Shelf Stable Probiotics Vs. Refrigerated

Shelf Stable Probiotics Vs. Refrigerated – Which is Better?

Shelf-stable probiotics or non-refrigerated ones are as good as refrigerated probiotics. The way they are encapsulated makes all the difference.

If you keep your supplement dry and air-tight, non-refrigerated probiotics will benefit you in the same way as refrigerated ones.

But that does not mean it’s safe to leave non-refrigerated probiotics in sunlight or a humid room. Why is that? 

To understand this, we need a brief sneak peek into microbiology to see how microbes stay alive, packed in pills, and survive for several months. And whether to go for refrigerated or non-refrigerated probiotics.

I’ll also share what supplements worked best for me by the end of this read.

But before we dive into the details, here’s a quick summary of my findings so far:

Key Highlights
  • Shelf-stable probiotics are formulated using advanced technologies so they are less affected by temperature changes.
  • Shelf-stable probiotics are more travel-friendly than refrigerated probiotics.
  • Extreme temperatures damage both refrigerated and non-refrigerated probiotics.
  • Check out my list of the best shelf-stable probiotics to try
  • And there’s also my list of the best-refrigerated probiotics on the market

What’s the Difference Between Shelf Stable and Refrigerated Probiotics?

Refrigerated probiotics must be stored in a refrigerator to sustain their potency, while shelf-stable probiotics can be stored at room temperature without losing efficacy.

Here is when many people get confused, thinking bacteria die at room temperature. And if they cannot withstand room temperature (20-25◦C), how will they survive in your body where the temperature is 37◦C?

Another question is, if it all depends upon the natural heat tolerance, why do many refrigerated and shelf-stable products have the same strains?

The answer is probiotic strains don’t die at room temperature. They just live there in a dormant state. 

But, if you store them at growth-promoting temperature, they will not survive due to a lack of nutrients, which are unavailable in encapsulated forms.

Also, both refrigerated and non-refrigerated probiotics have a risk of heat damage if not stored properly. 

More on this later.

First, let’s continue with the difference between the two types of probiotic supplements. 

To understand why refrigerated probiotics are spoiled at room temperature but non-refrigerated aren’t, you must know how live cultures are converted into dietary supplements, as explained below.

How Probiotic Strains Survive In Pills?

In capsules, probiotic microbes are dormant. It’s kind of a stand-by condition where they are alive but metabolically inactive. So, dormant cells do not grow or reproduce, thus, require minimal nutrition.

Growth is resumed only when they reach the intestinal tract. And when activated, these microbes need nutrients, optimum temperature, and pH. Without any of these, they can’t survive for longer and die.

To make probiotic supplements, live cultures are concentrated, centrifuged, frozen, and dried. Low temperature and water removal make yeast and bacterial cells dormant.

Ideally, these units should remain dormant until they reach the intestinal tract. But dormancy breaks when microbes encounter growth-friendly conditions like a moderate temperature (mostly in the 20-40◦C range) and moisture.

If the microbial growth is resumed in the pills, activated cultures will die sooner as they do not get the space and nutrients in capsules required to survive. 

So, the key to keeping probiotics viable for longer is maintaining the dormancy of strains. And that’s where shelf-stable and refrigerated probiotics differ.

How Probiotics Become Shelf Stable?

Whether dried cultures will survive at room temperature depends on the efficacy of the drying technique.

Shelf-stable bacteria are created using advanced drying techniques that suck out maximum water from the cultures but do not harm the strains. Resultantly, you get a large number of alive and dormant cultures.

Freeze drying, Spray drying, and Vacuum drying are some techniques used to make non-refrigerated probiotics.

Freeze drying is the most common and efficient method used.

  • In this method, concentrated cultures are mixed with cryoprotectants (compounds that protect microbes from freezing damage). 
  • This mixture is then frozen, and water is removed by sublimation. Sublimation extracts maximum water from the culture without killing the bacteria.
  • Due to this dehydration, strains stay dormant even when the temperature is favorable for resuming growth. 

Conversely, if the drying process is inefficient or the strains cannot withstand the drying pressure, they may resume growth when put outside the fridge. This will soon lead to loss of potency as bacteria will die deprived of food.

