date has passed, many products - usually unopened - end up in the bin. In Germany, around 75kg of food is thrown away per person per year. Around half of this would still have been fine. The reason for this is that the best-before date is often misunderstood.

Table of contents
  • What does the best-before date mean
  • ? Why you can't always rely on the best-before date
  • What to do if the best-before date has expired? How do I recognise whether a product is still good? Can dietary supplements and supplements still be taken after the best-before date has expired? How long can you continue to use food supplements after the best-before date has expired? Storing food supplements correctly - tips for everyday life

What does the best-before date mean? The best-before date is a quality feature and not a use-by date. It therefore does not indicate the date until which the product can be consumed, but is an indication of the quality of the product. For example, whey often forms on dairy products such as yoghurt after the best-before date has expired. However, this is not harmful to health, but merely represents a change in consistency and possibly flavour. Some sports supplements also suffer from such a loss of quality, especially if the products have already been opened and frequently exposed to air. Some supplement ingredients are hygroscopic. This means that they can bind moisture from the air and then clump together. This can be seen with citrulline, arginine or pre-workout boosters, for example. However, the effect is not impaired by the formation of clumps.

The best before date therefore indicates the time until which a food can be consumed (if stored correctly) without any significant loss of flavour or quality. Incidentally, products can still be sold after the best-before date. In this case, the seller is responsible for the safety of the product, whereas the manufacturing company is responsible until the best-before date is reached. Food producers therefore like to specify a best-before date that is as short as possible, even if the products would have a longer shelf life.

Use by date

For perishable foods (e.g. fresh minced meat or poultry), the use-by date indicates the date by which the product must be consumed. This date should be strictly adhered to, as consumption beyond the use-by date can be harmful to health. You can recognise the use-by date by the words "to be consumed by" on the label.

Why you can't always rely on the best-before date

The indication of a best-before date is required by law and must - with a few exceptions - be indicated on all packaged products by a "best before". The allocation of the best-before date is at the discretion of the manufacturer and often appears to be quite arbitrary. For example, pasta made from durum wheat or flour often only has a best before date of two years, but has a much longer shelf life. Unopened food that has been stored properly is usually still safe to eat even after the best-before date has expired. This also applies to our protein powder and protein snacks, for example.

Conversely, it is also possible that a product is no longer fit for consumption before the best-before date has expired. For example, if it has not been stored properly or the cold chain has been interrupted for too long during transport. The best-before date only applies if the food has been stored correctly.

What to do if the best-before date has expired? How do I recognise whether a product is still good? To judge whether food is still edible, you should trust your senses. The first signs of spoilage can be recognised with the eye. If, for example, mould has formed or the consistency has changed significantly, the product should definitely be disposed of. The odour also usually provides a quick indication of whether the product is still edible. If the odour and appearance do not give cause for concern, the product can be carefully tasted. If everything is in order, the product can still be consumed after the best-before date has expired.

Can food supplements and supplements still be taken after the best-before date has expired? Food supplements are legally categorised as food and therefore also have a best-before date. Here too, the product is not automatically spoilt once the best-before date has expired, but can still be consumed for several months afterwards, depending on the ingredients. In the case of micronutrient preparations, however, the vitamin or mineral content may decrease over time. The specified ingredients are only guaranteed until the best before date. Such quality losses can also occur with many sports supplements. One example is the formation of lumps mentioned above. Many amino acid products can also have an unpleasant odour. A sulphurous odour is typical of EAAs and a fishy smell is typical of glutamine or carnitine. The odour of sports supplements is therefore not always a reliable indicator of the safety of the product. However, if the product has been open for a long time and the unpleasant odour increases, the supplement should be disposed of.

It is also important to note that the best-before date refers to unopened packaging. If the product has already been opened, oxygen, moisture and penetrating microorganisms affect the shelf life. Unopened products can usually still be consumed after the best-before date has expired.

Best before date expired - you should pay attention to this with your supps

If you notice a change in the colour, smell or taste of the product, you should dispose of it. Crumbly tablets or effervescent tablets that no longer dissolve properly also indicate that the product should no longer be used.

How long can food supplements be used after the expiry date? Minerals (e.g. calcium): up to one year
  • Water-soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamin C or B6): up to half a year
  • Fat-soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamin D or E) and omega-3 fatty acids: 1-2 months

  • Storing food supplements correctly - tips for everyday life

    • Store food supplements in a cool (room temperature), dry place away from light
    • Close cans tightly and do not leave unopened for long periods
    • Use the enclosed measuring spoon or a clean and dry spoon to remove the powder
    • Use the products quickly after opening


    Sources:
    Is my time with you already up? On the correct handling of best-before dates and use-by dates. Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. October 2019 Consumer advice centre. What does the best-before date mean for food supplements? Status: 02.09.2021