How to Store Vitamins Long Term (without Losing Potency)


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Last Updated: June 22, 2022

Foods like white rice, flour and pasta are great foods to stockpile for emergency preparedness because they have long shelf lives and are easy to store.

The downside is that they (as well as lots of other emergency foods and meals) are lacking when it comes to nutrients.  To make up for this, you might want to store vitamins as part of your emergency planning.

Here is what we will cover:

  • How to store vitamins long term, including shelf life and whether vitamins go bad
  • Which vitamins last the longest
  • The best storage methods for vitamins

How to Store Vitamins Long Term

  1. Choose vitamins in tablet form, come in dark-colored glass jars with screw lids and have a best-by or expiration date listed on them.
  2. Store the vitamins in their original containers in a cool, dark place.
  3. As an extra layer of protection, keep the vitamin jars in an airtight container or sealed Mylar bag.

Stored this way, vitamins should retain their potency for at least 2 years past their best-by date and could remain potent for 15+ years.

Do Vitamins Go Bad?

Vitamins do not go bad in the sense that they become unsafe to use.  Unless there are visible signs of mold on them, vitamins are safe to take even years after their expiration date. However, vitamins do lose their potency over time.

For everyday use, it’s not wise to take vitamins of unknown potency.  You want to know exactly how much of the vitamin you are getting.  However, for emergency preparedness, a less-potent vitamin is better than no vitamin at all.  For this reason, a lot of preppers still stockpile some vitamins.

What Does the “Best By” Date on Vitamins Mean?

The FDA does not require supplements to include a best-by for expiration date. If the company does want to include a date, then it legally must perform tests to back up this date. In other words, if a company lists a best-by or expiration date on its product, all vitamins are guaranteed present in the listed amount until the date of expiration.  

For example, Centrum, Nature Made, and NOW Foods vitamins include expiration dates on most of their products. In the case of multi-vitamins, the expiration date is based on the least stable ingredient.  If stored properly, all vitamins are guaranteed present in the listed amount until the date of expiration. (1, 2)

Tip: Only buy vitamins from brands that list best-by dates.  If a date is listed, then you at least know they have tested their product and it contains the guaranteed amounts.

How Long Will Vitamins Remain their Potency?

For vitamins without best-by dates, the general rule is that they will remain potent for approximately two years after the date of manufacturing.

When stored carefully though, many vitamins will remain potent for much longer than two years or their best-by date.

In the 1970s, the FDA tested the military’s large stockpile of medications.  They found that 90% of the medications were good to use even 15 years after their expiration date.

While the test was on medications and not vitamins, it’s likely that vitamins also remain (at least somewhat) potent for 15 years or longer. However, because companies don’t test their products’ potency decades into the future, it’s impossible to tell exactly how potent old vitamins are. (3, 4)

What Affects Vitamin Shelf Life?

There are a lot of factors that can affect vitamin shelf life.  The main ones are:

  • Type
  • Form
  • Container
  • Storage conditions

Type of Vitamin or Supplement

Some vitamins are much more sensitive than others, and some vitamins are more sensitive to certain things. 

For example, folic acid is very sensitive to light and oxygen but withstands heat and humidity fairly well.

Probiotics are very sensitive to moisture and heat and often need to be refrigerated. 

Mineral supplements like iron tend to be very stable and remain relatively unchanged for years.

Below are some examples of vitamins and what impacts them. (Source)

Vitamin Light Oxygen Heat Humidity
A +++ +++ ++ +
D +++ +++ ++ +
E ++ ++ ++ +
K +++ ++ + +
C + +++ ++ ++
Thiamin ++ + +++ ++
Riboflavin +++ + + +
Niacin + + + +
B6 ++ + + +
B12 ++ + + ++
Pantothenic Acid + + ++ ++
Folic acid ++ +++ + +
Biotin + + + +

+ Hardly sensitive, ++ Sensitive, +++ Very sensitive 

Form

How the vitamin is formulated will also affect shelf life. 

As a general rule, vitamins in hard tablets or capsules will last the longest.  Chewable or gummy vitamins don’t last as long because they absorb moisture and have additional ingredients which may cause the vitamins to degrade faster.

Container Type

For long-term storage, you want to choose vitamins in glass jars with screw lids.  These provide the best seal for keeping air and moisture out. Ideally, the glass jar should be dark or amber-colored as this will protect the vitamins from light.

Avoid buying vitamins in plastic bottles or blister packs; the plastic actually contains tiny holes which will slowly allow air and moisture through. (5, 6, 7, 8, 9)

How to Store Vitamins Long Term

To keep your vitamins potent long-term, you need to protect them from light, heat, humidity, and oxygen.  The best way to do this is to keep them in their original containers.  Put those containers in another container that is airtight. Keep it somewhere cool.

For example, I put several jars and blister packs of vitamins into a Mylar bag.  Once sealed, the Mylar bag won’t let any oxygen or moisture through. 

I keep this bag in my bedroom closet, which is the coolest part of my apartment. My kitchen gets hot when I’m baking, so I definitely didn’t want to store the vitamins there.

Should you store vitamins with oxygen absorbers?

Oxygen absorbers (OAs) help preserve vitamins when storing dry food.  However, it generally is not recommended to store vitamins with oxygen absorbers. 

The reason is that oxygen absorbers are made from iron.  Some vitamins will react with iron, so storing them in close contact with OAs could make the vitamins go bad faster.  Further, vitamins should be stored unopened in their original packaging, so you wouldn’t want to open them to add an OA packet.

However…

If you are putting your vitamins in a Mylar bag, you could throw some oxygen absorber packets in there too.  The OAs would remove oxygen from around the jars, thus (theoretically) improving shelf life.

There’s no evidence as to whether this would actually help shelf life and it might be overkill, but it shouldn’t hurt since the vitamins aren’t in direct contact with the OA.

Should you refrigerate vitamins?

Unless the manufacturer specifically recommends it (as is often the case with probiotics), never refrigerate vitamins or supplements.  Refrigerators are actually very humid inside.  The moisture can get into the vitamins and cause them to degrade or even get moldy.

Should you freeze vitamins for long-term storage?

Freezing is generally not a good long-term storage method for vitamins.  Some vitamins might actually lose their potency in freezing temperatures.  

Further, freezers require electricity so generally aren’t good for storing any emergency supplies.  What would you do if the electric grid went down and everything in your freezer was suddenly exposed to the elements?

Alternatives to Stockpiling Vitamins

Stockpiling vitamin supplements is just one way to ensure you and your family stay healthy through a SHTF emergency.  Because vitamins will lose potency, it’s good to have a backup plan too though.

In addition to gardening, there are plenty of wild edibles which can easily meet your family’s nutritional requirements.  For example, a half cup of chopped dandelion greens (which are stupidly easy to grow and find) contains more than 20% of the RDA for vitamin C and over 10)% of the RDA for vitamin A.  Even things like pine needle tea can contain huge amounts of vitamin C.

So consider getting a field guide to local edible plants and start learning about wild sources of vitamins around you.

Do you store vitamins? Let us know about your methods in the comments section below.


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