Two very common and similar questions are asked about whey protein. Is expired whey protein still good and is expired whey protein safe to take? Before I answer the questions, I want to point out something about the second question: You do not take whey protein, you consume it. It is a protein. You can treat it as a source of protein. It is not medicine. It is not pharmaceutically active. While whey protein has many benefits that go beyond its value as a complete protein, such as fast absorption and sheer conveniences, just because it is marketed as a supplement does not mean you should treat it as if it is a vitamin or herbal.
So, to revise the question: Is it safe to consume expired whey protein? Is it still good?
While whey protein does have a finite shelf life, that shelf life is actually quite long. Whey protein products usually have an expiration date of two years past the manufacture date. For instance, my recently purchased jug of Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey Protein bears an expiration date of 11/20. There is still plenty of time left. But, lets say I save it until December, 2020 and then use it. What would happen? Nothing. It would still be fine. It would not be dangerous. It may have lost a bit of its flavor or taste a bit different. But it would not be dangerous.
Now, let’s say I wait until December of 2021. Well, by this time I’d probably be able to smell some rancidity. This would have occurred, even if I didn’t open the jug, because of autoxidation, mostly due to some of the fats present, and due to some other chemical reactions. Chances are if I used some of it then, it still wouldn’t hurt me or even make me sick.
Would I Still Get Protein From It?
Many people wonder if old whey protein would be safe but others wonder if they would actually get any protein from it. The answer is, yes, you would still get plenty of protein from it. However, one way that whey proteins change during storage is through Mailliard browning caused by the milk sugars which are still in the whey. This reaction tends to break down the amino acid lysine. While this loss of lysine means that the whey protein is no longer a complete protein, it still is a source of protein. The protein it contains would still be useable by the body.
The more concentrated the whey protein product, the longer it will last. A pure whey protein isolate will maintain good quality longer than a whey protein blend, containing concentrate and isolate, and a blend will last longer than a concentrate alone. Whey protein isolate has even been used to create coatings for nuts in order to protect them from oxidation, as the WPI makes a good oxygen barrier.
How To Tell if Your Whey is Bad
To tell if your whey protein has really gone bad, take a sniff. If it smells fishy or like wet cardboard, it’s definitely gone rancid. If it doesn’t smell, but tastes like wet cardboard or just weird in general, don’t use it. If it looks very clumpy it may have gotten water into it. This would cause it to go rancid much more quickly. But, if it generally passes all these tests then go by the date.
How Long Can You Keep Whey Past the Expiration Date?
I can’t give you any absolute rules as to how long you can keep whey protein past the expiration date, but if it seems generally OK and its only been around six months past the expiration date, then there its probably OK to use although it won’t be nearly as good as a fresh product. Anything past six months and chances are, it’s still fine to use but it’s not going to taste very good. However, despite what some whey companies say, drinking a whey protein shake that has ‘gone off’ is not the same as drinking sour milk. Remember, they want you to buy a new jug of whey not use the same jug for 3 years.
Don’t worry though. Even if that whey doesn’t taste good for a shake, you can use it in cooking to make homemade protein bars or any muscle-building recipe that calls for whey protein powder.
Storing Whey Protein
As usual, I’m not here to tell you what you should do, but I will tell you that the idea that you should always toss out your whey as soon as it reaches its expiration date is absolutely without merit. It’s going to last a lot longer than this. How long exactly is hard to say because how you store it matters. Make sure you store your whey in a dry place. Don’t store it in a basement or attic or any place that is very humid. Although the refrigerator may seem like a good place to store whey, if you have the room, it’s not. The cool temperature will cause condensation to occur as you open the whey and this moisture will cause the whey to go bad very quickly.
Extending the Shelf-Life of Whey Protein
If you have a hard time using up a big jug of whey before it expires, to make sure it lasts as long as possible, you could try tossing in packets of silica gel desiccant that you save from other supplement products. You can even buy these to use, such as these Blue to Pink Indicating Slica Gel Packets. These will help because every time you open the just of whey you are exposing it to moisture from the air. Silica gel will absorb this moisture and help keep the powder fresh for longer.
Buy Whey From Good Suppliers
Although that giant jug of whey on eBay may seem like a great deal, chances are its already expired. Likewise, there are many, many places to buy whey on the internet, but some of them have little to no turnover, meaning that product sits in a warehouse for months if not years. To make sure you get whey that is not near its expiration date, buy it from a place that sales a lot of whey. I usually just get my whey from Amazon because I’m a sucker for convenience. But even on Amazo,n there are third-party sellers that may be selling whey they got from purchasing big lots or on closeout.