Do Antibiotics Expire? Is it Safe to Use Expired Antibiotics?


Antibiotics are used to treat diseases caused by bacterial infection. It kills or inhibits the growth of the bacteria and prevents its spread to other people. Before the 20th century, our forefathers relied on herbal medicines to treat body infections.

By the late 20th century, synthetic antibiotics were derived from the extraction of dyes. One of the first types of antibiotics used in the 1900s was penicillin. Nowadays, people have all kinds of antibiotics inside their home that each household members use.

It can be in the form of a tablet, cream, ointment, injectable, syrup, and others. Viral diseases are common, especially during disasters. That's why most homes stockpile antibiotics in their homes. However, these type of medicines do not last forever, and it has expiration dates.

Environmental factors plus storage options also affect the effectiveness of the drugs that we use. Thus, in this article, we will discuss what does the expiration date of drugs means.

We will also tackle if it is safe to take overdue medicines and give some tips on preventing degradation of their effectiveness.

Understanding the Expiration of Antibiotics

In the United States, the expiration date indicated in the medicine is the manufacturer's guarantee that the product will stand by until on the specified period only. After that, it loses its effectiveness.

Furthermore, the pharmaceutical company has tested the antibiotics to hold up that long if the container is unopened and you store it correctly. According to Dr. Craig K. Svensson, Dean of College of Pharmacy, Purdue University, it is unusual for medicines to have an expiration date of less than one year and more than five years.

But for him, the date does not follow that the drug will not last long. It only means that the medication has been tested to last until the indicated date. Meanwhile, the expiration date of prescription medicines may not be the one that you see. When pharmacists give you medicines, they usually put a discard date on them, which is one year from dispensing.

According to the National Community Pharmacist Association, prescription medicine is valid for 12 months or one year only. Thus, if you bring the same bottle for refill back to the pharmacy after one year, the pharmacist will know that you need a new prescription.

Also, once you bring the drug home and remove it from its original packaging, it will be exposed to damaging environmental factors such as heat and humidity. With this, the medicines will not last longer compared when it's in its original container.

In sum, as soon as you get your prescribed drugs, the expiration date is at its most prudent and shortest.


The Shelf Life Extension Program or the SLEP has supplied modern science about the longevity of drugs. Like a regular household, the US Department of Defense stores medications that people can use during emergencies.

In 1986, the government of the United States started the SLEP. The agency is tired of wasting money replacing expired medicines every year. So it decided to fund a study and see if the drugs can last past their expiration dates.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also helped in founding the SLEP. In the study, they keep some medicines past their indicated expiration dates and test them to see if the drugs are still good.

The FDA said that they are mistaken on the caution side when extending the expiration dates. However long they think the drugs will last, they still mark it the period sooner than what it is supposed to be.

Today, there are no drugs that continue for more than ten years than their original expiration date. Indeed, ten years is an extended period for medicine to last. However, they store the medication under SLEP in ideal conditions, unlike regular households and preppers.

Medications at Home versus SLEP Warehouse

People often cite the SLEP as proof that the antibiotics will last long. However, people don't usually realize that in the study, they store the drugs in an ideal setup.

At home, we place the prescriptions drugs in a pill bottle provided by the pharmacy and not in sealed containers and noted by Svensson just like in the factories.

The pill bottles are not humidity-proof, which is one reason why you must not keep them in the shower room. Other people leave their medicines inside their cars or at any place, exposing them to extreme temperatures.

Indeed, the medication we have at home is not stored ideally as the SLEP warehouse. In a nutshell, before you apply the SLEP findings, consider that the drugs are stored in their original packaging in the program.

Staff continually monitor it according to the instructions specified by the manufacturers.

Factors that Negatively Affect the Medicines

Various factors contribute to the adverse effects of the medicines. The primary factors are as follows:
  • Light
  • Moisture
  • Oxygen
  • Temperature

Thus, you must strictly be conscious of these factors in properly preserving the drugs at your home. If you do not monitor the storage conditions of the medicine, it will start to degrade before its actual date of expiration.


Tips to Store Antibiotics at Home

To enable your antibiotics to last at least their expiration date given, make sure to follow the following tips:

Store in Tight Containers

The first thing to do is store your antibiotics in tight containers with a room temperature of about 59 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you think about keeping your antibiotics other than the containers provided by the pharmacy, make sure that you follow the United States Pharmacopeial Convention standards for the packaging of your medications.

For one, ensure that the containers you use are not plastic and it does not leach your medicines or vice versa. Vacuum sealing can help some preppers, but in most cases, it is not necessary at all.

Keep it at Room Temperature.

If you leave your medicines in your car or a room on a hot summer day, that could make it unusable, according to Prabhavathi Fernandes of the Cempra Pharmaceuticals.

Some medicines exposed to hot temperatures could be okay, while you can destroy some of them due to environmental conditions. However, storing your antibiotics below room temperature is not a good idea too.

Refrigeration can certainly prolong the life of drugs, but it does not apply to all. Some tablets can absorb moisture, and some may become unstable and break down.

Refrigerate Liquid Antibiotics

Most liquid medicines have a short life, and they must be refrigerated. However, be sure to follow the instructions as indicated on its label.

