Understand the New Format for Drug Expiration Dates

You'll see a standard format for manufacturer's drug expiration dates...due to USP Chapter <7> med labeling standard revisions.

It's been a long time coming. For years, there's been confusion due to ambiguous month abbreviations...nonuniform order format of day, month, and year...and other quirks.

For example, the abbreviation "JN" could be read as January or June...and "MA" as March or May. Or a date printed as "19-10-21" could be read as October 19, 2021 or October 21, 2019.

Anticipate that the new format for expiration dates will be year-month-day or year/month/day.

Look for a 4-digit year (2021, etc)...a 2-digit or at least 3-letter month (04, APR, or April)...and a 2-digit day (01, etc).

For instance, "February 21, 2023" may be shown as 2023-02-21... 2023/02/21... 2023-FEB-21...or 2023/FEB/21.

This order isn't second nature to many of us...so think of it as largest to smallest time unit to help remember.

Keep in mind, specifying the expiration DAY is still optional. Continue to assume the last day of the month if it isn't included.

Be aware of an exception. On containers too small for the full format, you'll see a year and 3-letter month without the hyphens or forward slashes...such as "2021SEP" for September 30, 2021.

Don't be surprised to see manufacturers using the new format soon...even though it isn't required until September 1, 2023.

Ask your admin or med safety officer about using the standard format for beyond-use dates that print automatically. This isn't required by USP Chapter <7>, but might prevent confusion and errors.

And get in the habit of using the standard format for handwritten beyond-use dates too.

See our updated technician tutorial, Drug Expiration and Beyond-Use Dates, for more ways to ensure they're clear and interpreted correctly.

Key References

  • www.uspnf.com/sites/default/files/usp_pdf/EN/USPNF/revisions/gc-7-labeling-rb-notice-20190830.pdf (9-28-20)
  • ISMP Med Safety Alert! Acute Care 2020;25(16):1-4
  • ISMP Med Safety Alert! Acute Care 2020;25(15):1-6
Hospital Pharmacy Technician's Letter. October 2020, No. 361027



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