You just found a box of expired cereal in the cabinet, and you’re not sure what to do. Does cereal go bad? No matter if the bag is your children’s or yours (I eat oatmeal regularly, so I don’t judge), now is the time to decide how to go about it.
Your first thought was probably to discard it, but then you thought: it’s cereal, does it even spoil? And you’re right, almost all cereals last months (if not years) past their dates and don’t ever go bad in the same way milk does. But that doesn’t mean cereal lasts forever and an old box will be just as good a freshly bought one. Far from it.
In this article, we talk about storage, shelf life, and spoilage of cereal. If you’re ready to finally clean up that cabinet and deal with those old cereals, you’re in the right place. Let’s start with storage.
How To Store Cereal
Storing cereal is no rocket science, and it’s pretty similar to storing another favorite breakfast option: oatmeal. All that you need to do is to make sure that the flakes sit in a dry area that’s relatively cool.
You can keep the cereals in their original boxes or packaging, or go with fancy cereal containers. The latter is a better option if you keep the grains in a place that’s not exactly dry (e.g., you live in the tropics), or you like to have all the varieties organized for the kids.
It’s best to keep cereals that come with dried fruit (like granola) in an airtight container. If that’s your favorite variety, consider buying a cereal dispenser, or a larger container, to keep them sealed well. This way the fruit won’t completely dry out and will retain freshness for longer.
If you already prepared or cooked the cereal, and have leftovers, refrigerate them in a closed container.
How Long Does Cereal Last
Okay, so you already know that cereals don’t last forever. And you also know that most packages come with a “best by” or “best if used by date.” That date is only an indicator of approximately how long the product will retain peak quality. In other words, the flakes won’t just spoil after that date, and even cereal companies acknowledge it. Here’s how Mom’s Best Cereals FAQ page answers the question of whether it’s safe to eat cereal that has passed its date (MBC):
Yes, it is safe, but since the flavor will change as the product ages, we recommend that you purchase a new package.
So yeah, cereals last past their date. How long exactly, you ask? It depends on the variety. For plain corn flakes and similar ones, they should retain good-enough-to-eat quality for at least half a year past their date, maybe even up to a year. Cereals with dried fruit and whatnot keep quality for a shorter period, approximately between 3 and 6 months.
If you keep cereal in containers and aren’t sure about the dates, check them against the spoilage signs and quality checks in the next section. If they pass all of them, feel free to use them.
|Cereals (plain varieties)||Best-by + 6 – 12 months|
|Cereals with fruit and other extras||Best-by + 3 – 6 months|
|Prepared cereal||3 – 4 days|
Please note that the periods above only approximate.
How To Tell If Cereal Is Bad or Spoiled?
As I already mentioned, if stored properly, cereals last quite some time. But in certain situations, they can actually go bad. Here’s what to look for:
- Insects in the package. If the box sat in storage for months, take a look inside and check if there aren’t any insects. Pantry invaders like weevils and whatnot like dry foods, so your cereal is a perfect choice. If the package is infested, get rid of it.
- Flakes are moldy. If water got its way to the cereal, there would be mold. If that’s the case, again, discard the whole thing.
- Anything off in terms of looks and smell. While that’s unlikely, it’s still good to take a close look at the flakes and give them a good old sniff. If anything is wrong, you will know it.
Okay, now that your cereal has passed the “is it safe to eat?” test, it’s time to talk about checking the quality. The thing you should remember here is that the taste and texture of cereals change for the worse over time.
If you eat your cereal plain (e.g., with fresh fruit and a glass of milk), the latter is probably quite important to you. So if yours went from pleasantly crisp and crunchy to somewhat limp, perhaps it’s time for them to go. If you’re more like me, on the other hand, and like to soak your cereal in milk until it’s soft, you probably won’t mind that texture alteration that much.
Last but not least, taste. When it comes to testing that quality, all you need to do is to grab a couple of flakes and eat them raw. If the flavor is alright, feel free to use them. Otherwise, you know what to do with them.