Medicine expiry dates: everything you need to know
Medicines on shelf

Why do medicines have expiry dates?

Medicines have expiry dates so you’re aware of when they need to be used by. If you use a medication after the expiry date, then you run the risk of it being less effective or unsafe. The expiry date is the latest guaranteed date that the medication is safe to use or take.

An expiry date gives you an indication of the shelf life and stability of your medication. It’s a legal requirement in the UK for all medicines to have an expiry date.

What does the ‘expiry date’ mean?

The expiry date means that you shouldn’t take the medication after the month that it expires. It's usually the last month that your medication or product will be at its best. After the expiry date has passed, there is no way to guarantee that it is still safe or efficient.

Medicines that contain preservatives might not be safe after the expiry date. Preservatives are added to a medicine to stop harmful bacteria growing in it. Once the expiry date has passed, these medicines can cause damage to your body. 

What does the ‘use by date’ mean?

The use by date on your medication is put in place instead of an expiry date. It means that you shouldn’t continue to take or use the medication after the end of the previous month stated on the packaging. 

Once you have gone past the use by date printed on your medication, it may become ineffective.

Is the ‘expiry date’ and ‘use by date’ the same?

The expiry date and use by date on your medication are similar, however, they don’t mean the same thing. 

You shouldn’t continue to take your medication if you have already gone past the month listed as your expiry date. As soon as that month has ended, you should stop taking or using the medication.

When it comes to the use by date you should be able to continue to take the medication until the end of the month, unless you notice a change in the medication.

Short expiry dates

Some medicines have a short expiry date. These medicines are usually prepared antibiotic mixtures or eye drops.

Prepared antibiotic mixtures are normally prepared by a pharmacist who will add water to the antibiotic powder. Once the formula has been mixed together, it ends up with a short expiry date. This is because the stability of the product has changed.

When it comes to eye drops, the expiry date usually kicks in once the bottle has been opened. Most eye drops will need to be thrown away 4 weeks after you have opened the bottle. This is to prevent your eyes from being exposed to any bacteria that might get into the bottle once it has been opened.

Pharmacist reading label to patient

Can you still use/take medicine after the expiry date?

In usual circumstances, you shouldn’t continue to use or take medicine after the expiry date. If you’ve had medicine for a while, then you must make sure you check the expiry date before using or taking it.

Although some medicines might be safe after the expiry date, there is no way to know unless it has been tested for potency. That's why it's safer to avoid using the medicine as you can’t guarantee its safety. The last thing you want to do is cause damage to your body or make yourself unwell.

Sometimes, a medical board such as the MRHA may advise that the product is still safe for use after the expiry date has passed. This is the only time that you should ever take or use medication that has gone past its expiry date.

What to do if your medicine looks off, but is still in date?

If your medicine looks off, even though it's not expired, it's important to be careful. Check it closely for any odd changes in colour, texture or smell. This is especially important if the packaging has been damaged, for example, by another liquid. 

Ask a pharmacist or doctor for advice if you're unsure. If you're still uncertain, don't use or take it. Dispose of it properly, as per the instructions provided. 

What to do if you’ve used/taken expired medicine

If you've taken or used any expired medicine, don't panic. In most cases, it's unlikely to cause serious harm, especially if it's just slightly past its expiration date. 

However, keep an eye out for any unusual symptoms or reactions. If you experience any adverse effects, contact a healthcare professional immediately. Always check expiration dates before taking medication, and properly dispose of any expired medicines to avoid this situation.

Where is the expiry date located?

You can locate the expiration date on the medicine packaging or label, which may be labelled as:

  • Expiry
  • Expiry date
  • Expires
  • Exp
  • Exp date
  • Use by
  • Use before

These dates are determined by either the medicine manufacturer or the pharmacist who provides it.

How to dispose of expired medicine

Unused and expired medications should be returned to pharmacies for proper disposal. The cardboard boxes that hold blister packs and any paper inserts can be recycled. 

However, inhalers should not be disposed of in regular waste bins due to the harmful gases they contain; instead, they can be recycled at any pharmacy. It's important not to flush medicines down the toilet as it can have negative environmental impacts. 

Proper disposal ensures the safety of both people and the environment.

Mounjaro 2.5mg expiration dates explained

For patients currently on the 2.5mg dose of Mounjaro, please read. 

The expiration date printed on the box of the 2.5mg of Mounjaro is 05/24 (May 2024). However, it’s essential to highlight that the MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency)[1] has extended the expiry date until 10/24 (October 2024). 

This means that the medication is safe for use after the 05/24 date has passed. If you have still not used the medication after 10/24, this is when you should safely dispose of it, following the instructions provided in the patient information leaflet[2]

For further information, please see here.

Medicines on shelf
Alexandra Moses - Medical Content Writer
James O'Loan - CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist
James O'Loan , CEO & Superintendent Pharmacist on 26 April 2024
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