Medicines expiry date and tips on medicine storage at home



Do you know where you are supposed to store your medicines at home?

You probably know that you should be keeping them up and away and out of sight and reach of children. But now ask yourself, are my medicines properly stored? All medicines have their storage instructions written on the labels such as storing at room temperature or refrigeration. Medicines not properly stored can expire as the chemical composition may have changed making the medicine weaker and unlikely to provide the treatment you need. There are so many factors that can damage medicines and some include exposure to light, moisture and air. This exposure usually occurs due to inappropriate storage condition which may render the medicine ineffective, or even harmful if ingested. It is therefore important to keep in mind that where you store your medicine can affect its potency and safety.

The first step is to take a look at all the medicines you have. Start by checking the expiry date on the bottle or container of your medicines as you do not want to consume expired medicines just like you check the expiry dates of food in a super-market before buying. The dates after which medicines should no longer be used can be a confusing even to medical personnel. This is because of the misunderstandings about the differences between expiry dates and beyond-use dates. So for example, the expiry date is written as 11/2019, will the medicines be useful up to month end of November 2019 or you can no longer use the medicine starting 1st November 2019? Understanding how to interpret the assigned dates after which medicines should no longer be used is important for making sure you get safe and effective treatment.

The expiry date can be expressed as a month and year, or as a day, month, and year. Legally, if just the month and year are indicated, the medicine can be used or dispensed until the last day of that month but if the day is also stated then the medicine is safe to use up to the stated date. An official definition of the manufacturer’s expiry date is the “date beyond which ideally stored medicines in the unopened manufacturer’s storage container or in most circumstances, the opened and intact manufacturer’s storage container, should not be used.” An official definition for beyond-use date is the “date beyond which medications that have been manipulated and/or repackaged and stored or dispensed in a container other than the original manufacturer’s storage container should not be used.” Therefore, depending on the medicine the expiry date may be set as a fixed time after manufacture, dispensing and the opening of the manufacturer’s container. Apart from checking the expiry date before use, check that there is no colour change to your medicine and other things like the medicine has dried out, crumbled, or show other signs that they are past their prime. You should try to do this type of inventory every six months or at least once a year.

For tablets and capsules stored in dispensing bottles from pharmacy e.g. pill packs, 6 months from the date of dispensing unless otherwise informed by the pharmacist should be considered as beyond-use date. Similarly, Oral liquids (in original manufacturer’s packaging or amber bottles) should have a 6 months expiry from the date of opening or follow manufacturer’s guidance e.g. for specially manufactured items or expiry date on the packaging. For antibiotics, check with your pharmacist if not clear from the label. When tablets and capsules are packed in original blister strips or container with a printed expiry date, follow the manufacturer’s expiry date as printed on the original box or individual foils. For Insulin products, if the vial is not opened, follow the manufacturer’s expiry date and store in a fridge at a temperature between 2°C and 8°C. Once opened, ensure that the insulin vials and pens are used within 4 weeks unless otherwise stated. It is also important to note that an opened vial of insulin can be kept at normal room temperature for up to 28 days. For Sterile Eye/Ear/Nose drops/Ointments such as tetracycline eye ointment, the medicine should be considered ineffective 28 days from the date of opening. External liquids (e.g. Lotions, shampoos & bath oils), 6 months from opening or manufacturer’s recommendation is advised. Finally, for asthmatic patients using an inhaler should normally follow the manufacturer’s expiry date but ensure that the inhaler is cleaned at least once per week to prevent any medicine build-up on the inhaler as this can block the spray.

The majority of medicines may be stored at room temperature (below 30oC), in a cool dry place. Examples include your dresser drawers, a closet, a storage box, and a shelf. It’s best to avoid putting medicines in the bathroom and kitchen, since the heat and moisture from your shower, bath, stove, hot appliances, and sinks may damage your medicine. Always remember to store your medicines out of sight and reach of children and pets, to prevent accidental ingestion. Keep all medicines in the original container in which they were dispensed and follow the recommended storage instructions. Medicines should be user specific and ‘sharing’ of medicines including antibiotics, creams and ointments is prohibited.

If you are traveling, always make sure you store your medicines in the original labeled container and carry a copy of the prescription to avoid problems at the border as well as to facilitate drug identification in case of emergency. Do not combine medicines into a single container to save space. Always carry your medicines in the carry-on luggage, and consider placing silica packs in medicines if extended travel is planned in hot or humid environments. Any medicine that requires refrigeration must be kept cool for the duration of travel. This can be done using a cooler which should then be refrigerated once the destination is reached.

Being diligent about storing your medicines safely and appropriately will help ensure that you get the most out of your medicine, protect your health and those around you.

By Billy Chabalenge,
Pharmacist and a Registration officer for human medicines under Zambia Medicines Regulatory Authority.


    • Billy you should be warning people about the mushrooming of fake medicines in zambia and the dangers of buying medicines like antibiotics from market stalls.
      Stop being petty there are more important things to tell people.
      People are dying.

  1. Ba Yama hold your fire.Billy’s column is just the starting point………who knows may be tomorrow he will talk about what you have suggested.I do not see any pettiness about the message he has relayed to the people that care.Its you Yama who is petty on this!

  2. Perfect information to the general public. My appeal to you is that you continue sharing such important information with the people so many unnecessary deaths caused by use of expired medicines due to lack of knowledge regarding the the dangers associated with such acts. Thanks once again.

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