What is the story on Nutritional Products (especially Proteins) Passed Their “Sell By” Date? Are They Still Safe To Use? I just wanna go after all those cheap online deals!

Yes, we get a lot of this type of question at the gym or in the shop from people who just bought something like a 50 kg bag of  Brand X’s SuperDuper Protein Powder on Amazon, got free door-to-door delivery for the bargain basement price of  say £12.99 and found out that it had BBE or EXPIRY date of June 1999 emblazoned across it. “But, hell, it was such a good deal, I just couldn’t resist!”

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I feel you, mate, I really do. But, let’s face it, it was “such a good deal” for a reason. The businessman part of me is a little pissed-off that the guy just assumed and didn’t give us a chance and check our prices first. I will usually stop myself from saying: “Great, I’m glad you tapped into a little of that good old false economy mentality, maybe your Amazon Customer Service Manager should be answering your questions.” Although, every once in a while someone will catch me on a bad day, with the devil clapping me on the shoulder, when, ready or not, out it comes. Gee whiz, I’m only another human being trying to make a living, not a saint.

Ok, but it’s going to cost this unwary penny-pincher of a customer a fortune to send it back (which may or may not be refunded, read the tiny print, Mr. Bargain Hunter), so I’m going to answer this question once and for all (mainly as far as protein powders are concerned). Then you can just go on and patronise that unhelpful, impersonal, small-business-eating A -> Z big- bulldozing-doesn’t-give-a-shit-about-you-bullyboy if you want to. Be my guest, after all, it’s your call.

Just remember, when all us little bricks & mortar guys go out of business, you’re on your own.

And who’s fault is that?

Ok, apologies for the whining digression, I’m good now…let’s get on with the matter at hand.

A truly accurate answer to the question asked depends on several factors. An example of some of these factors are:

  1. How far past the BBE or EXPIRY date it is;
  2. How the protein powder has been stored, under what conditions;
  3. Has it been opened, exposed to the elements? If so, has it been kept dry, out of the sun, in a relatively clean environment?
  4. The source of the protein and other components that are contained as additional ingredients in it, i.e. CHO content, antioxidant composition, type of protein(s), etc.
  5. Brand represented. Yes, some brands certainly are superior to others. But cost/brand recognition is not always a reliable gauge for quality of product. If you are in the business, a student out to learn something, or just a curious fitness geek who likes to keep abreast of things, websites like ConsumerLab.com – independent tests and reviews can be helpful in determining the composition and quality of a product that you are considering for use.
  6. A point, not directly related but interesting nevertheless (one that might possibly be expanded on by an expert or other professional more educated in the subject than I) is that all those Sell By, BBE and Expiry date designators mean different things and apply in different ways. What the nature and applicability of the information they are supplying to you has to do with the composition and ingredients of the food, product or drug that they are stamped on.

As protein powder is shipped and sold as a dry weight commodity, it tends to be a pretty stable item, with rather low incidence of bacterial, yeast or fungal contamination. The first thing that will start to signal a degradation of product will be that it starts to taste “off”. This degradation in taste signals a Mallard Reaction is in play and will usually occur between 12–18 months after the expiration date. This state of things does not yet mean a 911 (999 here in Britain), you don’t have to chuck it out the window and seek shelter just yet, but you may want to use this protein in cooking or baking instead of in your morning or post training shake. Particularly, if you’re trying to impress anyone you care about with the flavour of your healthy, muscle building concoction.

As a general rule of thumb, depending on your circumstances and how desperate to save money you are (are you a starving student short on cash, a castaway washed ashore on a deserted desert island with only a duffle bag of full of protein tubs at your disposal?) it is very likely you should be able to squeeze a couple of years past the date of any notice from your antique protein cache.

Sorry, but not so sure about that 1999 Amazon Deal, though. I suppose the question to ask yourself when you are considering any product that carries an expiry older than a deuce stamp would be: “How desperate & lucky do I feel, today?”

After all, your own hard-earned is really what’s at stake here, innit?

General medical disclaimers apply, I am not a doctor or food tech degree holder, etc.

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