COVID-19 home tests have more shelf-life than you think: report

COVID-19 home tests have more shelf-life than you think: report

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Don’t throw away your home COVID-19 tests just because it says it’s expired, according to a recent New York Times report. 

Even though the test kits use similar technology to detect pieces of the viral proteins called antigens, their expiration dates may differ because of how they are regulated – not because of inherent differences in the tests themselves, said Dr. Michael Mina, an expert in home-test technology and chief science officer for eMed, a healthcare company that provides home test kits. 

In this photo illustration a man uses a COVID-19 rapid antigen test kit at home.

In this photo illustration a man uses a COVID-19 rapid antigen test kit at home. (Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

When the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates a product, it sometimes allows manufactures to perform “accelerated dating” where it accelerates simulated conditions to determine how long a product lasts, said Mara Aspinall, biomedical diagnostics expert at Arizona State University who is also on the board of OraSure, a company that makes COVID-19 rapid tests. 

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She noted this process enables manufactures to learn quickly over weeks weather a product expires in several months or several years, but for test-makers of home COVID-19 tests, the FDA requires to study them in real-time, so the process takes longer, per the report.  

“When the [COVID-19] test is new, it has a six-month expiration,” Mina added.  

“But once you get to six months, the FDA may extend it. That’s been happening a lot, which is exceedingly confusing.” 

Youngstown City Health Department worker Faith Terreri grabs two at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out during a distribution event, Dec. 30, 2021, in Youngstown, Ohio.

Youngstown City Health Department worker Faith Terreri grabs two at-home COVID-19 test kits to be handed out during a distribution event, Dec. 30, 2021, in Youngstown, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

So a home-test kit that might initially have an six-month expiration date may get an extension to use it longer as more stability testing data is known. 

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A FDA spokesman told the Times for any questions about the expiration date regarding the home tests to go online here for antigen tests and here for molecular tests to review the regulatory documents for that particular test to know if the shelf life has been extended.   

But going through the FDA documents online is a confusing and time-consuming process, according to the Times. 

A young man mixes a swab with a liquid during a Corona rapid test.

A young man mixes a swab with a liquid during a Corona rapid test. (Photo by Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Although health experts don’t want to recommend using expired tests, they also don’t want perfectly good tests going to waste.  The following below is more reasonable approach, according to the news outlet.  

Keep the home test at room temperature in dry conditions, making sure it doesn’t freeze or is exposed to heat, so the accuracy of the test doesn’t get affected. 

If you are planning on ordering any free government tests, the best time to do it is now before the summer starts to prevent them sitting for a long time in a heated truck.  

When you shop for a home test, look for ones with a long shelf life. 

And if you use the home tests soon, remember to use the ones that expire first, but if you are using one that has just expired, follow the instructions carefully and make sure the control line shows up right away, which is a sign the test is still working. 

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“The reality is that these tests are very, very stable,” Mina said. “My expectation is that most of them, if not all of them, eventually will have a two-year expiration date at least. If the control line is showing up and it’s within 18 to 24 months of the manufacture date, you should assume the test is working.”