If you’ve accumulated a stockpile of rapid at-home COVID-19 tests over the course of the pandemic — including a handful of free products delivered by the government to your home — you may be surprised to learn that many of these products have a rather limited shelf life. It’s why federal health officials at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced they’d extended expiration dates on a number of rapid antigen home tests that are sold at pharmacies and clinics in the U.S. Currently, nine different brands have had their rapid antigen COVID-19 tests’ expiration dates expired well into 2022 (all of which are highlighted in the section below).
Depending on the brand you’ve purchased or received, there’s a chance you may be able to use an “expired” test without risking an inaccurate result. But it’s crucial to check updated FDA announcements on COVID-19 tests and their expiration dates, as medical experts say that an older expired test may contain testing materials that have degraded past peak performance — which may likely cause an inaccurate test overall.
“While we can’t know the precise decrease in accuracy would be, an expired COVID-19 home test no longer qualifies as something appropriate for human testing,” explains Emily Volk, M.D., FCAP, the president of the College of American Pathologists.
“The concern is that it wouldn’t work as intended, and the accuracy is decreased — but we just don’t know if that’s by .1% or if by 20%,” she adds.
Below, we’re identifying the list of at-home COVID-19 rapid tests that have new, extended expiration dates that are being monitored by FDA officials — as well as answers to all of your questions about using an expired COVID-19 test.
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Which COVID-19 tests have extended deadlines set by the FDA?
It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to ask for updated guidance on medical tests; as many of the COVID-19 rapid tests on the market have been approved over a year ago, the FDA may be petitioned to extend their official shelf life for a number of reasons. Dr. Volk explains that the main reason FDA officials extended deadlines had to do with a myriad of supply chain issues (which affected baby formula and tampons as well) in late 2021 and 2022, mostly in the interest of preventing any potential regional shortages and unnecessary waste.
“They took a look at expiration dates that they had put on the initial batch of over-the-counter COVID tests and realized it would be safe and appropriate to extend… without risking a decrease in the performance characteristics of those tests,” Dr. Volk adds.
Announcements of these extensions were made as early as May 2022, with nine different rapid tests currently receiving approval to be used past their printed expiration date.
FDA officials maintain a full list of all 22 approved, self-administered COVID-19 tests and their expiration status, which includes product lot information for those items that have indeed been extended.
Here are the COVID-19 test products with official extended expiration dates:
Most of these products have had expiration dates extended as much as 6 months past their printed date; these include recently manufactured tests that may list a late 2022 expiration date, which is now extended into early 2023.
We’ll continue to monitor the FDA’s live list of COVID-19 tests and update this guide as necessary.
Why does a COVID-19 test have an expiration date?
Most people don’t notice a printed expiration date on many kinds of medical tests that are often self-administered, Dr. Volk explains, including everything from glucose test strips to pregnancy tests. An expiration date on a medical test, COVID-19 tests included, simply indicates the final day that the test is expected to perform effectively.
“It’s meant to ensure that you have materials that haven’t degraded or passed a point where they are no longer as effective as they were when initially packaged together,” Dr. Volk adds, explaining that the liquid reagent used in COVID-19 tests to suspend nasal samples are particularly at risk.
Usually, the FDA authorizes medical home test kits for periods of time between six and 12 months — the case for many currently approved COVID-19 test kits and their shelf life. Manufacturers may ask FDA officials for an extension if they’re able to provide evidence that suggests extended accuracy beyond its printed expiration date, as medical officials have noted publicly.
Should I use an expired COVID-19 test?
The short answer? No — unless it’s a test kit with a date that the FDA has extended. Federal health officials say an expiration date indicates a point at which materials in a COVID-19 test kit likely degrade, which is an easy way to produce invalid or inaccurate test results, especially for those who are actively feeling sick.
“If a test is truly past an FDA-approved expiration date, it really should not be used to test a patient… beyond that expiration date, then [FDA officials] can no longer provide that safety or assurance,” Dr. Volk explains, adding that expiration dates play a huge role in providing a guarantee to Americans that chemicals within the test kit will work as intended. “An expired test no longer meets the qualifications of a test appropriate for human use.”
If you’ve noticed that your tests have officially expired, don’t attempt to use them anyway — remember, those with healthcare insurance are entitled to fully-reimbursable (or free!) tests currently, up to eight individual tests per month, as part of a federal COVID-19 program.
The bottom line:
If you’ve had COVID-19 test kits laying around your home for a while, check with the FDA to see if their expiration dates have been extended — and if not, be sure to dispose of them immediately.
Taking a rapid test at home is a smart decision for those who suspect they have COVID-19, but if you’ve only noticed after conducting a test that it has expired, it’s time to try an alternative route.
“Expired or not expired, if you are symptomatic for COVID-19 and have been recently exposed, you should go seek out a laboratory PCR test from a healthcare provider,” Dr. Volk says, adding that a rapid test is just one indicator of health. You likely need further confirmation and help from a healthcare provider in any case, regardless of whether your home test is expired or brand new.
Zee Krstic is the health editor for GoodHousekeeping.com, where he covers health and nutrition news, decodes diet and fitness trends, and reviews the best products in the wellness aisle. Zee fostered a nutrition background previously as an editor at Cooking Light, and is continually developing his grasp of holistic health through collaboration with leading academic experts and clinical care providers. He has written about food and dining for Time among other publications.
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