The most common response to asking if anything expired is okay to eat or does it go bad is decidedly a rolling of the eyes with a “Yes, duh” type response. But as simplistic and easy as that may seem to be the answer, in the case of powdered protein, it is not really a yes or no answer. There are a lot of factors to consider when making the decision to consume expired protein or not.
The first thing you should know, is, that expiration dates vary from product to product and manufacturer to manufacturer. Dave Read, the Agriculture Department’s assistant director of dairy and food inspection, said the expiration dates are an estimate of the manufacturer’s quality date:
“A manufacturer doesn’t want a food sold past the date, because they’re concerned about their reputation.”
It’s more of an indicator of quality than an indicator of safety. So there is definitely some wiggle room.
The second thing you should know is canned and powdered goods have even more slack. Dry goods and canned items can be good for years after their expiration date as long as they are unopened. But, even if opened, those items can often last one year if stored in a cool, dry location, the government says. If you use the smell test – congratulate yourself. It’s the same technique safety regulators suggest. According to the USDA:
“Foods can develop an off odor, flavor or appearance due to spoilage bacteria. If a food has developed such characteristics, you should not use it for quality reasons.”
So, when it comes to protein powder, there is some leeway. If you find a container that has not been opened, and it has not been sitting in a shed in Arizona, you should be okay. Dry, dark and cool are the keys to the life of protein powder. If it has been unopened, you should be good to go. If it has been in a cool dry place, but has been opened, you have entered new territory. Now you need to check for a few other things.
First, moisture is your enemy. If it was not in a dry place, you have reason for concern. Look for clumps. If there are clumps, you need to dump. There is no reason to mess around with protein powder exposed to moisture. Moisture also breeds bacteria and that is not something you want to mess with. Not only is it now spoiled, but, it has zero potency. Water and protein mix are only good if you are mixing and drinking immediately.
Second, check how it smells. As recommended by the USDA, if it smells bad, it is bad. No two ways about it. Think about bad meat – it stinks and there is no way a sane person would put that in their body – it doesn’t matter what you paid for it. Use that logic with the protein powder. It does not matter how much that tub cost you, if you improperly stored it and it wreaks, toss it.
Now, if it does not have clumps and does not have a wicked odor, the last step would be a bit of a taste. Put a bit on your finger. If you have used the powder before, you should know what taste is good and what is bad. If it tastes okay, you are probably okay. If you are unsure about any of these tests, it is best to toss it. Everyone is trying to save money these days but at what expense. It is better to toss it, buy a smaller tub this time and use it until it is gone.
There are a few things you can do to avoid having to question and wonder about the safety of your protein powder. First, when you purchase, check the expiration date. The oldest products are usually kept to the front, so do not just run by and grab the front can. Do like you see the old ladies do, scrounge to the back of the shelf and get the latest date possible.
When storing it at home, it must be in a cool dry place – a cupboard that stays cool is just fine. If kept tightly sealed, the fridge is okay but keep the moisture out. Once you choose where you are going to store it, keep it there (do not switch from fridge to cupboard, as you can cause condensation – remember, moisture is bad).
The rules change a bit once you mix your powder with water to drink it. If you are not going to drink it right away, it must be refrigerated until you are ready to drink it. Leaving it out of the fridge once mixed will not only cause it to spoil, but it will have less potency. Depending on what type you use, the potency of any added vitamins or minerals wanes once mixed so you need to drink it right away. Once you have mixed the protein powder and water, and you have refrigerated it, you need to drink it within 24 hours MAX. After that, you might as well be drinking just water.
Protein powder is purified during its liquid to powder process. Once sealed at the manufacturing plant, the product is able to withstand a very, very long shelf life – only if left sealed and not exposed to extreme heat. It is probably one of the safer items you can use past the expiration date.
So if you are cleaning out a cupboard or closet and come across a sealed container – good for you. If it isn’t older than two years, and the container hasn’t been compromised, then you are probably the proud owner of a nice supply of protein powder. If it is not sealed, and I cannot reiterate this enough, and you are really insistent on using it, test it out for moisture, smell and taste. If you just don’t know if the protein is okay, then keep to this saying: “When in doubt, toss it out.”