Admit it, you have at least one (or a few) containers of whey protein or other supplements gathering dust in the back of your pantry. Maybe you forgot about it or maybe you decided to save money by purchasing it in bulk and ended up with more than you needed. You are thinking about using it, but are probably wondering does whey protein go bad?

How Long Does Whey Protein Last?

All whey protein products should have some type of expiration date on the label or bottom of the container. This can be a “use by,” “best by,” “expiration” or “sell by” date. Sometimes these terms can be confusing, so here is a breakdown of what they mean:

  • “Use By” date is when a product should be consumed or thrown away. This is most common on refrigerated foods. The food might be able to be consumed a few days after that date, but you should probably toss it if goes much beyond that.
  • “Best by” date is when the product begins to lose quality. The taste and smell might be off if you use it beyond that date. This date doesn’t indicate when the food is no longer safe to eat, so it won’t be dangerous. The food can be safe for several months beyond this date, but it just might not taste that great. 
  • “Expiration” date is when the food is no longer edible. This term is rarely used because it is difficult to predict how long a food will last.
  • “Sell by” date is really for the retailer of a product to determine its shelf life at the store. This has little to do with whether it is safe to consume once you bring it home.

For whey protein products, most will have a “best by” or “use by” date that is pretty long, usually between 12 to 18 months. Many can last up to two years, so that should give you enough time to use up the product before it expires. 

The date on the package doesn’t mean that it needs to be thrown out on that date, as this is not an expiration date. Protein powders are usually dry, so they are not a major source of bacterial contamination like many other food products. This means that whey protein can last several months beyond the date on the container, if you store it properly. If it is unopened, it will last even longer.

One thing to note is that if you want to maximize the nutritional benefits, then you will want to use the protein powder before the date on the package. Over time, the beneficial amino acids start to break down due to a chemical reaction between the protein and sugar in the product called Maillard browning. One amino acid, lysine is particularly sensitive to this chemical process. Old whey may not be as beneficial nutritionally as a fresh product.

In addition, many whey protein products contain added vitamins or minerals. If you consume the product beyond the “best by” date, the nutrients inside my have degraded. Although this won’t hurt you, it means you aren’t getting the nutritional benefit you are looking for.

Signs of Spoilage

If your whey protein has been hanging around your pantry for a while, look for signs of spoilage before consuming it. A few things to look for:

  • Off smell or color change.
  • Abnormal caking.
  • Strange taste, especially a “fishy” or cardboard-like taste.

If you suspect that the whey is bad, it is best to throw it away.  Don’t risk your health to try to salvage an old supplement.

How to Store Whey Protein

The best way to extend the shelf life of any protein powder is to store it correctly. Protein is particularly sensitive to heat, light and moisture. Store the whey in a cool, dark place like a pantry or kitchen cabinet. Don’t keep it next to the stove or in your car. Be sure to replace the lid securely after use to prevent any moisture, light or bacteria from getting inside.

Keep the protein powder in the container that it came in. These are usually opaque to prevent light from destroying the product. Do not store the protein in a glass or clear plastic container for any extended period of time.

For most protein powder products, the original package is designed to be opened and resealed regularly. Replace the lid as soon as you use the product. If it comes in a bag, be sure to seal the bag completely after each use.

If your protein powder has been mixed with any liquid, like in a smoothie, then you will want to drink it within two days. After that it will start to taste terrible. For best results, drink your smoothie within a few hours of preparing it.

If you are ever unsure of the quality or safety of your whey protein, then it is best just to throw it away rather than risk your health further.

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