I often see that colleagues bottles of such reagents as DMEM, non-essential amino acids and sodium pyruvate are a year or more beyond their expiration dates. Does anyone have any idea of the rates of degradation of these reagents? I'm pretty sure L-glutamine degrades into toxic ammonia (something which the proprietary Glutamax reagent avoids) but is this the case with other reagents? I routinely use restriction endonucleases years past their expiration dates but you can clearly visualise how well that's worked on an agarose gel.
Importance of reagent expiration dates
Posted 16 September 2015 - 04:12 AM
It depends upon several factors - the chemical you're using and the use you have for it.
I'll take the second point first. If you are using the chemicals for academia then 'all' you are jeopardizing is your work. If you are working in a regulated environment then you are jeopardizing your Quality Assurance system.
As for how stable the chemicals actually are, well, again that depends. Expiry dates are founded on the results of stability data. Stability trials (either accelerated or real time) have an endpoint and there is no company that produces these chemicals that will run endless trials so that their expiry dates are more than 5 years at the very most. Shorter expiry dates may be because of inherent instability (i.e. stability trials failed for some samples at a certain point) or expense in running trials (the chemicals may inherently be expensive to handle so stability trials may end after a year or whatever time length).
Using chemicals within expiry also is a partial safeguard against contamination. For example, if you have a tub of sodium chloride, I'd put a year expiry on that. Why? Yes, that stuff is going to be stable until the Sun goes nova but if you have it kicking around for 3, 5, 10, 15 years (I once inherited a tub of urea that was more than 15 years past it's expiry and the container that originally held it disintegrated) then do you really think that that hasn't been contaminated in that time? The material is so inexpensive that you really don't want to ruin even a small experiment for the want of decent grade chemicals.
So, it's a balance - how long is it stable, how sure you are that it's uncontaminated, how expensive it is to replace, how evident that it's gone 'off' (restriction enzymes are a good example - it's really easy to check them and they are stable for years if stored well), how disastrous is it to your experiment/lab/reputation/product if you get it wrong...et cetera.
Learn to identify when specific chemicals have degraded (colour, smell, separation, viscosity, et cetera) and always check for contamination as best you can (e.g. homogeneity of appearance) and even if you are in academia think about having a system of replacing critical materials on a scheduled basis. It's just good practice.
Edited by Astilius, 16 September 2015 - 06:07 AM.