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Check Your At-Home COVID-19 Test's Expiration Date
By Michelle Udayamurthy, MD
As COVID-19 continues to mutate into new variants, you might find yourself reaching for an at-home rapid antigen test you previously obtained to find out if you’ve been infected.
But before you take an at-home test, check the expiration date, because using one that’s past its stated shelf life could affect the results. Look for it on the back of the box.
Over-the-Counter Tests Have an Expiration Date
An expiration date on a COVID-19 at-home test indicates the manufacturer’s expectation that the test will perform as intended until the date on the box, provided it has been stored and used correctly.
To determine the shelf-life of the test, manufacturers perform what’s called stability testing. This type of testing confirms the time period over which the test’s performance and results remain stable, accurate, and reliable.
While it's true that some parts of an at-home COVID test, like the swab, for example, may not expire, the vials of liquid and test strips do. Those components of a COVID-19 test are what impact the reliability of results.
Some At-Home Rapid Tests May Have an Extended Expiration Date
At the start of the pandemic, manufacturers were conservative with expiration dates when at-home tests were first released. Since then, more studies have been conducted on at-home tests and the virus. Through this research, experts have determined that, based on newly submitted data, the expiration dates for some test kits can be extended beyond what’s indicated on the box. In fact, several at-home rapid tests have had their expiration dates extended from 15 to 22 months.
The best way to determine if your test has expired is to visit the U.S. Food and Drug (FDA) website, which has a list of authorized diagnostic tests. Here, you will find manufacturers names, test names, and any extended expiration dates. In some cases, you’ll be able to compare lot numbers. You’ll find your test kit’s lot number next to the expiration date on the packaging.
If your at-home test has an extended expiration date, it is safe and appropriate to use.
But if the FDA listing doesn’t indicate an extended expiration date for your particular test, discard the test. The FDA doesn’t recommend using an expired at-home COVID-19 test. The tests and parts they are made of may degrade, or break down, over time. Because of this, expired tests could give inaccurate or invalid results.
How You Store Your At-Home COVID-19 Test Matters
In addition to the expiration date, how you store your at-home test can also affect its accuracy.
Keeping tests in a cool, dry place, just like you do other medicines, is important. Exposing at-home tests to extreme cold or hot temperatures may impact their accuracy before they expire.
Current At-Home COVID-19 Tests Can Detect the Latest Variants
Since the onset of COVID-19, we've seen the virus mutate with different variants, making you wonder if at-home tests can accurately detect the newest variants, such as EG.5, FL.5.1, and BA.2.86. The FDA and other experts say that the current available at-home tests can pick up the new strains and are no more or no less effective, primarily because they haven’t mutated to the point of being undetectable.
Protect Yourself and Others
The best way to defend against contracting a severe case of COVID-19 is by staying up to date with your vaccinations and booster shots, as recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about when and where to obtain a vaccine or booster shot.