Are your current COVID test kits expiring? On April 10, 2023, COVID-19 as a national emergency was ended, and on May 11, 2023, the federal government ended COVID-19 as a public health emergency.
Unfortunately, COVID is not going away but it is under much better control now. Vaccines, boosters, and better treatment options are available. During the pandemic, the rapid at home COVID test kits were a godsend.
As sometimes occurs after an emergency situation ends, the past several months has led to a blissful ignorance of the COVID problem by many, and it is a pretty good guess that many of us have stashes of COVID test kits in our medicine cabinets.
Unfortunately, cases of COVID are on the rise again and it is not as easy for everyone to get more test kits. But if you still have COVID test kits at home, have they expired? If expired, can they still be used? Are they still effective and for how long?
Each COVID test kit has an expiration date published on the box. But it is possible that the expiration dates on your kits may have been extended as much as two years after the manufacturing date!
The reason behind this action is that so many people do have unused stockpiles of rapid COVID test kits at home. If the expiration dates were not updated, the result would be unnecessary waste.
The difference between an 'expiration date' and the ‘best before’ date we see on food is easily explained...
In the grocery store, anything with a shelf life over 90 days is not required to have date labeling. For those foods with less than a 90-day shelf life, a 'best before' date is required.
However, the 'best before' date only lets the consumer know how long the food will maintain its freshness, taste or nutritional value. Only certain foods require true expiration dates.
Medications also have expiration dates. The problem here is that medications will degrade over time and lose their effectiveness.
Once a year the Drug Enforcement Agency in the United States has a ‘Take Back Day’ where unused expired medications are collected across the country. (The agency collected 332 tons of expired medications this year (2023)!)
To determine how long it will take for a medication to degrade usually requires accelerated stability testing on new products. When these drugs are subject to extreme temperatures and conditions, the companies can then determine how long they would last under standard conditions.
Although many medications may still be okay to use beyond their expiration dates, there may not be sufficient data to prove their effectiveness after that suggested expiration date.
With COVID test kits, the concern is not so much one of safety, as it is with medicine product degradation which can lead to a lack of efficacy or potential harm with expired medications.
The real worry is that an expired test will produce inaccurate results such as false negatives. This is because a positive result depends on the COVID antigen on the nasal swab interacting with labeled antibodies in the test kit producing a color change. If the antibodies in the test kit degrade over time, that reaction will not be generated to show a positive test, even if you are sick.
**It is important to note that an extended expiration date should only be applied to unopened bottles and packaging. Exposing products to ambient air and humidity can accelerate the degradation process.
Please click here to determine if the FDA has extended the shelf life of your COVID test kit.
If you don't see anything on the FDA page, you can also check the manufacturer to see if they've posted a letter from the FDA that their tests have been extended.
In January of 2022, President Biden announced the launch of CovidTests.gov where households could order four free rapid antigen COVID-19 tests shipped by USPS. The site added four more free tests in March of 2022, eight more in May of 2022, and a final four in the winter of 2022.
The newest round of shipments (September 2023) will include four COVID test kits per family. It is easy to order the free tests from the Postal Service. A short form can be filled out online at covidtest.gov or kits can be requested using a toll-free phone number: 800-232-0233.
For those who do not want to perform at-home testing and would prefer to have a local pharmacy or health center test for COVID, please click here to find pharmacies and health centers in your area… Community-Based Testing Sites for COVID-19 | HHS.gov.
Please remember, if any doubt remains about the validity of your rapid at home COVID tests, the simple solution is to get a new one.