Why do medicines have expiry dates?

Medicines have expiry dates so you know when to use them by. After the expiry date medicines may:

  • not be safe
  • not be as effective

You should not take medicines after their expiry date. If you've had a medicine for a while, check the expiry date before using it.

You should also make sure that you've stored the medicine properly, as described on the packaging or leaflet.

If your medicine looks, tastes or smells different to when you first got it, even if it's within the expiry date, take it to your pharmacist for advice.

Where is the expiry date?

You can find the expiry date on the medicine packaging or on the label. This may say:

  • expiry
  • expiry date
  • expires
  • exp
  • exp date
  • use by
  • use before

Expiry dates are put on medicines by:

  • the manufacturer that produces the medicine
  • the pharmacist who supplies the medicine

What does the 'expiry date' mean?

The expiry date usually means that you shouldn't take the medicine after the end of the month given.

For example, if the expiry date is January 2017, you shouldn't take the medicine after January 31 2017.   

What does the 'use by' date mean?

If your medicine has a use by or use before date instead of an expiry date, this usually means that you shouldn't take the medicine after the end of the previous month.

For example, if the use by date is January 2017, you shouldn't take the medicine after December 31 2016.

If your doctor or pharmacist has given you any other instructions about using or disposing of your medicine, you should also follow these.

For example, your pharmacist may label a medicine: "discard seven days after opening".

You should take any medicine that's left after this time back to your pharmacist to dispose of, even if it's within the manufacturer's expiry date.    

Short expiry dates

Some medicines are given a short expiry date, such as:

  • prepared antibiotic mixtures: when the pharmacist adds water to powdered antibiotic, it changes the stability of the product, and the pharmacist will give it an expiry date of one or two weeks, depending on the product
  • eye drops: these are usually given an expiry date of four weeks after first opening the container, because your eyes are particularly sensitive to any bacteria that might get into the eye drops

How can I dispose of expired medicine?

If you have medicines that have passed their expiry date, take them to your pharmacist, who can dispose of them safely for you.

You should never throw unused or expired medicines in the rubbish bin or flush them down the toilet.

Find out more in Making sense of your medicines

Further information:

Page last reviewed: 20/01/2017

Next review due: 20/01/2020