Your ‘expired’ COVID-19 home tests might not be expired yet

Two boxes of COVID self-tests

As of Sept. 25, 2023, COVID-19 home testing kits are available again free of charge, provided by the government through the United States Postal Service. Each household can get up to four tests (see more at covid.gov/tests).

If you order these tests, though, you’ll likely see a notice saying that the tests you receive in the mail might appear to be past their expiration dates. It then points to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) webpage to learn your home COVID-19 test’s extended expiration date.

So, why have expiration dates on these tests, and how can they be extended like this?

What expiration dates mean on COVID-19 tests

Expiration dates on COVID-19 test kits are the end of their “shelf life.” Similar to expiration dates on groceries and medicines, an expiration date on a home test kit represents the latest date the manufacturer can guarantee that the result will be as accurate and reliable as when first produced.

When developing their tests, each manufacturer performs stability studies to determine how long the kit can be used before there’s too great a risk of invalid or false results. Some of the components in the tests may break down over time, so, unfortunately, they can’t be used indefinitely.

Why COVID-19 tests are able to have extended expiration dates

These COVID-19 home tests were created when rapid approval and availability was needed. In these situations, the FDA may grant approval for a test with limited stability testing performed. The manufacturer might have only completed a few months’ worth of studies, and thus had to send out lots of tests marked with expiration dates that seem to give them a short shelf life.

However, stability testing continues at the manufacturer, allowing the FDA to extend expiration dating when there is sufficient evidence to ensure that the test still provides a valid result. The test box might already have been printed or shipped before the extended expiration was approved, so the date on the test will still appear within that short shelf life.

How to know if your COVID-19 test has an extended expiration date

If the printed date on your COVID-19 home test is in the past, check the FDA website to determine whether the test received an extended expiration date and to see what the new date is.

If you don’t see your kit’s brand and lot number on the list of those with extended expiration dates, you should treat the kit as expired and use a new, in-date kit instead.

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