Does Whey Protein Expire?

by Christine Hronec

With the exception of RTD’s (ready to drink) beverages, the majority of whey protein is sold commercially in the powder form. While processed foods generally have a shelf life, it is known that foods rarely keep for an indefinite time period and it has often been asked if whey protein actually “expires.”

Whey protein is naturally derived from organic sources but is considered a processed food due to the fact that other ingredients are added to it during the manufacturing process. These additives are intended to support the quality of the final product by performing functions such as flavor enhancement, solubility, mouth feel, color, and nutritional content (i.e. some whey products may be formulated with added fats, fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc.). With time however, these additives break down. Product exposure to light and air play the biggest roles in reducing product shelf life. Products packaged in containers with vapor proof materials that are opaque are by far the best types of packaging to maintain nutritional integrity of the product. For this reason, from a shelf stability point of view, transparent containers are not advised as the exposure and shelf life is shortened as a result (this isn’t a concern if the product is consumed relatively quickly, but for consumers who have the same jar sitting on their fridge for more than 1-2 years, it could become an issue).

Exposure to air can cause the flavors to evaporate. The more frequently the powder is exposed to air, the more oxidation occurs and it loses the flavor. Oxidation also leads to the increased breakdown of the whey protein itself. Once it does, the nutritional value decreases, and so are the benefits. Exposure to air can also introduce bacteria into the whey product. Over time, these bacteria grow and multiply. Hence, it contributes to the spoilage of the whey product.
 The majority of whey protein products have a shelf life of 2 years from the date of manufacture which is plenty of time for the product to make its way through the supply chain and consumed in ample time without spoilage concerns. Once an end user mixes whey into a drink or protein shake, it is best consumed immediately. Flavor can be preserved and spoilage prevented for about 2 hours if refrigerated. Otherwise, flavor intensity and protein will break down as well as the onset of bacterial growth. All these lead to the spoilage of an already mixed whey protein.

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