Popcorn’s Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad? How To Tell?

You can’t have a movie night without popcorn! It’s the ultimate movie snack with so many different flavors to choose from. There’s cheese, sour cream, barbecue… Our mouth’s watering just thinking about it!

So if you’re going to have a movie night, you’re probably already getting the bag of popcorn in your pantry to prepare for the fun ahead but wait! The popcorn package shows that it’s way past its expiration date.

This leads you to wonder, “does popcorn go bad, and is it still safe to consume even past the expiration date?

Well, it does go bad, but it can last longer than its expiration date.

We tackle what you need to know about popcorn and when it’s safe to eat it, so let’s jump right in!

Does Popcorn Go Bad?

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Popcorn pops because of the small number of water kernels contain. Only 15% of the kernel is water, though this depends on the corn sort. After heating the kernels, the moisture within will turn into popcorn. (*)

This means you can pop the popcorn, provided the kernels don’t dry out completely. Popcorn DOES go stale, but not in the way you think. Popcorn lasts long as long as it’s stored well, and well-preserved kernels can last for years. (*)

However, it does lose its best quality over time, and the kernels and up staying unpopped. When the dry kernels become moist, they lose their popping abilities, deeming them unusable.

There are many factors to consider when determining the shelf life of popcorn, from the way it’s stored down to the type of popcorn you have. (*)

Another factor to consider is whether you have popped or unpopped popcorn. Popped popcorn has an expiration date and will go stale quicker compared to dry kernels, along with microwave popcorn packs.

How Long Does Popcorn Last? Popcorn Shelf Life

When discussing shelf life, the popcorn expiry differs depending on the type of popcorn you have and how it’s stored.

  • A package of unopened popped popcorn would last for only 2-3 months from its production date. It can last for a few weeks past its best by date, but it becomes stale.
  • Opened popped popcorn can last for around two weeks past its best by date as long as it’s stored properly. (*)
  • Microwaveable packets can last for 6-8 months past their best by date. This is because the fat contained in the package doesn’t last forever, hence the short period.
  • Dry popcorn kernels would have an indefinite shelf life, though eventually, they dry out. They can last a few months past their best by date, though. You can still try popping them when you have old popcorn kernels to see if they’ll still pop. There is also a rehydrating trick you can try to get your popcorn kernels to pop successfully.

It doesn’t stop here; we’re going to show you effective tips to help your popcorn last longer so you can enjoy it the next time you’re craving for it.

How to Tell If Popcorn is Bad

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There are several ways to tell if your popcorn has gone bad. While it won’t necessarily spoil, it loses its overall quality to the point it’s inedible. Here are the signs that tell if popcorn quality has gone bad: 

1. Smell

Sniff your popped popcorn or dry kernels to check if it’s gone bad. For those using the microwave pack, you’ll need to pop the kernels first.

If ever you smell a moldy odor or rancid oil, it’s best to throw it away.

2. Texture

When you pop your popcorn, feel them between your fingers. If ever they feel odd, firmer, or gristly, then it may have gone bad. The oils and spices may also be unevenly distributed, so the popcorn is still safe to eat but without any flavor. It might even be too chewy!

3. Taste 

If you have popped popcorn, try one. You’ll know it’s fine when you can taste the delicious buttery flavor. But if you notice a change in its oiliness or saltiness, then it’s best to throw it out.

4. Presence of Bugs and Mold

There are times pantry bugs and insects get attracted to flour and other foods, along with dry kernels, if closed improperly. If you see any bugs, organic particles, and other signs of bug infestation, throw it out.

The same goes for mold.

You might see a few kernels with black or white mold. Do not bother salvaging the ‘healthy’ kernels, as mold already developed in the entire container, which you can’t see with the naked eye. That’s why it’s better to dispose of all the kernels rather than risk it.

Storage Tips for Popcorn

Now that you know more about when popcorn goes bad and how to tell if it’s spoiled, how can it be stored properly? These are storage tips to follow:

1. Storing Kernels

Here are storage tips when it comes to keeping dry kernels:

  •  Use an airtight container, do not keep them in a paper or plastic bag. Instead, use plastic or glass containers with an airtight cover to avoid moisture loss. Alternatively, you can use a mason jar or vacuum seal vessel to prevent bugs from coming in.
  • If you stored dry kernels for over two years, they dry out and won’t pop when heated or turn into smaller, harder popcorn. You can prevent this from happening by adding a bit of water to the popcorn container you keep your dry kernels in. Add a teaspoon of clean and cold water for every pound of dry kernels, and shake it a few times a day for evenly distributed moisture inside the container.
  • You can dry fresh popcorn if they were accidentally exposed to excess moisture or if you added too much water. Preheat your kernels and arrange them evenly on a tray. Set the temperature of your oven to about 130 degrees F, then place the tray of kernels in, allowing them to sit for 10-15 minutes. After taking them out of the oven and cooling them off, please place them in a clean, airtight container.

2. Storing Microwave Packets

It would help if you stored microwave popcorn packs in the refrigerator. Keep your popcorn fresh in its original packaging and at the shelf bottom, away from the fridge doors.

If you’d like to use the popcorn, take it out of the fridge and let it rest for 30 minutes, allowing it to adjust to room temperature, or the kernels can’t pop.

3. Storing Commercially Popped Popcorn

Keep popped popcorn in its original packaging, unopened. Once you open the package, the popcorn gradually loses its quality and flavor.

If you have any leftovers, place them in an airtight container in the pantry or kitchen cabinet. If not, then the popcorn becomes firm, rubbery, and stale.

Frequently Asked Questions

Wait, there is even more, to learn about popcorn and its expiration date!

Wrapping It Up

Popcorn has a relatively long shelf life as long as you place it in a proper storage area. That way, it’s always ready to eat as a healthy snack!

Hopefully, we answered your question, ‘how long does popcorn last?’ Now that you’re more aware of its shelf life and how to store popcorn, keep it in mind on your next movie night.

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