Can you use unopened expired powder formula?

Quick Answers

Using unopened expired powder formula is generally not recommended. However, in some cases it may be safe to use if stored properly. The biggest risks with expired formula are decreased nutritional value and bacterial contamination.

Is it safe to use expired baby formula?

In general, it is not recommended to use expired baby formula. Formula can start to lose its nutritional value after the printed expiration date. The proteins in the formula also start breaking down over time, making it harder for babies to digest. Additionally, expired formula is at higher risk for bacterial contamination. Bacteria like Cronobacter sakazakii can grow in reconstituted formula and make babies sick. So using old formula past its expiration date comes with potential health risks.

What happens if you give a baby expired formula?

Feeding a baby expired formula puts them at risk for nutritional deficiencies and illness. The main risks are:

  • Loss of nutrients – Vitamins like C and E degrade over time in formula. So baby may not get adequate nutrition from old formula.
  • Digestive issues – The proteins in formula start breaking down after expiration. This makes them more difficult for a baby to digest and absorb.
  • Bacterial contamination – Bacteria like Cronobacter can grow over time in reconstituted or opened formula. This bacteria can cause severe infections in babies.
  • Food poisoning – Nutritional deficiencies and bacterial toxins can make baby sick with vomiting, diarrhea, fever, etc.

In rare cases, a baby could develop a life-threatening condition like sepsis from bacteria in expired formula. So it is best not to take the risk and use formula past its expiration date.

Will expired formula make a baby sick right away?

Expired formula may not make a baby sick immediately. It could take repeated feedings over days or weeks before any issues arise. The nutrient degradation happens slowly over time. And it takes time for harmful bacteria like Cronobacter to proliferate to dangerous levels. So at first feeding, an older formula may seem okay. But as more expiring formula is consumed, the risks go up for nutritional issues or illness. Ideally, any expired formula should be discarded to avoid potential harm to a baby’s health.

Is unopened expired formula safe to use?

Unopened expired baby formula is generally safer than opened expired formula. As long as the packaging remains completely sealed and intact, the risk of bacterial contamination is much lower in unopened containers. However, there are still some concerns with very old, unopened formula:

  • Nutrient degradation – Vitamins and proteins still slowly break down over time, even in sealed formula.
  • Fat separation – Formula can start to separate, with the fat rising to the top over many months.
  • Changes in smell/color – Expired formula may start to smell rancid or look darker.

So while the bacterial risk is low, nutritional quality and digestibility may decline in older unopened formula past its expiration date. Most experts recommend using unopened formula within 1-2 months past the printed expiration for the best quality.

How long past expiration is unopened powder formula safe?

There is no exact safe timeframe for using expired unopened powder formula past its printed date. However, here are some general guidelines from health agencies and pediatricians on shelf life:

  • 1-2 months past expiration – Generally considered safe if refrigerated and the packaging is still intact, sealed, and Powder looks normal
  • 3-5 months past expiration – Not recommended but low risk if kept sealed and refrigerated the entire time
  • 6+ months past expiration – Higher risk and not recommended, even if unopened

Always inspect unopened expired formula closely before use. Check that the packaging is completely sealed with no tears. Look for any changes in appearance, texture, and smell of the powder. If there are any signs of separation, clumping, discoloration, or rancid odors, the formula should be discarded.

Does expired formula need to be refrigerated?

Refrigerating expired formula, both opened and unopened, can help extend its shelf life and safety. Cooler temperatures slow down the rate of nutritional degradation. Refrigeration at 35-40°F also slows the growth of bacteria. So storing expired formula in the fridge, especially once opened, is recommended. But remember that refrigeration alone cannot make expired formula safe to use indefinitely. The expiration date should still be followed as a guide for maximum freshness and quality.

Risks of using expired baby formula

Nutritional deficiency

One of the main risks of using expired formula is that the nutrition may be diminished. The proteins, vitamins, and minerals can degrade in quality over time. For example, vitamin C and riboflavin levels may decrease rapidly. Fatty acids like DHA may also oxidize and break down. So baby may not be getting adequate nourishment from old formula that is past its prime.

Digestive problems

The proteins in breastmilk and formula can start to denature and coagulate as they expire. This makes them more difficult for babies to properly digest. So using old, expired formula could lead to tummy troubles like gassiness, spit up, constipation, and diarrhea in babies. The weakened nutrition can also irritate the gut lining.

