Protein powder is expensive. Don’t trash it just because it’s past the expiration date. The truth is that protein powder usually doesn’t spoil until years after the printed expiration date.
In this article, I explain why that is the case. And I show you how to examine protein powder for telltale signs that it is going bad. Learn why in most cases, old protein powder is perfectly safe to eat, although it might not taste as good as it once did.
An expiration date is a notoriously conservative estimate
The FDA requires that all perishable foods have an expiration date printed on the packaging. Expiration dates, however, are merely conservative estimates on when food will begin to turn. It is well documented that foods are often edible past this date.
Therefore, it’s never a good idea to discard food solely based on the expiration date. It’s more accurate to use your senses to check for signs of spoilage and rancidity. A visual inspection and the good old “smell test” are the way to go (more on this below).
Dry powders preserve especially well
Dry powders, such as protein powder, stay edible for many years if stored in proper conditions. The same is true for dried spices, such as salt and pepper. Most dehydrated foods have exceptional shelf lives.
Why? Because bacteria causes food to spoil, and bacteria requires water to survive. Bacteria will not grow in dry powder or in a vacuum-sealed container. After a tub of protein powder is opened, however, moisture from the air can then be absorbed by the powder. This decreases potential shelf life.
Storage conditions affect shelf life
How have you stored your protein powder? This has a lot to do with how long after the expiration date it will remain edible.
Optimally, protein powder should be stored in a cool, dry place. And most importantly, in a tightly sealed container. A sealed container prevents the powder from absorbing water from humid air. Exposure to heat or light degrades product quality over time.
If your canister has never been opened (it is still vacuum sealed), it should remain edible for several years past expiration date. An opened container that has been stored properly is likely still okay to eat for some time.
Checking protein powder for signs of spoilage
So now we’ve established that the expiration date is only a rough guideline. Physical inspection is the only way to know for sure if that old protein powder is still alright to consume. Here’s what to look for:
- Any discoloration (usually dark), even if it is only tiny specks of discoloration in the powder. This is a sign of bacterial or fungal growth. If you see this, you shouldn’t eat it. It’s gone bad.
- Has the powder become clumpy? Has it hardened into a mass and doesn’t feel like powder anymore? This indicates air moisture has been absorbed by the powder. Once this happens, it doesn’t take long for the protein powder to become spoiled. The moisture allows for rapid bacterial growth.
- Often the best test for any food is the smell test. How does the powder smell? Trust your instincts on this. If it smells “off” in any way, you should go ahead and discard it.
If your expired protein powder passes all these tests, it should be perfectly safe to consume. However, there are a few caveats to keep in mind:
Loss of lysine
Lysine is one of the 14 essential amino acids in milk-based protein powders (most notably whey and casein protein powder). Unfortunately, lysine breaks down over time. So, expired protein powder contains less lysine the longer it sits on the shelf.
What does this mean? Without lysine, a protein powder is not a source of complete protein. In order to build muscle, hair, and tissue, the body needs to acquire all 14 essential amino acids from the diet. The body is not able to produce essential amino acids on its own.
How important is this loss of lysine? In my opinion, not very. Not enough to toss out older protein powder. Because lysine is still available to the body via meats and other dietary sources. There is not likely to be a dietary deficiency just because protein powder is lacking it.
Loss of flavor and texture
You will probably notice that old protein powder doesn’t taste as good as it once did. Its fresh flavor slowly becomes stale over time. The texture can also change, sometimes making it taste a little like cardboard. Over time, protein powder has a tendency to absorb odors from its storage environment, as well.
Although still healthy to eat, if the taste is off-putting, it just may be worthwhile to go ahead and replace it with the new container. It’s purely a personal decision.
In most cases, protein powder is still healthy and safety well past its posted expiration date. Rather than relying on a notoriously unreliable expiration date, it’s better to inspect the product first hand. This is a much more accurate way to determine if expired protein powder has truly gone bad.
As expensive as protein powder is, I definitely don’t want to throw it away if I don’t have to.
What do you think? Please comment below. And if you are ready to buy some new protein powder, please see the links below. Thanks.
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