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Does Microwave Popcorn Expire? | The USDA Weighs In

I recently found a bag of microwave popcorn that literally fell between the cracks in our pantry. It was well past its expiration date, but I popped it and ate it anyway. It was a little stale but not too bad, but then I wondered if I should have just thrown it out. So, I asked the experts, and this is what I learned.

According to the USDA, microwave popcorn will last a year at peak quality at 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It is considered expired if it has reached its expiration date or passed its best-by date by 2 or more months. If unpopped microwave popcorn smells rancid or shows physical signs of mold, do not consume it.

Source: USDA
Opening a bag of popcorn in the microwave

Different Types of Popcorn Have Different Shelf Lives

There are several types of popcorn, and all have different shelf lives. The shelf life depends on: 

  • The way the popcorn is packaged
  • Whether or not it is pre-popped
  • How much oil and seasoning is added in during the manufacturing process. 

Below is a list of the most common types of popcorn and their respective shelf lives:

  • Microwave Popcorn: Microwave popcorn can last at most two months past its expiration date. The seasoning and oil added to manufactured microwave popcorn bags can go bad and taste bitter. 
  • Pre-Popped Popcorn: Pre-popped popcorn, still packed and unopened, can last for four weeks or more, depending on the expiration date. If you open the package and leave it without proper storage, it’ll go bad within the week. Going bad does not necessarily mean that the popcorn will have mold. But there’ll be a change in taste and texture. When left out, popped popcorn can give a bitter and stale taste. 
  • Unpopped Popcorn: You can store unpopped popcorn without having to worry about an expiration date. Unpopped kernels have no added oils or seasonings like microwave popcorn and hence don’t change in taste with time. However, unused unpopped popcorn can lose its light, airy texture, and the kernels may not pop properly. 

How Long Does Microwave Popcorn Last After the Expiration Date?

Microwave popcorn can last two to six additional months past its expiration date. This varies depending on the oil and seasoning added during the manufacturing process. If consumed past this time, microwave popcorn can taste bitter and not pop quite as well.  

Although the chances of food poisoning from stale popcorn are slim, don’t try to eat a popcorn bag that is years old. Although the popcorn kernels can stay fresh, the seasoning and oil added to the microwave popcorn can go bad. 

Added oils for flavor in microwave popcorn can easily go rancid past the expiration date and cause an upset stomach if consumed. 

Secondly, very old popcorn, let’s say two years old, will not pop as well as fresh popcorn — if it pops at all.

Related Is It Safe To Stand Near A Microwave Oven?

How To Tell If Expired Microwave Popcorn Is Bad

If expired popcorn has gone bad, there’ll be a change in taste, texture, and or smell indicating so. 

Poor Popping and a Bitter Taste Are Signs of Bad Popcorn 

If microwave popcorn is past its expiration date, you can use its taste and how well it pops to tell if it has gone bad. If you notice a majority of the kernels still intact after popping, the popcorn is probably bad. 

Since microwave popcorn is packed with seasonings and added oils, if the packet is well past its expiration date, there can be a bitter change in flavor. If you notice any of these two signs, toss the popcorn out and reach for a fresh pack. 

When Flavored Popcorn Goes Bad, the Flavor Is Altered 

If flavored popcorn is well past its expiration date, the flavor of the popcorn will likely be altered. Spoiled seasoning will cause the popcorn to taste bitter or oddly tangy. 

It’s best to consume flavored popcorn as fresh as possible to avoid this altered taste. Another factor that can indicate spoiled flavored popcorn is a pungent smell. If the popcorn seasoning has gone bad, it’ll give off a strong foul smell. 

Texture Helps Determine If Unpopped Popcorn Is Bad 

Popcorn kernels last long after expiration dates if stored correctly. Since unpopped popcorn kernels don’t have added oil or seasoning, there’s little to tell you they’ve gone bad besides a change in texture. 

Even so, old popcorn kernels will not be as fluffy when popped. Also, if the popcorn kernels are old, some may not pop at all. Another less common indication of old kernels is a change in color — older kernels appear darker.

Pre-Popped Popcorn Has the Lowest Shelf Life 

Pre-popped popcorn is at risk of going bad the fastest. Pre-popped popcorn that is past its expiration date and has not been stored properly can attract mold and fungus. Another major issue with pre-popped popcorn is that it loses its fluffy, crispy texture quickly. 

Hence, older pre-popped popcorn can taste stale and soft. If it has added seasoning and flavor, it’ll give off a pungent smell or bitter taste that would indicate the popcorn has gone bad. 

Can You Eat Expired, Unpopped Popcorn? (Are There Risks?)

You can eat expired, unpopped popcorn as long as there are no signs of it going bad. These signs include a pungent odor, change in color, signs of mold, and change in taste. If you see these signs, the popcorn is unsafe to eat, and you should discard it. 

