Oatmeal Shelf Life: Does It Go Bad or Expire? (How To Tell)

image-of-oatmeal with blue berries

Imagine checking your pantry in the morning, ready for a delicious bowl of hot oatmeal with your favorite fruits and milk. Alas! You realize it’s been a few months since you had oatmeal, so this has you wonder: Does oatmeal go bad?

Moreover, can you still use your oatmeal even after keeping it for so long? Come on, it’s a waste of food, and doesn’t it last forever?

  • The bad news: Yes, oatmeal goes bad.
  • The good news: Raw oatmeal doesn’t spoil that quickly!

Let’s delve a bit deeper into those two points, shall we?

How Long Does Oatmeal Last?

As much as we wish food never spoiled to avoid wastage, oatmeal does go bad.

That said, it has a relatively long lifespan compared to other food, though it depends on how it’s processed, whether it’s cooked or raw, the ingredients added, and how you store oatmeal. We told you about various factors to consider!

  • Like dried pasta or rice, commercially processed and uncooked oatmeal can last for at least a year, even up to 2-3 years, in an unopened package or airtight container. That’s because commercially processed oats go through a steaming process, contributing to the long shelf life.
  • If you have un-stabilized oats, which did not undergo a steaming process, they will last for around 3-4 months. (*)
  • Flavored oatmeal with other ingredients like fruit or dried milk can last from 4-to 12 months, depending on the storage method and ingredients added.

Does Oatmeal Go Bad When Cooked?

The data above refers to raw oatmeal, folks! What if you already cooked it?

Once you cook oatmeal, expect it to last for 3-5 days at most before it’s time to chuck out the leftovers. The lifespan shortens when you add perishable ingredients like fresh milk or fruits.

  • Fun fact: If you bought oatmeal in bulk and need it to last even longer, can it be in #10 cans. Canned oatmeal can last for as long as 30 years (though we’re unsure why you’ll need your oatmeal to last THAT long unless you’re prepping for an apocalypse).

A general rule of thumb is to follow the best-by label and add a year to that date!

The “best-by” label is a recommendation and indicates when the food is of the best quality, but it can last for even longer than that with proper storage conditions. That said, the flavor and texture may not be as it was when you first opened it.

How to Tell If Your Oatmeal Has Gone Bad?

There are obvious ways to tell when your raw or cooked oatmeal has gone bad. Sure, you can check the label, but these aren’t as accurate as you’d assume them to be!

We must rely on our senses to determine our oatmeal’s freshness and quality, particularly our eyes, noses, and sometimes, our tastebuds. Here’s what to watch out for:

1. Discoloration:

Fresh oats would have a cream or light brown color. If you notice any dark or bright colors may come from mold growth or bugs.

2. Molds:

Moisture may enter into opened packages, leading to mold. If you leave whole grain oats unopened, you expose them to moisture, causing them to grow and bacteria. Since mold and bacteria spread quickly, they contaminate the entire package!

3. Smell:

Take a whiff of your oatmeal.

It should have a delectable sweet, nutty aroma. However, oatmeal’s fats spoil over time, which gives spoiled oatmeal a foul, sour smell.

4. Any critters:

If you see the container with some damage or signs of tears and bites, it might mean rodents and bugs have gotten into your oatmeal. If you’re unsure whether it has bugs, pour a bit of oatmeal into a bowl of water, seeing if bugs float.

5. Clumps:

Are your oats clumping and sticking together? Obviously, that means you can’t consume them anymore.

If none of those signs show, you can prepare your oat meal! But if you’re still unsure, you can give it a taste test. If it tastes sour or you feel suspicious, it’s best to throw it away.

Oatmeal should be taste-neutral, and not have any bitter, foul, or pungent flavors.

Once your oat meal passes all the tests, prepare it as instructed, add your favorite toppings, and enjoy!

How to Store Oatmeal

Two of the worst things to happen to oat meal are exposure to air and moisture.

  • Before opening a package of oat meal, you can store it in a cool, dark area, like your pantry. Once you open it, reduce air and moisture exposure by transferring it into an airtight container or resealable plastic bag. That way, your oat meal is free from bug infestations and early spoilage.
  • Since steel-cut oats are whole-grain products, they contain more oil than rolled oats. Because of the higher fat content, they spoil quicker than other oat meal products. Because of that, we recommend storing steel-cut oats in an airtight container in your freezer or fridge, extending the lifespan. (*)
  • Speaking of freezing, you can pour your oat meal into a freezer bag and place it in the freezer, which can help it last for an extra three months or so.
  • We recommend using glass, ceramic, or stainless-steel containers to minimize light exposure. Please do not place your oat meal by a window where the sun can shine on it or above appliances like stoves or microwaves.
  • Refrigerate leftover cooked oat meal. Make sure you cool down your oat meal for a few minutes before storing it. Don’t leave cooked oat meal outside for over two hours because bacteria are more likely to develop and spread!

Frequently Asked Questions

Besides learning the answer to “can oatmeal go bad,” we have more points to make below.

Is it OK to eat expired oatmeal?

If you took a bite or two without knowing you ate spoiled oat meal, it wouldn’t make you sick. However, if you continuously consume spoiled oat meal without knowing it, it can wreak havoc with your digestive system, causing stomach issues.

How can I use leftover oatmeal before it spoils?

If you don’t want to eat oatmeal on its own, don’t throw them out! You can still enjoy oatmeal’s nutty flavors in baked goods like cookies, muffins, cakes, pancakes, etc. If you’re not a fan of baking, you can also create your own oat milk by blending oats with honey and water for a dairy-free beverage.

What can you do with expired oats?

Suppose your oats expired but have no molds present, no problem! You can always repurpose it for external uses since oatmeal acts as more than just a filling meal. It’s also great for our skin, especially dry or irritated types. Create scrubs, face masks, scalp treatments, or even prepare an oatmeal bath for yourself or a deodorizer for your pet.

Wrapping It Up

Oatmeal is a popular breakfast meal that you must store adequately to avoid quick spoilage. (*)

While oatmeal spoils eventually, you’d rather have it last for years than mere weeks or months. Keep them in sealed plastic bins or cans, and they can last for decades.

We hope our article answered your question, “does oatmeal go bad?” If you’re still curious about the true expiry dates of food and drinks, check out our other informational posts here at Nomspedia.

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