So, cold temperature is, in fact, necessary to maintain dormancy besides protection from heat damage.

Now. Let’s analyze why shelf-stable probiotics must be kept in a cool place;

Shelf Stable Probiotics Also Need A Cool Environment

Although shelf-stable probiotics stay dormant at room temperature, still, they are equally vulnerable at extreme temperatures as refrigerated probiotics.

They will die if the temperature is beyond their tolerance range.

So, if you are reading this to know whether to keep your probiotics refrigerated or unrefrigerated in the house, refrigeration is a better option.

CriteriaShelf Stable ProbioticsRefrigerated Probiotics
Main difference: No (Even shelf-stable strains die if exposed to sunlight, stove heat, or a very hot environment)Probiotics break dormancy only when they reach the intestines
Reaction at room temperature:Remain dormant and viableBreak dormancy and die due to lack of nourishment
High heat resistance:Can be stored in the refrigerator onlyCan be stored in the refrigerator or at room temperature
Travel friendly:YesNo
Storage options:Can be stored in the refrigerator onlyCan be stored in refrigerator only
Best storage method:RefrigerationRefrigeration
Difference Between Shelf Stable and Refrigerated Probiotics

Are Refrigerated or Shelf Stable Probiotics Better?

 Okay, they differ in drying efficacy but does that makes one more effective or safer than the other?

In the following sections, I have explained how the efficacy, safety, and longevity differ for refrigerated and non-refrigerated probiotics:

Probiotics That Must Be Refrigerated Are More Vulnerable

Refrigerated probiotics can break dormancy with smaller temperature changes. That’s why they are more vulnerable to nutrient deprivation and death.

If you accidentally forget them on your kitchen shelf in hot weather, the potency of your supplement may be reduced as many strains would be activated, and would eventually die malnourished.

In contrast, such an incident won’t affect the potency of shelf stability much.

Refrigerated Probiotics Last Longer, Really?

Refrigeration protects probiotics from heat damage and helps maintain dormancy. So, probiotic cultures survive for longer when stored in the refrigerator. 

But probiotics longevity is also highly dependent on humidity exposure.  

As discussed above, better drying techniques are employed to stabilize probiotics. If water droplets are left in the culture, the bacteria will absorb them, and dormancy ends. 

Similarly, if these cultures get moisture and become activated in capsules.

Is It Safe To Keep Probiotics Out Of Fridge?

Shelf-stable probiotics stay safe when you store them outside the fridge in dry and cool places.

The chances of these probiotics going bad are least if pills come in blister cards or an air-tight container and you keep the bottle in a dry place. 

But if it’s too humid and moisture somehow gets into the capsules, your supplement will likely waste. 

In contrast, refrigerated probiotics will likely lose potency if you forget to keep them in the refrigerator. 

Travel Probiotics Must Be Shelf Stable

Probiotics are beneficial to avoid gut issues during your foreign trips. But only shelf-stable products can survive the travel conditions.

You would need special storage measures for refrigerated probiotics, which is quite inconvenient during travel. In this case, shelf-stable supplements are handy as you can carry them without extra effort.

Are Shelf Stable Probiotics As Good As Refrigerated?

Shelf-stable probiotics are more travel friendly and can live longer without refrigeration; does that make them more effective as well?  

 The answer is yes; if probiotics are dried well and stay viable, they would be equally effective as refrigerated probiotics. 

And the best results come from shelf-stable probiotics that are stored in the refrigerator, as confirmed by user feedback.

Can You Refrigerate Shelf Stable Probiotics?

Can You Refrigerate Shelf Stable Probiotics

Refrigerating shelf-stable probiotics is better than keeping them on your kitchen shelf. It ensures longer dormancy and higher safety from heat damage.

People store them both ways and here are their views about different storage methods:

Some People Keep Shelf Stable Probiotics in Refrigerators 

John says on Consumerlab that he keeps a few pills on the shelf for immediate use but stores the rest in the refrigerator to enhance longevity. 

john about refrigerating probiotics

Another user reported using the same method to store the probiotics pills. Strains remain viable and work well for both persons.

