Does Popcorn Expire – A Complete Guide

The ultimate go-to tasty, anytime snack, nothing can beat a bowl of freshly popped popcorn as an accompaniment to your movie marathon, games night or as a midnight snack.
Extremely easy to make in a pan on the stovetop, in the microwave or in a popcorn maker, popcorn is the perfect healthy, whole-grain, high fiber and low-fat snack.
Popcorn is such a versatile snack that people often buy it in bulk and store it for use later on.
The question is, “How long does popcorn last?” The answer to this question depends on whether the popcorn has been popped or not and in what form it has been stored.
In this article, we’ll discuss the shelf-life of different forms of popcorn—dry popcorn kernels, microwave popcorn and popped popcorn and find out how long each one can last.

How Long Does Popcorn Last?

Popcorn Kernels

Popcorn kernels are raw, uncooked or unpopped, dried corn kernels that do not have any salt, flavor, butter, or other seasonings. This is popcorn that you pop on a stovetop in a pan or in the popcorn machine. Popcorn kernels are the easiest to store, have a very long shelf-life and do not expire.

What Is the Shelf-Life of Popcorn Kernels, Do They Expire?

Popcorn kernels are probably the easiest type of popcorn to store and can potentially last indefinitely. Usually, when you buy a bag of popcorn, you will see that it has a best-by date printed on it, which is around 6 months to a year from the date that you have purchased the popcorn.
This does not indicate that the popcorn has gone bad or is no longer edible because it is not the date of expiration. Simply put, it indicates that after this date, the popcorn’s quality will start to decline, although the popcorn created with these kernels is still safe to eat.
Dry, unpopped popcorn kernels have an endless shelf life and may be used for a long time provided they are stored correctly. However, it’s crucial to keep in mind that, when compared to new kernels, kernels that are 10 years old won’t produce the same flavor or results.
Fresher and newer popcorn kernels will pop more consistently and you will get larger and fluffier popcorn compared to older kernels. So, it is recommended that you use popcorn kernels 6-12 months after the best-by date mentioned on the label or within 2 years of the date that they were produced.

How to Store Popcorn Kernels?

The important thing for preserving popcorn kernels is to store them properly. The kernels must be stored in an airtight container or a sealed storage bag in a cool and dry place such as in your pantry or kitchen cupboard.
If the popcorn kernels are in the original packaging, which you have not opened, then you can store them as long as the packaging does not have any holes. While the popcorn kernels may not go bad, exposure to the air can make them go stale.
So, to retain the freshness of the kernels, it is best to protect them from the air. Also, make sure that you store the popcorn kernels in a dry place where there is no moisture. Moisture causes the shelf-life of the popcorn kernels to reduce.
And, if you live in a place where the humidity is high, then you should take extra care in the way you store the popcorn kernels to protect them from moisture. So, in conclusion, dry popcorn kernels will last for around 1 to 2 years and if stored properly, they can even last indefinitely.
If stored for too long, the popcorn kernels are likely to dry out, causing inconsistent popping when you pop them. So, we always recommend that you use fresh kernels to make your bowl of popcorn.

Popped Corn

Commercially-popped popcorn, also known as ready-to-eat popcorn, typically comes with a best-by date, which is usually around 2-3 months after it has been produced. If the original packaging that the popped corn comes in is unopened, you can keep it even after the best-by date.
The popcorn will be safe to eat even after the best-by date on the label, and it will also not taste very good. An unopened bag of popped popcorn has a shelf-life of around 2-4 weeks. When opened, the bag of popped popcorn will last only for around 1-2 weeks if stored properly.
Once the packaging has been opened, the popcorn will dry out and lose its flavor gradually. And, if you have a bag of popped gourmet popcorn with flavors and toppings, this will have a different shelf-life compared to regular popped popcorn, which will depend on the seasonings used to flavor the gourmet popcorn.
The quality of the popped popcorn is affected over time and reduces quite fast. So, it is best to eat it as soon as possible. Once you open the popped popcorn, we recommend that you store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place such as your kitchen cabinet or pantry, which is free of any moisture.
It is better to put the popcorn into an airtight container or sealed bag; otherwise, it will become firm, dry, rubbery and stale. Some people freeze popped popcorn; however, this will not have the same flavor and freshness as freshly popped popcorn.