Bacterial infection

Bacteria like Cronobacter sakazakii can grow in reconstituted formula left sitting at room temperature. This bacteria doesn’t change the taste or smell. But it can remain in powder residual inside bottles or on utensils. So using expired prepared formula or mixing with contaminated equipment can sicken a baby. Severe infections from Cronobacter require hospitalization and IV antibiotics.

Food poisoning

Due to the digestive issues and bacterial contamination risk, babies can develop food poisoning-like symptoms from expired formula. This may include projectile vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, and fever. If symptoms persist, hospitalization may be required to treat dehydration and any systemic infection.

Long-term effects

Feeding expired formula repeatedly over many months puts infants at risk for chronic health issues. Nutrient deficiencies early in life can contribute to failure to thrive, stunt growth, and developmental delays. The FDA recommends not using formula more than one month past expiration to avoid any long-term effects.

How to check formula expiration dates

Powder formula

On a can of powder formula, you can find multiple dates to check:

  • Sell by date – Tells the store how long to display
  • Best by date – Recommended for best quality
  • Expiration date – Formula should not be used after this date

The expiration date is the most important one to go by. But you can also look at the other dates to gauge maximum freshness. Any powder formula used should be before all of the listed dates.

Ready-to-feed formula

Ready-to-feed formula in cans or plastic bottles should have an expiration date printed on the packaging. In some cases, it may be labeled as a “use by” date. Ready-to-feed formula typically expires within 1-2 months. So check this date closely before feeding and do not use any expired ready-to-feed formula.

Specialty formula

Specialty or prescription formulas may have shorter expiration timeframes like 3-6 months. They can lose stability and nutrient quality faster. So check expiration dates extra closely on metabolic, hypoallergenic, and other special formulas. Discard these right after expiration for infant safety.

Extending formula shelf life

Unopened containers

To maximize freshness of unopened powder formula, follow these storage tips:

  • Store in a cool, dry location around 70°F or less
  • Avoid storage in hot places like garages or cars
  • Keep formula away from direct sunlight
  • Refrigerate after opening and use within 1 month
  • Keep formula in original container until ready to transfer to feeding bottles

Open containers

Once powder formula cans are opened, follow these guidelines:

  • Seal opened can tightly and refrigerate
  • Discard any leftover 1 month after opening
  • Use clean, dry utensils and mixing containers
  • Discard any formula not finished within 1-2 hours after feeding starts
  • Do not mix with warm water to rehydrate formula

Prepared bottles

To extend the use of prepared formula bottles:

  • Make bottles as needed, no more than a day in advance
  • Immediately refrigerate bottles after preparation
  • Discard bottles not fully consumed within 24 hours
  • Do not save or reuse unfinished prepared bottles
  • Wash bottles thoroughly in hot, soapy water after each use

Disposing of expired formula

Expired or sour formula should not simply be thrown in the trash where it could spoil and become rotten. Here are safe ways to dispose of baby formula past expiration:

  • Pour liquid formula down the sink drain or toilet where it can biodegrade
  • Dry out any remaining powdered formula, then place in a sealed bag in the garbage
  • Take formula to hazardous waste disposal sites if available in your area
  • Mix formula with some dirt, leaves, or coffee grounds to degrade and compost

Other expired formula FAQs

Can you donate expired baby formula?

No, it is unsafe to donate expired formula. Even unopened containers should not be given to food banks or others past the expiration date.

Does expired formula smell bad?

Expired formula can start to smell rancid, take on a yellowish color, or look more separated or clumpy. These are signs it may have higher bacterial levels and should be discarded.

Can formula be tested if expired?

There are no available tests to verify formula safety and nutritional quality past its expiration. Testing can detect bacteria but not detailed nutrient degradation. Expired formula should not be relied on, even if testing shows no overt contamination.

Does formula expire after opening?

Yes, powder formula typically expires 1 month after opening. Prepared formula only lasts 24 hours after mixing. So stick closely to shelf life guidelines after opening for safety.


Feeding your baby expired formula can come with significant health risks like malnutrition, infection, and food poisoning. While unopened formula may last slightly longer if stored properly, it is best not to use any formula after the printed expiration date. Following the manufacturer guidelines ensures your baby gets the freshest, highest quality formula with intact nutrition. If you have any doubts about the safety of expired formula, the best approach is to simply discard it and purchase new formula.

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