Probiotics are beneficial bacteria found in your gut and as supplements. They’re known for fighting inflammation and supporting your overall digestive health. Since they’re living microorganisms, properly storing your probiotic supplement maximizes their shelf life and provides you with the most health benefits.
Despite what many believe, not all probiotics need to be refrigerated. Both the probiotic strain and the manufacturing process determine how you should store your probiotics. This article explains probiotic storage and key tips to know when you should refrigerate your probiotic supplements.
Many Probiotic Supplements Must Be Refrigerated
Many factors affect probiotics’ survival and efficacy, including:
- pH of the environment
- Type of strain
- Life stage of probiotics
- Other ingredients in the product
The first place to look to see if your probiotic supplement needs refrigeration is the label. Manufacturers will call out if you need to keep the product cold.
Another sign of how to store your probiotic supplement is how it was stored when you purchased it. If it was stored in the refrigerated section or shipped with an ice pack, it likely needs to stay refrigerated.
Other probiotic supplements that are using shelf-stable technology and strains, like Omni-Biotic probiotics, will highlight the benefits of taking a probiotic that doesn’t need refrigeration.
For some probiotic products, it’s essential to refrigerate because of the other ingredients included in the product. Probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut have dairy and other ingredients that spoil faster than the probiotic’s life. These products have a shorter life outside the refrigerator because of the temperature-sensitive ingredients.
While all probiotic supplements expire at some point, the less closely you follow storage instructions, the more quickly this will happen. Plus, pretty much all probiotic supplements have longer shelf-lives if they’re not exposed to high temperatures and extreme conditions.
Refrigerated probiotics aren’t superior to shelf-stable products. What’s more important is following the storage guidelines and choosing a high-quality probiotic that matches your needs. Probiotics must be live microorganisms to provide health benefits, so being aware of the expiration date and the storage instructions is important.
The Enemies of Probiotic Storage
Probiotic bacteria can be delicate and the process of getting them from the manufacturer to your gut may put them at risk if the proper precautions aren’t taken. In one consumer test of a selected number of probiotics supplements, 85% of them did not contain the number of organisms listed on their product. One of the major reasons was the shipping and warehousing process did not follow procedures to keep the probiotics cold.
Here we dive deeper into the reasons probiotic supplements become ineffective, with the major one being heat exposure.
Keeping probiotics cold is one way to maximize their lifespan. Even probiotics that do not require refrigeration should be kept in a cool, dry place. Probiotics should not be exposed to temperatures above 70 degrees F, especially for prolonged periods of time unless they have been specifically designed to withstand the conditions. Omni-Biotic’s heat- and moisture-resistant sachets can withstand temperatures above 70 degrees F.
Different strains of probiotics react to heat more quickly than others. Most probiotic strains cannot tolerate heat above a certain temperature. Common strains, including Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Streptococcus, are very sensitive to heat and other elements. These bacteria require refrigeration in order to survive. One method to extend shelf-life of sensitive probiotic bacteria is to freeze-dry them. This essentially puts them into a dormant state and can help prolong shelf life.
Also, foods with probiotics require certain temperature controls. Exposing live probiotic cultures to temperatures above 115 degrees F kills them. This means that fermented foods like kimchi and miso should not be exposed to high heat during the cooking process. In addition, ensure that your yogurt has the “Live and Active Culture Seal“ stamped on its label. This ensures that the product contains a minimum of 100 million live cultures per gram, as long as it’s not exposed to high temperatures.
Humidity refers to the amount of water vapor in the air. Many probiotic bacteria in capsules are freeze-dried. This process extracts the moisture, making them dormant. Humidity and moisture re-activate the bacteria. If this occurs prior to ingestion, the probiotic bacteria may not survive in the capsule until they reach the intestines.
Natural exchange occurs when an element with low water content comes in contact with moisture. The low-water element absorbs the surplus of water in the air. This is one reason freeze-dried probiotics are more sensitive to moisture.
Ideal conditions for probiotics are cool temperatures and less than 20% relative humidity. As humidity increases, most probiotics begin to quickly lose stability. Detrimental conditions for probiotics include 50% relative humidity.
One way Omni-Biotic manages exposure to moisture is through the packaging. Omni-Biotic sachets are coated with a moisture-proof coating on the inside to keep moisture out. In addition, single-dose servings means moisture doesn’t affect unused probiotics, like it would in a large bottle or box.
The Manufacturing and Shipping Process
In order to maximize the health benefits we get from probiotics, the manufacturing and shipping process has to follow temperature guidelines as well. This includes everything from the growing process to the assembly line to packaging to distribution.