Microwave Popcorn

Microwave popcorn is quite a popular option because of the convenience it offers. Typically, microwave popcorn is packed in paper bags, sealed in plastic to retain freshness.
For convenience, salt, oil, butter, and other seasonings are added to the popcorn kernels. All you need to do is pop a bag of popcorn into the microwave and you’ll have a bowl of hot, freshly-popped and yummy popcorn ready in 1-2 minutes.

What Is the Shelf-Life of Microwave Popcorn?

Like any other type of popcorn, even microwave popcorn has a best-by date. This is not the expiration date of the popcorn and is simply a recommendation of the date until which the popcorn can be enjoyed at its best quality.
Typically, microwave popcorn has a shelf-life of up to 6 to 8 months beyond the best-by date printed on the packaging. If the popcorn contains butter, oil or toppings, it may go rancid.
In general, it is quite difficult to extend the shelf-life of microwave popcorn because each manufacturer uses a different oil-to-sugar and salt ratio and different flavorings. So, we recommend consuming microwave popcorn within 6 to 8 months.
And, if it is older than 8 months beyond the best-by date mentioned on the packaging, to be on the safe side, it is better not to use the popcorn and simply throw it away. Store the microwave popcorn properly in a cool and dry place where there is no moisture.
Also, ensure that the package is not opened and the kernels are within the pack before popping it.

Is It Safe to Eat Microwave Popcorn after Its Best-by Date?

As discussed earlier, the best-by date on the microwave popcorn pack is an indication of when the popcorn will be at its best quality. Microwave popcorn is safe to eat up to 6-8 months after its best-by date.
It is always best to look out for signs that the microwave popcorn may have gone bad and throw it away if it is spoiled. If you notice an odd smell when you remove the microwave popcorn bag from its plastic wrap, it probably means that the oil and butter in the popcorn may be turning rancid.
If the smell is very slight, then you can pop the popcorn and taste it. If the taste of the popcorn is off, then it is better to throw the popcorn away and not eat it as the popcorn may have spoiled, and eating it may cause you to fall sick.

Related: How to Get Burnt Smell Out Of Microwave?

Ways to Tell If the Popcorn Has Gone Bad?

Popcorn has a reasonable shelf-life and does not go bad, but if you have it lying about way past its best-by date, the chances of it getting spoiled are very high. Here are a few ways by which you can tell if the popcorn has gone bad.

  • Smell: Sniff the kernels of the popcorn before you pop them. If the smell seems off, moldy, or in the case of microwave popcorn, if the smell is rancid, then it is best to discard the kernels and not use them.
  • Inconsistent Popping: If the popcorn has spoiled and the moisture within the kernel has dried out, then the popcorn will not pop. If the popcorn is dry, then the kernels may have a slightly darker color; however, it is difficult to determine if it is dry unless you attempt to pop it. Some kernels may pop, while many will remain unpopped. The popcorn will be dry and tasteless and is better if thrown away.
  • Taste: The sure-shot way to determine if the popcorn has gone bad is by tasting it. Once you pop them, try a couple of them. If you notice any changes in the oiliness or saltiness and if the taste is slightly off, it is best not to eat the popcorn and throw them away.
  • Texture: When you pop the popcorn, if it feels firm, rubbery or gristly, or if you notice that the spices, salt and oils are unevenly distributed, then it is best to discard the popcorn. The popcorn may be safe to eat, but it will probably be completely flavorless and tasteless.
  • Mold: If you see some black or white specs or particles on the popcorn kernels, it is probably mold growth. Avoid popping and eating the popcorn. Don’t attempt to separate the good popcorn from the bad because even if you cannot see it, the mold has probably infested the entire pack and eating the popcorn can be harmful to your health.
  • Bugs: Sometimes, bugs or other tiny pests can get into the container with the popcorn kernels. So, if you see any signs of pests or an infestation, don’t pop and eat the popcorn, simply throw it away.

In conclusion, many factors can affect the shelf-life of popcorn and how long it will last. Typically, dry kernels are likely to last for up to 1 year.
You can expect popped popcorn to last for around 2-3 weeks and microwave popcorn for around 6-8 months. You must always ensure that the popcorn is adequately stored for it to last longer; otherwise, the quality will deteriorate and the popcorn will become stale.

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