Does Oatmeal Go Bad

Oatmeal is a wonderful way to start your day. It’s easy to prepare and oats last a long time. But does oatmeal go bad?

If you don’t make oatmeal regularly, you might find yourself with a container of oats that’s sitting in the cupboard for months.

Can you use them, or should you rather throw them out? And if they’re safe to eat, will they be any good?

If you’re interested in learning about storing, shelf life, and signs of spoilage of both oats and cooked oatmeal, read on!

Quaker oats package
Quaker oats package

How To Store Oatmeal

Storing raw oatmeal (oats) is no rocket science.

You should keep it in a cool and dry area, just like you do with cereals. The pantry is a great choice, but a cupboard in the kitchen works as well.

After opening the package, consider transferring the oats into an airtight container. That makes sure moisture won’t get to them, and they won’t pick up any odors.

Tip

If you always keep some oats around, consider buying a dedicated container. Some cereal containers look great, and it’s much easier to pour oats from one of them than from a general-use container.

Oatmeal in a linen bag closeup
Oatmeal in a linen bag closeup

When it comes to leftover cooked oatmeal, it needs to be refrigerated. Before transferring the oatmeal into the fridge, make sure it has cooled down a bit.

Warning

You don’t want to put a piping hot oatmeal into the refrigerator. The hot temperature might affect nearby foods.

Leaving the oatmeal to cool down for longer than 2 hours is not a good idea either.

That’s because keeping cooked oatmeal at room temperature for too long gives bacteria time to develop and the risk of food-borne illness increases.

Tip

To cool down cooked oatmeal quickly, spread it out on a couple of plates. After 20 to 40 minutes, it should be cool enough to put it in the fridge safely.

Oatmeal in a black scoop
Oatmeal in a black scoop

How Long Does Oatmeal Last

Every package of oats comes with a “best by” or “use by” date on it. That’s how long the oats are supposed to retain quality.

Of course, oats won’t suddenly go bad a day or two after that date. They’re quite similar to flour or rice – if moisture won’t get to the product, it’ll be fine for months, if not years.

The only thing to remember is that over time, oats may change slightly in terms of color, flavor, or nutritional value. That means they will be still safe to eat, but might not taste as great as they used to.

Info

Oats with extra flavoring might not keep quality for as long as the classic varieties (steel cut or rolled oats) do.

Oats: date on the label
Oats: date on the label

When it comes to cooked oatmeal, it lasts only about 4 to 6 days in the refrigerator. Sometimes it may stay fine for longer, but that’s usually pure luck.

Tip

If you eat oatmeal every weekday, you can cook it in bulk on a Sunday evening and enjoy it Monday to Friday.

 PantryFridge
Uncooked oats“Best by” + 1 year 
Cooked oatmeal 4 – 6 days

Please remember that the dates above are approximate.

Pile of oatmeal from above
Pile of oatmeal from above

How To Tell If Oatmeal Is Bad

You should easily be able to spot if there’s something wrong with you dry oats. Look for the following:

  • mold
  • discolorations
  • oats being clumped together
  • pantry pests in the container
Oats: mold on the bottom of the box
Oats: mold on the bottom of the box

If either is the case, throw the oats out and open a new bag.

If your oats smell foul or off, get rid of them too.

Info

Oats that picked up smells from other food are most likely safe to eat, but you probably want to toss them out for quality reasons.

Oatmeal in a linen bag
Oatmeal in a linen bag

When it comes to cooked oatmeal, the most common sign of spoilage is the most obvious one: mold on the surface.

Besides mold, if there are any discolorations (like dark spots, etc.) or the smell is off, it’s time for it to go.

Tip

If the oatmeal isn’t clearly bad, but you’re not quite sure it’s fine either, discard it.

Last but not least, storage time.

If it sits in the fridge for more than a week, discard it. While it might be still safe to eat, it’s quite risky.

One great piece of advice related to food safety: it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Pile of oatmeal
Pile of oatmeal