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Try as hard as we might to commit to a new healthy lifestyle, there’s still some things we forget to do. If your family’s medicine cabinet is full of vitamins and supplements designed to improve your health and wellness, it can be hard to keep track of them. You may have a few forgotten bottles sitting at the back of the cabinet. Are they still safe to use? And how do you properly store vitamins?
Here’s what you need to know about the safety of expired vitamins and how to keep your vitamins fresh for longer.
So how long do vitamins last? Vitamins will have an expiration date printed somewhere on the bottle. It may not be called an expiration date. Many companies elect to use the phrase “best by” or “best if used by” for products that are still technically safe to use after a specific date.
Different vitamins will have different expiration dates. In the case of multivitamins, some vitamins within the supplement will have greater longevity than others. Manufacturers will typically use the best by date of the vitamin that will retain potency for the shortest amount of time to set the best by date for the entire product.
The expiration date of your vitamins will vary, and it depends on several factors.
You’re completely in control of a few factors, and if you’re not managing those factors properly, your vitamins may prematurely become unusable.
If you leave your vitamins open on a counter near the windowsill, they will expire faster. Over-the-counter medicine, vitamins, and supplements should always be stored in cool, dark room temperature or an opaque container away from heat. You should always be sure that the cap is securely closed after each use.
If your vitamins were improperly stored or show visible signs of contamination, you need to throw them away. Discolored vitamins, melted vitamins, signs of mold, cloudy liquid vitamins, and dry or brittle vitamins are all indications that it’s time to toss the bottle.
If the vitamins were stored properly and they look and smell the same way you did when you bought them, they’re probably still safe for you to take. Even though they’re safe to take, it’s probably not a good idea to use them.
The expiration date on your vitamins refers to the longevity of their potency. The longer vitamins sit, the less potent they become. When you give your family expired vitamins, you’re essentially giving them a fraction of a fresh multivitamin.
Since certain vitamins will lose potency faster than others and there’s no way to test vitamin potency at home, doubling up on vitamins isn’t a good idea. You may wind up inadvertently loading your family up on some vitamins while they’re still not getting enough of others.
This is especially important with prenatal environments. Getting the right amount of each vitamin to promote the healthy growth and development of a baby is crucial. You shouldn’t take chances with expired prenatal vitamins.
The best solution is to choose a vitamin that’s designed to last as long as possible. You should also clear out the old vitamins and supplements from your cabinet and be sure that none of them are redundant. In most cases, a family doctor or pediatrician will agree that a children’s multivitamin should be sufficient for kids who need a little extra help meeting their nutritional needs.
If your vitamins are expired, you need to safely dispose of them. You don’t want children or pets to accidentally consume vitamins they found in the garbage. When it’s time to toss your vitamins, mix them with coffee grounds or cat litter. Close them in a container and throw the whole container away. Zip-top bags and old coffee cans work well for supplement disposal.
You should never flush vitamins down the toilet or pour liquid vitamins down the drain. To do so would introduce the vitamins (and any possible bacteria from spoilage) into the water supply. Keep the planet safe by disposing of them properly.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you can also ask your local pharmacy if they have a dropoff point for expired or unneeded medications or supplements. Some pharmacies will take expired supplements and dispose of them on your behalf. This may be a more convenient option if you don’t have coffee grounds or cat litter.
If your family uses multivitamins, they should be using them every day. If used consistently and correctly, there’s no way vitamins should expire before you reach the bottom of the container. If you need to set the alarm every day as a reminder to give your family their vitamins, this may help you commit to your habit until it becomes a routine.
In addition to remembering to take your vitamins daily, you can do a few things to help prolong the shelf life of your vitamins.
Gummy vitamins are more like a food product than a health product. They’re essentially the same as candy that’s been fortified with vitamins. They’ll expire just like candy due to the gummy junk and additives used to make them. They’re also prone to melting if stored improperly, and you can’t take individual vitamins when they’ve liquified into a big blob.
Liquid vitamins benefit rapid absorption, and if your doctor recommends a liquid supplement for something like vitamin B12, you shouldn’t substitute it for a different form of the vitamin. Just be mindful of the fact that they may spoil faster and are easily prone to contamination.
Chewables and tablets have longer shelf lives. If you buy vitamins in large quantities or if you may not use them every day, it’s best to choose these forms.
If food, debris, or moisture gets trapped in your vitamin container, the contamination and decay can ruin your vitamins. If you reach into the container after you’ve prepared a meal for your family, you may get food residue in the bottle. You'll get the vitamins wet if you wash your hands without completely drying them. It’s a slippery slope.
Shaking the vitamins out of the bottle onto a clean and dry surface is best to prevent contamination. You can also use long tweezers to pluck vitamins out of the container, which is a valuable solution for people who have larger hands and wouldn’t otherwise be able to easily take vitamins out of the package by hand.
Vitamins should be stored far away from direct heat, light, and moisture. A cabinet of some sort, like a pantry or a medicine chest, is the ideal environment to store your vitamins. You need to make sure the lid is shut tightly to prevent moisture from entering the container.
Vitamins with top flip containers are convenient, but they often have lackluster seals. It’s better to choose screw-top jars always to ensure that they’re closed as tightly as possible.
Some vitamins or supplements are best stored in the refrigerator, especially if they contain live cultures. Typically, the only supplements that contain live cultures will be labeled as probiotic supplements. Make sure you’re thoroughly reading the label.
Bottom line: If the packaging says to store the vitamins in the fridge, you should. If it doesn’t mention refrigeration, that would indicate that refrigeration is unnecessary. It might seem like a good idea to refrigerate vitamins or supplements by default, but doing so poses a significant disadvantage. Your fridge naturally contains a lot of moisture, and moisture can hasten the expiration process of your vitamins.
Your first purchase of Hiya’s chewable multivitamin will come with a reusable container and a 30 day supply of once-daily children’s vitamins. We’ll send you refills in eco-friendly packaging according to a pediatrician's recommended schedule.
As long as your child is taking one vitamin a day, you’ll never have expired vitamins, and there will always be a fresh pack on the way.
Hiya was designed under the advice of pediatricians who found that children were low on certain vitamins and minerals. It’s designed to be a general solution. Unless your child’s pediatrician recommends additional supplements, there’s no need to take them.
You won’t have to keep track of half a dozen bottles because Hiya contains what your child needs.
Do Vitamins & Minerals Lose Their Strength? | SF Gate
Where and How to Dispose of Unused Medicines | FDA
Probiotic Supplements: Refrigerate or Not? | International Probiotics Association