As a rule of thumb, microwave popcorn goes bad faster than popcorn kernels. This is due to the seasoning and oil added in for flavor. Unpopped and unseasoned popcorn kernels can last up to one year past their expiration date if stored properly. 

Popcorn that is consumed past its expiration date carries very little risk of food poisoning. The main factor that can lead to illness is mold growth on the popcorn. Looking out for changes in color and smell is important to determine if there is any mold growth on the popcorn. 

However, if your popcorn contains added oils, seasonings, or preservatives, don’t consume it if it is well past its expiration date since these ingredients can go rancid and cause potential illness or at least an upset stomach. 

How To Keep Popcorn Fresh 

Did you pop that microwave popcorn and have leftovers? Maybe you opened a large pack of pre-popped popcorn and could not get yourself to consume the whole pack. Or did you treat yourself to gourmet popcorn and have no clue how to store the leftovers? 

Correct popcorn storage is key to helping you keep your popcorn tasting as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Follow these tips on popcorn storage. 

1. Store Your Popcorn in an Air-Tight Container 

Air-tight containers are great for snack storage. They can help keep a wide array of snacks such as cookies, marshmallows, and even popcorn fresh. Air-tight containers are great for helping the popcorn retain its ideal moisture content without allowing excess moisture through. If you don’t store popcorn in an airtight container, it is more likely to attract mold. 

Tip: If stored under the right conditions, unpopped popcorn kernels can last up to a year past their expiration date. 

2. Store in a Dry, Shaded Cupboard

Make sure to store your airtight container full of popcorn in a dry, shaded area. If the area isn’t dry and your air-tight container isn’t properly sealed, there’s room for excess moisture to make way to the popcorn and cause potential mold growth. 

Similarly, if you place your container in direct sunlight, the excess heat can not only damage your container but overheat the popcorn and make it go stale. 

3. Only Store Room Temperature Popcorn

Another key tip to keep in mind is never to store your popcorn fresh out of the microwave. If you were to store popcorn that is still hot from cooking in an air-tight container and seal it, the heat will evaporate and turn into moisture trapped inside the container. That added moisture will cause the popcorn to get soggy and attract mold. 

Uses for Stale Popcorn

Are you reading this and realizing you’ve got some stale popcorn on your hands that no amount of storage can fix? Well, here are a few ways you can revive or use that stale popcorn. 

You Can Use Stale Popcorn In Baked Goods

Firstly, you can revive the microwave popcorn to a version of its original fluffy, crispy texture. To do so, you’ll need an oven and your stale popcorn. 

  1. Place your stale popcorn onto a baking sheet. 
  2. Bake at 250 degrees Fahrenheit (121 degrees Celsius) for about 5 minutes. 
  3. Remove the tray from the oven and allow the popcorn to cool to room temperature. 

You can now either store or devour the delicious fluffy fresh-tasting popcorn. 

Have you ever heard of popcorn bread or popcorn cookies? You can reuse stale popcorn in these delicious baked goods with little effort. 

The first recipe is for gluten-free popcorn bread. This mysterious yet delicious treat is perfect to serve and surprise guests with at a potluck. 

To use popcorn in this recipe, simply grind it into the cornmeal, and you’re good to go. On the other hand, if you can some extra texture from the popcorn, make a batch of popcorn cookies. These cookies use slightly crushed popcorn and chocolate chips to create a more textured, dynamic, sweet, and salty chocolate chip cookie. 

You Can Use Stale Popcorn As a Spice Rub

The second way to use stale popcorn, whether microwave or simple kernels, is to embrace it. Stale popcorn has a unique texture that’s slightly crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside, making it a great addition to trail mix for added texture. 

You can even add some tempered chocolate onto stale popcorn and allow it to cool before adding it to your trail mix for a chewy, salty, but rather sweet addition. Alternatively, you can add stale popcorn to your salad as a topping or grind it up with herbs and spices to create a spice rub for meats. 

You Can Use Stale Popcorn in Children’s Crafts

Additionally, stale popcorn can be used for kids’ crafts. Find yourself stale popcorn and thread, and you have a winter-themed wreath. Or simply use the stale popcorn to represent snow for a kids craft project. 

Another fun project for little ones learning about animals could be to glue popcorn onto paper and make a lamb. For a birthday party activity, you can combine stale popcorn, other candies, and treats such as jellies with simple toothpicks and have the kids make popcorn monsters. 

Not only will they be super cute, but they’ll also taste delicious. Another hands-on activity for children to do with parents is this colorful microwave popcorn. 

Final Thoughts

Microwave popcorn is delicious, and even past its expiration date, it is often safe to consume. If you have stale popcorn on your hands, there are plenty of ways to revive it or embrace it.

For more, don’t miss Is Oatmeal a Good Survival Food? How Should It Be Stored?