Realistically, there may be times when the cooling chain is broken. Some manufacturers account for this loss by adding extra bacteria to ensure the product still has the amount of probiotics listed on the label. Although, this is hard to guarantee and not backed by science.
When looking to purchase probiotics, look at the expiration date. Avoid buying those that have been sitting on the refrigerator or shelf for long periods of time.
In most cases, you’re better off purchasing a product that does not require refrigeration and comes in a moisture- and heat-resistant package. That way you can bypass worries about the manufacturing process, the cooling chain, and remembering to refrigerate after purchasing.
Competition with Non-Symbiotic Bacteria
While yogurt, dairy products and other foods that contain probiotics are beneficial, there are some drawbacks of relying on them as your probiotic source. Other ingredients, including sugar, may inhibit the effects of the probiotic strains.
Some species work against each other. One example is L. delbrueckii ssp bulgaricus which attacks acidophilus and B. bifidobacteria. If a supplement has these competitors, you’re not getting the health benefits from all included probiotics.
Since microorganisms face a constant battle for resources, it’s important to choose a probiotic company that has carefully chosen the probiotic strains in the supplement.
Do All Probiotic Strains Need to be Refrigerated?
Not all probiotics require refrigeration, but they do need to be protected from heat. How they are manufactured also plays a role. Freeze-dried probiotics, for example, often have longer shelf-life as they are in a dormant state.
Only the probiotics that include specific strains with this trait and/or have a delivery mechanism that is not temperature resistant need to be refrigerated. Specific strains of probiotics have different sensitivity levels to heat and environmental factors.
Soil-based probiotics are an example of probiotics that do not need to be refrigerated. These probiotics have been used to ferment foods and are more resistant to the natural elements, meaning they don’t need refrigeration.
Non-Refrigerated Solutions for Probiotics
All probiotic manufacturers know that the bacteria in their products are at risk of dying off until they reach an environment (like your intestines) that encourages them to grow. So, many companies have implemented ways to increase the shelf-life and the efficacy of their products.
Adding More Colony Forming Units (CFU)
Probiotics are classified by the number of colony forming units (CFUs). This is the number of alive and active microorganisms in one serving of a probiotic supplement. The average number of CFUs is between 1 and 10 billion per serving.
Since probiotic bacteria slowly die, some companies try to extend shelf-life by increasing the number of CFUs. They add more CFUs, expecting that most of them won’t survive. But this makes it difficult for consumers to know exactly how much is being ingested.
Inherently Shelf-Stable Strains or Soil-Based Organisms (SBOs)
Some manufacturers are choosing to use probiotics that are naturally shelf-stable, like soil-based organisms (SBO). SBO are bacteria that live in the soil and help support the health of the soil and the plants.
These soil-based bacteria naturally make their way into our systems through our hands, fruits, vegetables, and other food processes.
Some research suggests that exposure to SBOs builds a healthy immune system. But the research is still very unclear if taking large amounts of SBO probiotics is beneficial to your health. It’s also harder to determine which strains you’re getting and they will probably miss the bacteria that are needed for your health.
Freeze-drying probiotics protects the viability and the life of the bacteria. This is the process that Omni-Biotic uses and then stores the probiotics in a powder form. Omni-Biotic probiotics are shelf-stable and can be stored at room temperature. The freeze-drying process protects the microorganisms for the transport process and extends their shelf life.
The probiotics remain alive in a dormant form. Once you dissolve the probiotic powder in water, the bacteria are rehydrated. This activates the beneficial bacteria and makes them strong for their journey through the stomach to your intestines. Our research shows that through this process, more bacteria survive and can perform their duties in your gut, compared to a probiotic capsule or pill
Refrigerated vs Non-refrigerated Probiotics: Which is Better?
Not all probiotics are created equal, and that includes those that require refrigeration. What matters most is choosing a probiotic that is rooted in scientific research and clinical studies. Choosing a targeted probiotic formulation is also important. And, of course, the delivery mechanism is key.
Refrigerated probiotics may create a barrier to taking them. It is tough to ensure the probiotic has been refrigerated throughout the production, retail and delivery process, and it’s likely that some of the beneficial bacteria have died before you take the supplement. Furthermore, if you travel a lot or if you forget to refrigerate the product, it’s difficult to keep the probiotic in a working state.
At Omni-Biotic, our unique powder delivery mechanism ensures high effectiveness and is convenient for on-the-go and travel. Our products are rooted in research and testing, and best of all, they don’t need to be refrigerated.