Careful! Some Quick COVID-19 Tests Have Short Expiration Date

This Was a Surprise as We Planned a Trip for the Spring

U.S. National Institutes of Health

After using these quick tests, we had an unpleasant surprise.

COVID-19 quick self tests helped our family last summer. We traveled cross country by car, had the two vaccine shots that were available at the time, used N95 masks where appropriate, and kept some distance when we met people. We also used an Abbott BinaxNOW self test once after encountering an obnoxious anti-vaxxer. We ran the test twice and got two negatives. Now we are planning a trip for Spring and got a surprise.

We had a few of the self tests unopened and would use them for the trip. As I set them aside for the trip, I noticed a tiny label on the back of the box. It had what appeared to be an hour glass and a date. One was 2022–02–21, another box was labelled 2022–03–17. These appeared to be expiration dates. The label did not say “expiration date” but just showed a tiny hour glass. The components inside the box had hour glasses also, and the closest date was also 2022–02–21 as was on the box. That was for the card that contains the things that change color and tell you whether the result was positive or negative. The swab package was 2026 and the solution vial had numbers that were meaningless.

We purchased these not long ago and expected that they would not expire for another year or two like normal drugs. Not so!

This was a surprise in more ways than one. First, I would expect either the FDA or the manufacturer to use plain English (and perhaps Spanish and French) and the terms “Expiration Date” as we would find on most prescription drugs. The hour glass is fine, but is almost hidden on the label. I think it means that the kit is not reliable after that date. I would also expect, given that COVID-19 can have serious health effects, the expiration date would be right on the front of the every package. Instead it is in a corner on the back.

Looks like we will need new test kits for some of our trip that will extend beyond the dates on our packages. I hope we can get them through the new government website.

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