When you pick up a bottle of disinfectant, it’s likely that one of the last things you check is its expiry date. However, that small print detail can play a significant role in the efficacy and safety of the product. But why do disinfectant products even have expiry dates? In this blog post, we explore the legal requirements, practicalities for end-users, and the potential risks of using expired products.
First, let’s examine the legal requirements governing the manufacture of disinfectant products.
Standardisation and Regulation
Disinfectant products are often required by law to have expiry dates printed on the container to ensure public safety and product efficacy. Various governmental and regulatory bodies worldwide, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), have established guidelines and standards for the production and labelling of these products. In the UK all biocidal products, such as hand sanitisers, disinfectant cleaners or disinfectant wipes packs are required to have batch codes and expiry dates printed on the original container.
Expiry dates are a direct means of consumer protection. When manufacturers place an expiration date on a product, they are legally certifying that the product will perform as intended until that date. If a consumer uses a product before its expiry date and finds it ineffective or even harmful, they could potentially have grounds for legal recourse. The batch code, which is also required to be displayed on the pack is a means of tracing the batch of product in the case of such an enquiry.
How are expiry dates determined?
Not all products are given the same length of time before they expire. A product’s ‘shelf life’ is determined by testing during its development and comes from a series of tests designed to assess its stability and efficacy over time.
Apart from the active ingredients, disinfectants usually contain other materials that help to stabilise the product, enhancing its smell, appearance, or its ability to remove dirt. Over time, the formulation can break down or separate, which might compromise the consistency and usability of the product. Stability testing is completed in its intended packaging to check packaging compatibility and the tests are performed over a 3-month period. The testing includes a range of temperatures and conditions which are used to test the stability of the product in different conditions to simulate varied storage of the product by end-users. If a product passes these stringent tests, it is allocated a 2-year shelf life. Only by storing the product and waiting for it to age beyond this period, can a product be given a longer shelf life.
The potency of the active ingredients in disinfectants can degrade over time. An expired disinfectant might not be potent enough to kill germs, bacteria, and viruses as effectively as when it was freshly produced. An expiry date provides the end-user with a timeframe within which the product is guaranteed to work at its best. Occasionally we are contacted by a customer to ask if an expired product is still active, whilst it may be, this can only be confirmed by retesting a sample of the exact batch.
What About Disinfectants Which Require Dilution, When Do They Expire?
Many disinfectants are sold as concentrates and diluted before use by a trained end-user. This allows organisations with high usage rates to purchase disinfectants more economically and reduces the amount of product that needs to be transported and stored, providing environmental benefits.
However, when a disinfectant is diluted by end-users this is commonly achieved using tap water, the quality of tap water varies greatly depending upon many factors. The addition of tap water to the formulation requires another round of stability testing and manufacturers need to provide instructions for the stability of the products once diluted.
It is important that end-users record the date of dilution and the dilution rate, to ensure that once this period has ended, any surplus disinfectant is disposed of, and a new diluted batch made. Byotrol encourages the use of colour-coded dilution stickers that can be used with any of our concentrate disinfectant products and are designed to be attached to the container of diluted disinfectant, whether that is a reusable trigger spray or a container for soaking instruments. The stickers enable fast and easy compliance with health & safety protocols to keep your team safe.
Are There Any Risks of Using Expired Products?
- Reduced Effectiveness
The most obvious risk is the reduced ability of the product to disinfect. Using an expired product might give users a false sense of security, thinking their surfaces are disinfected when they might not be.
- Chemical Changes
Some ingredients, upon degrading, can produce harmful substances. What was initially safe during the product’s shelf life may become unsafe after its expiry date.
- Allergic Reactions
As disinfectants break down, the change in their chemical composition might lead to unanticipated allergic reactions in some users.
- Potential for Contamination
Without the preservative efficacy of some disinfectants, bacteria or fungi can proliferate in the solution. Using such a product might result in the spread of these contaminants rather than disinfection.
If your organisation works to strict protocols, then using expired products can result in non-compliance, casting doubt on the integrity of your results.
Expiry dates on disinfectant products serve a dual purpose: they provide legal protection for both manufacturers and consumers and ensure that end-users get a product that’s both effective and safe. It’s crucial to always check and adhere to the expiry dates, ensuring that you’re not just cleaning but truly disinfecting and protecting your environment, your team, and your organisation.