Many Others Don’t Bother to Refrigerate Them

In a question thread, dOtsun7 asked for advice on whether he should put his shelf-stable probiotic in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

Other users told him they would work fine at room temperature.

But I suggest you refrigerate your shelf-stable probiotics to ensure you get maximum CFUs.

Refrigerated Probiotics Vs. Non-Refrigerated – Reddit

For this section, I have collected views from probiotics users on the efficacy of refrigerated and shelf-stable products, as shared in Reddit threads.

I found some users saying that shelf-stable probiotics have lesser viable strains than refrigerated ones because most strains are heat killed. But these are often corrected by others who advocate for the efficacy of shelf-stable products. 

Many others also share their positive experiences with non-refrigerated probiotics.

For example, TheSuperRainbow shared he’d been prescribed antibiotics 5-6 times, damaging his natural microbiome every time. However, using shelf-stable probiotics, he recovered from antibiotic effects much faster. 

Some users have different experiences with different shelf-stable brands. For example, have a look at this Reddit comment by Lammychoppers:

Considering these cases, I can conclude that efficacy is mostly brand-related.

If the company followed good manufacturing practices and employed efficient technologies to freeze-dry the strains. The bacteria will not be killed or weakened but only become dormant. 

But if the technology is not efficient enough, the bacteria may be killed instead of becoming dormant. 

The Best Probiotic That Doesn’t Need Refrigeration

1. Youbiology Gut+ – Overall Best Shelf Stable Probiotics 

Yourbiology Gut+ bottle

This supplement offers 40 billion CFUs of 4 effective, friendly bacteria, Bifidobacterium lactis and Lactobacillus strains (L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, L. paracasei).

These capsules are made with 3D MAKtrek technology ensuring high moisture and acid resistance.

2. Biotics 8 – Best For Men Non-refrigerated Probiotics

Biotics 8 new bottle

It is a multi-strain probiotic containing 7 Lactobacillus (L. casei, L. paracasei, L. plantarum, L. fermentum, L. longum, L. acidophilus, L. rhamnosus), 2 Bifidobacteria strains (B. longum, B. breve) and a yeast strain (Saccharomyces Boulardii).

Being shelf stable, it maintains high potency even when stored at room temperature, and HPMC encapsulation protects microbes from moisture and acid damage.

3. Culturelle Daily Digestive – Best Shelf Stable Probiotics For IBS 


This a single-strain supplement containing 10 billion CFUs of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG bacteria. 

Besides a stable formulation, these pills come in double Aluminum blisters to ensure complete safety from moisture.

Are probiotics that need to be refrigerated better?

Not necessarily. While some probiotics require refrigeration to maintain their potency, others are shelf-stable and can be stored at room temperature. What’s most important is understanding what you’re taking and why.

Specific strains have specific benefits, and that’s what we should be focused on. When choosing a probiotic, look for one that contains strains that have been clinically studied and shown to have health benefits. It’s also important to choose a probiotic that is high quality, with a high CFU (colony-forming units) count, and free of fillers and unnecessary ingredients.

Whether or not a probiotic needs to be refrigerated will depend on the specific strains and formulation, so it’s important to read the label and follow the storage instructions provided by the manufacturer.

How long can refrigerated probiotics stay out?

Refrigerated probiotics are designed to be kept at a cool temperature to maintain their potency. If they are left out of the refrigerator for a short period of time, such as a few hours, they should still be effective. However, it’s best to avoid leaving them out for extended periods of time – a few days – as this can cause the probiotics to lose their potency and become less effective.

The exact amount of time that refrigerated probiotics can stay out of the fridge will depend on the specific product and its formulation, so it’s always a good idea to follow the storage instructions provided by the manufacturer.

If you’re unsure whether your probiotics are still effective after being left out of the refrigerator, it’s best to err on the side of caution and replace them with a fresh batch.

Final Takeaways

Shelf stable and refrigerated, probiotics are equally effective for better gut health, fairer skin, and stronger immunity.

But shelf-stable probiotics offer more convenient transport and storage. They are also less vulnerable to spoilage by temperature changes in the environment.

Still, refrigeration is recommended because it ensures higher safety from heat damage and dormancy breakage.

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