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 best-by 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 for how you can store various types of popcorn like popped, microwaveable, and dry kernels, this article is here to help. Read on to learn more about the wonderful human invention that is popcorn.

Bowl of popcorn to munch on
(credit: Alex Munsell)

How To Store Popcorn

While popcorn is available in different styles, the storage rules are quite the same for all of them. 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 rest to an airtight container. Keeping the container sealed at all times helps retain the quality of the popcorn for longer. Popped popcorn is protected from picking up moisture and getting soggy, while kernels don’t dry out as quickly. The container with the popcorn should still sit at or slightly below room temperature.

Last but not least, 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 ready to eat
(credit: Charles Deluvio)

How Long Does Popcorn Last

When it comes to the shelf life of popcorn, it differs vastly between types. Let’s start with the ready-to-eat popcorn, often called 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 with time it will 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.

Dry kernels are next in line. They basically have an indefinite shelf life when stored properly. That means 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 have with fresh ones. In short, fresh kernels yield better results, meaning they pop larger and more consistently than the 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.

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 won’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 periods, it’s best if you use the microwaveable packages within around 3 months of the date on the label.

Pantry
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.

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 once you find it stale or simply not that good, throw it out.

For dried kernels the story is similar. Unpopped kernels, if kept away from water, will stay safe for years. Unfortunately, with time they dry out and don’t pop consistently anymore. So if you have some old kernels, start with 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 made 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.

1 thought on “Does Popcorn Go Bad?”

  1. My old popcorn is buttereh and seedy ‘tween my teeth. I’d like to eat all the old popkernels one by one. Crunching them ‘twixt my teeth.

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