Does Popcorn Go Bad?

The next game night is coming and having popcorn is a must.

You have a few packs of popped popcorn that are nearing the date on the label, and you’re not quite sure if you can serve them to your guests. Does popcorn go bad?

Or maybe you’ve bought a few packs of dry kernels back in the day and only recently noticed they are still sitting in the pantry.

They’re months past the date on the label, so you considered discarding them. But after thinking about it for a moment, you thought: these are just dry kernels, do they actually go bad?

Either way, if you’re unsure of how or how long you can store various types of popcorn (popped, microwaveable, or dry kernels), this article is here to help.

Read on to learn more about the wonderful human invention that is popcorn.

Bag of popcorn

How To Store Popcorn

No matter if it’s popped popcorn, a microwave packet, or a package of dry kernels, you should keep the unopened package in a dry and fairly cool place.

The best place is usually the pantry, but if that’s not an option, a cupboard in the kitchen can work too. Just make sure it’s not above the stove or anywhere near water or steam.

When it comes to dry kernels and commercially-popped popcorn, once you open the package you should transfer the leftovers to an airtight container or bag. Or at least seal the bag with a clip.

Popcorn bag sealed with a clip
Popcorn bag sealed with a clip

Keeping it sealed at all times helps retain the quality of popcorn for longer. It protects it from picking up moisture and getting soggy, and keeps kernels from drying out quickly.

That bag or container should still sit at or slightly below room temperature.


Once the popcorn is popped, reheating or microwaving it is usually a bad idea. This way, the popcorn will only dry out and taste stale.

Popcorn served
Popcorn served

How Long Does Popcorn Last

When it comes to the shelf life of popcorn, it differs vastly between types.

Shelf life of popped popcorn

Let’s start with the ready-to-eat popcorn, often referred to as commercially-popped. Like all types of popcorn, it usually comes with a best-by or best-before date. That date is usually around two to three months after the production date.

Will the popcorn be still fresh and tasty after the date on the label? Absolutely, but it will gradually dry out and lose flavor, so don’t expect it to be fresh and tasty 2 months after that date.

The quality of the popcorn itself comes into play as well, so a higher-quality product will likely retain freshness for longer.

Once you open the package, it lasts about a week, maybe two, if stored properly. But the quality drops rather quickly, so it’s best to eat it as soon as possible.

Popcorn package date on label
Popcorn package date on label

Shelf life of dry kernels

Dry kernels basically have an indefinite shelf life when stored properly. They stay safe to use for years, but that doesn’t mean you will enjoy the same results with 10-year-old kernels as you do with fresh ones.

In short, fresh kernels yield better results, meaning they pop larger and more consistently than older ones.

Because of that, it’s recommended to use them within about two years of the production date, or about 6 to 12 months past the date on the label.

Shelf life of microwaveable packets

Last but not least, we have the microwaveable packets. Since they already contain everything that’s needed to pop the popcorn, they won’t last as long as dry kernels.

The oil, butter, or any other fat added doesn’t retain good quality forever. So even if most kernels from an old packet will pop, the taste likely won’t hit the spot.

When it comes to storage time, it’s best if you use the microwaveable packages within around 3 months of the date on the label.

Commercially popped popcorn (unopened)Best-by + 2 – 4 weeks
Commercially popped popcorn (opened)1 – 2 weeks
Dry kernels1 – 2 years or Best by + 6 – 12 months
Microwaveable packetsBest by + 3 months
Please note that the periods above are estimates and for best quality. Better quality popcorn yields better results and lasts longer.
Popcorn closeup
Popcorn closeup

How To Tell If Popcorn Is Bad

Once again, let’s go through all the popcorn variations one by one.

Let’s start with commercially popped popcorn. Both an unopened package and properly stored leftovers will last years without becoming unsafe to eat.

Nevertheless, if there is something wrong with the popcorn, like it smells off or mold sets in, discard it. That’s highly unlikely to happen, but I wanted to point that out either way.

As you probably know, being safe to consume doesn’t mean it will retain quality for that long. Popped popcorn stays fresh and tasty for a relatively short period, and when you find it stale or simply not that good, throw it out.

Bowl of popcorn
Bowl of popcorn

For dried kernels the story is similar. Unpopped kernels, if kept away from water, will stay safe for years. Unfortunately, over time they dry out and don’t pop consistently anymore.


If you have some old kernels, start by preparing a small batch and see how it goes. If the results are mediocre or worse, you should probably discard those kernels and switch to fresh ones.

When it comes to microwaveable packets, you’re not supposed to open them before popping. That means the best you can do is to judge the quality of the prepared popcorn.

If there’s anything wrong with it, for example, it smells bad or tastes awful, just throw it out. Same thing if you notice anything unusual in the bag after microwaving.


Bear in mind that not every single kernel has to pop. Some won’t, and that’s perfectly fine.

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