Did you stock up on rapid at-home COVID-19 tests only to realize they all expire much sooner than you expected?
Don’t toss them just yet. The Food and Drug Administration recently updated its guidance on COVID test expiration dates after researchers discovered some tests have a longer shelf life than originally believed.
“Most people who need COVID tests are relying on over-the-counter, at-home tests, so it is extremely important that they understand how to properly evaluate expiration dates,” said Jeffrey Jahre, an infectious disease doctor at St. Luke’s University Hospital in Bethlehem.
Here’s what to know:
How do I check when my COVID test expires?
Find the printed date on the side of the box. All COVID-19 tests should have a printed expiration date, similar to what you may find on food items at the grocery store.
The test may still be safe to use, even if it’s past the marked expiration date, Jahre said. Check the FDA’s website to find out if your test has an updated expiration date. Shelf life varies by brand. Through the FDA’s website you can find detailed information about the specific test you have — sometimes down to the exact lot number.
Why aren’t the expiration dates on COVID test packages accurate?
When at-home tests were initially approved by the FDA, there was limited data about how long they lasted. Scientists used an accelerated testing approach — storing the tests at above-recommended temperatures for shorter periods of time — to determine short-term shelf life. Now that the tests have been available for much longer, manufactures have more data to conclude the tests are effective longer than initially tested.
How does the FDA determine the shelf life of COVID tests?
The FDA uses “stability testing” to determine the shelf life of home COVID-19 tests. Stability testing ensures that the test accurately works for as long as manufacturers say that it does. The most effective way to test shelf life is to store the test for the amount of time it’s said to last (plus a little extra) and then use the test to determine if it’s still effective. The longer the tests are on the market, the more time scientists have to test how long they remain effective.
Can I use an expired COVID test?
No. Expiration dates mark the end of the shelf life for which the FDA and manufacturers have determined the test will work as intended. Expired tests can give inaccurate results. If the test is past the expiration date and not on the FDA website for updated expiration dates, toss it, Jahre said.