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Can You Trust a COVID-19 Test's Expiration Date? It Depends

If your at-home COVID test kits show a past-due expiration date, it might be wrong. We'll explain.

COVID-19 at home rapid test kit
That expiration date on your COVID-19 test box might not be accurate.
Sarah Tew/CNET
For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO and CDC websites.

If you have all 16 free COVID-19 tests you ordered from COVIDTests.gov, you may be wondering if the older kits are still OK to use -- especially as the omicron BA.5 subvariant is driving an increase in cases. If you notice your box of at-home rapid antigen tests has a past due expiration date, does that mean you'll get an inaccurate result? Not exactly.

After a COVID-19 test has been approved and in use for a year or more, the manufacturer can use its data to ask the Food and Drug Administration to extend its shelf life. Of the 22 at-home COVID-19 tests listed on the FDA website, nine of them have had their shelf lives extended since they were released, including iHealth, one of the more common at-home test providers in early free shipments.

We'll explain what the expiration dates on at-home COVID-19 tests mean, and which expiration dates have been extended based on information from the FDA. For more, here's how effective at-home COVID-19 tests are at detecting the BA.5 variant.

What do COVID-19 test expiration dates mean?

The expiration date listed on your box of COVID-19 tests is the final day the test is expected to perform effectively. Generally, the FDA authorizes at-home test kits with a shelf life of about four to six months, but that shelf life could be extended if the manufacturer finds more data that shows the tests are still accurate past the expiration date.

Should I use a COVID test kit after its expiration?

No. The FDA doesn't recommend using expired at-home COVID-19 tests. Here's why: The COVID-19 test parts could degrade or break down over time, leading to inaccurate or invalid test results. 

Again, it's possible the expiration dates for at-home COVID-19 test kits could be extended as more data is collected, but for now, you shouldn't use a test that's expired. But, if your box of test kits shows a past expiration date, check this FDA list of extended expiration dates to see if it's OK to use yours (more below).

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How do I know if the shelf life of my COVID tests has been extended?

If the manufacturer finds that the shelf life is longer than the expected four to six months, it can request that the FDA authorize an extended expiration date. Once that happens, the manufacturer may notify customers of the new expiration dates. However, if you didn't buy the tests via the manufacturer, you likely won't receive any notifications.

For the latest information on the expiration dates for your COVID-19 test kits, be sure to check the FDA's At-Home OTC COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests webpage.

On that page, the FDA page lists COVID-19 tests alphabetically, or you can use a search box to find your test directly. In the far right column of a table, the FDA lists the shelf life for each test and whether it's been extended. If the expiration date has been extended, an additional link will provide info on exact expiration dates for specific test lots.

The links below include lot numbers and expiration dates for the nine brands of at-home COVID-19 tests that have had their shelf lives extended by the FDA. You can find the lot number for your at-home COVID test on its box, usually on a sticker with its expiration date.

We'll continue to update this list if the FDA extends the shelf life of any other COVID-19 rapid antigen test. 

For more on COVID-19 testing, here's how to pay for home COVID tests with your FSA or HSA.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.