Close its container tightly and keep it away from children. Also, you must not use it past its expiration date.

What Happens When an Antibiotic Goes Bad

So, what does it mean if the antibiotic goes bad? For one, toxicity is not always the concern when an antibiotic goes past its expiration date.

There are very few medicines that break down into something else and cause harm as the medicine ages.

The majority of expired medicines can lead to a decrease in potency. When you use an expired antibiotic, it will not cure your disease, and it will give way to the emergence of resistant strains.

With this, you'll get sickly with the possibility of acquiring mutant bacteria. And even if you use a factory-version of another antibiotic, it will not be enough to kill the newly resistant infection inside your body.

Also, you have contributed to the antibiotic resistance outside your body. For example, if your friend or family members catch your disease, they will also acquire antibiotic-resistance bugs.

Ways to Tell if an Antibiotic is Expired

Just by merely sniffing the leftover meat on the counter will not help you determine if it's terrible. The same is true for antibiotics.

You cannot judge the stability of an antibiotic just by merely smelling, tasting, or examining the looks of the tablet or the capsule. It is also the case for antibiotic syrups.

Sometimes, the medicine will look different as it ages, and its potency will reduce before changing physical appearance. As soon as you have noticed that the antibiotic has altered its appearance, it would help if you were alarmed.

In time, some medicines undergo deterioration which leads to dangerous substances and increases their toxicity. For example, Tetracycline can develop in expired antibiotics. It is a pale and yellow powder that becomes brownish ad viscous. It is dangerous even before reaching the expiration date.

Meanwhile, specific antibiotics like cephalosporins and penicillins increase allergen strength whenever it goes wrong. Don't use creams, pessaries, suppositories, and ointments that melt under extreme heat. Their active ingredient is not in a homogenous manner anymore.

Shelf Life of Antibiotics

Now that you have known the bad and good news about antibiotics, the question remains: If you store the medicines under ideal conditions, how long will they last? Most of the antibiotics can last longer than their expiration date.

However, the time varies. It can be from one year to ten years period. According to the 2006 report of the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, there is a variation in extension times of antibiotics. For example, if one lasts for ten years, it does not mean that it will go by any stretch.

Things to do with the Antibiotics

After knowing all of this information, it is clear that you must replace any antibiotics you have before the expiration date to be safe. Taking expired antibiotics, especially if you fail to store them optimally, will pose a health risk to you and your family, and it could be life-threatening.

But what if you are in an emergency or a disaster and all you have are expired medicines? What will you do? Indeed, it will become a judgment call. You can wish that your body can fight off the disease without using antibiotics, or you can take the expired drug.

In whatever scenario, there are both potential health risks. Indeed, an antibiotic does not become entirely unfit for consumption on the day after its expiration date, according to the Essential Drugs.

If you have stored it there and adequately no modification in physical aspects and solubility for generic medications, you can have the medicine. In some instances, it is better to use expired antibiotics than to leave an ill patient without any treatment at all.

Meanwhile, the expiration dates of drugs that require exact dosage should be strictly followed to prevent the risk of under or overdosage. It is valid for antiepileptic, cardiotonic, and toxic drugs.

There are often no exact black and white answers for survival scenarios, even for well-trained healthcare personnel. The best option is still to have excellent preparation before a disaster strikes.

If you wish to store antibiotics, store them properly as instructed. Replace them immediately if it's nearing its expiration date. In this way, if you do get into an emergency, you'll know you are safe because your antibiotics are all new.

Factors to Consider Before Using an Expired Medicine

Here are some of the factors that you should consider before using an expired medicine:

Formulation type

Manufacturers formulate antibiotics differently. There are tablets, aerosols, pills, and liquids. The stability of the formulation of the antimicrobial is indeed an essential consideration in its expiration.
The more unstable the formulation is, the faster it degrades. Among the formulation, liquids are the most dangerous in comparison with pills and tablets.

Storage Conditions

Determine if you have stored the medicines correctly. Please keep it away from moisture or too much heat.
Please place it in tight and sealed bottles issued by the pharmacy. If the medicine degrades by light, be sure that you store it in an amber-colored container.

Physical Appearance

If the tablet or the antibiotic pill breaks apart or is brittle, do not take it. If it has lost its shine, it becomes hard, its colors become different, or it precipitates; then don't drink the antibiotic.
For example, if the medicine's emulsions or suspensions remain separate even if you shake it again and again, then don't dare use it.


In sum, antibiotics do expire, and it is not always best to take an expired antibiotic, especially if you have failed to store it properly. The best way to prevent its degradation is to prepare and replace all medicines past their due date.
Expired medicines can affect your health and mutate the germs inside of you. You could also get antibiotic-resistant in the long run, and healing can be challenging. On the other hand, expired medicines are still safe to take, but these are on a case-by-case basis.
Either way, prevention is better than cure. By all means, don't take expired medicine if you are not 100% sure and replenish your dead stocks immediately. If you have questions regarding your medicines, always consult a doctor or a pharmacist.
Don't be confident of the drugs you are taking especially if you are not feeling well.

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