Product labelling is a very important component of pharmaceutical good manufacturing practice. And for people using medicines, the information on the package may be the only source of instructions on how to use the medicine. This may include how the medicine should be taken, manufacture date, batch number, registration number and expiry date.

What is expiry date?

The Expiry Date is the date after which medicines should no longer be used. Beyond this date the manufacturer cannot guarantee full potency and safety of the medicine. The expiry date is stamped on the medicine’s container and can be presented in several wording or format. These dates can sometimes be confusing even to some trained medical personnel. The expiry date varies according to products and may be set as a fixed time:

• After manufacture

• After dispensing

• After opening of the manufacturers container

For example, if the expiry date is written as 11/2020, will the medicines be useful up to month end of November 2020 or you can no longer use the medicine starting 1st November 2020? Understanding how to interpret the assigned dates after which medicines should no longer be used is important to ensure getting safe and effective treatment. The expiry date can be expressed as a month and year, or as a day, month, and year as described in the table below:

Label/wording on packagingDefinition
Discard after January 2020Do not use after 31/01/2020
Use by January 2020Do not use after 31/12/2019
Best before January 2020Do not use after 31/12/2019
Use before end January 2020Do not use after 31/01/2020
Expires January 2020Do not use after 31/01/2020
Exp. 01/20Do not use after 31/01/2020
EXP. 14/01/20Do not use after 14/01/2020
Expires two years from date of manufactureSelf explanatory
Use within one month of openingSelf explanatory
Discard 7 days after openingSelf explanatory

Some important safety tips on expiry dates:

Is it safe to take medicines that are past the expiration date?

As earlier stated, there’s no guarantee that the medicine taken will be safe or let alone effective. The chemical composition of medicines can break down over time lead to loss of potency and stability. Due to loss of stability, the excipients or rather inactive ingredients (such as stabilizing agents, sweeteners, preservatives, solvents) may react with the active pharmaceutical ingredient resulting in serious harm to the consumer.

What are the dangers of consuming expired medicines?

Consumers are sometimes quick to disregard expiration dates of their medications. These habits may be attributed to the rising cost of medications, negligence, illiteracy, low social economic status, lack of insurance, or unawareness of the harm in doing so.

Dangers of consuming expired medicines includes among other things; treatment failure, antimicrobial resistance, increased costs and hospital stay, longer sick days leading to increased absence from work/school, serious disability or death.

For more information on medication expiry, please visit your nearest pharmacy or health facility and contact your Pharmacist or Doctor.

Compiled by Pharmacists Billy Chabalenge and Saini Kennedy L.

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