Do COVID-19 tests still work after they expire? This is how you tell.

With COVID-19 cases are increasing again in the United States, Americans are reviving a well-known preventive measure: Screening for the virus using rapid home tests.

Many people still have sets previously the government provided to all households free, especially as some schools and companies again require tests. Still, various COVID-19 tests have expiration dates on their packaging that have long since passed, raising questions about whether they are still effective.

Once in short supply, test kits are now easier to come by, but they are expensive, costing about $25 for a pack of two tests. The White House sent rapid at-home COVID-19 test kits for free to Americans who requested them as recently as last December as part of its “winter preparedness plan.”

The good news is that some COVID-19 test kits that have passed their expiration date may still be effective. How to find out if your COVID-19 test is safe to use. It is also still possible for both insured and uninsured people to get free tests.

Why did the FDA extend the expiration dates?

The Food and Drug Administration maintains a list of authorized over-the-counter covid-19 diagnostic tests indicating whether the expiry date printed on their packaging is valid or has been extended.

The FDA has extended the expiration dates for a number of different test brands, extending their shelf life to up to two years. The extensions come in response to manufacturers testing their kits for accuracy beyond their printed expiration dates and sharing the results with the FDA.

See the FDA’s full list of test kit expiration date extensions here.

What test brands can you use when they have “expired”?

Abbott’s widely used BinaxNow COVID-19 test kits now have a shelf life of up to 22 months, depending on when the tests were manufactured. In January 2023, the pharmaceutical company told the customers that kits they had previously purchased “may now have a longer expiration date than the branded product.” To see if a BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test Kit in your possession has a new expiration date, search for its lot number in the attached list here.

“All BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self Test kits currently have an expiration date of 22 months,” the company said. Abbott added that expiration dates could be extended again in the future, pending new data on their viability.

That Flowflex COVID-19 antigen home test from Acon Laboratories can also be used well past its printed expiration date, according to the FDA, which granted the extension in March. The tests are good for an additional year after their expiration date. For example, tests with printed “October 2022” expiry dates should be considered suitable for use until October 2023.

What happens if a COVID-19 test really has expired?

Users of other tests, such as Ellume’s COVID-19 Home Test, should refer to the expiration date printed on the test’s packaging. If a test is truly expired, the results it provides cannot be trusted, according to the FDA.

“Covid-19 tests and the parts they are made of can degrade or break over time. Because of this, expired test kits can produce inaccurate or invalid test results,” the FDA said in a statement on its website.

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