Can Popcorn Expire?

  • Author: Sue Dorrens
  • Published: November 17, 2022
  • Time to read: 4 min.

If you’ve ever left vegetables in the fridge for weeks, you might have had a nasty surprise when you discovered that they’ve gone moldy. And there are other food categories that don’t have a long expiration date.

But what about popcorn—especially a vegan alternative that doesn’t contain any dairy to refrigerate?

Let’s examine the truths behind popcorn’s expiration date and if you can continue munching on this snack past the recommended use-by date.

How Do You Know If Your Popcorn Has Expired?

Here are some telltale signs that your popcorn has reached its expiry date.

  • The kernels don’t pop
  • There are traces of mold in the bag or on the kernels
  • There’s an unpleasant smell when you open the popcorn bag (due to cooking oil and seasoning turning bad)
  • Flavorless (the seasoning has gone stale)

How Long after the Expiration Date Is Unpopped Popcorn Good?

While you can use your own judgment (albeit your senses) to detect if popcorn is still safe to eat long after its expiration date, we don’t recommend consumption after its sell-by date. You might not get ill from eating it, but you’ll certainly notice a difference in the flavor and texture.

Unpopped Kernels

This type of kernel usually expires a lot quicker if exposed to moisture. Once the kernels become moist, they’re unable to expand and won’t pop once they’re heated. Keep them fresh in a dry environment with no exposure to moisture.

To prevent them from turning stale, store them in an airtight jar. Or, if you store them in a bag, remove as much air as possible before you put them back to avoid them turning bad.

Popped Kernels

If you’ve popped the kernels yourself, they can dry out and gradually lose their flavor a lot quicker than store-bought popped kernels (which you should refer to the expiration date on the packet).

Popped kernels typically last one to two weeks before the quality and taste begin to drop. You’ll have the best experience if you eat homemade popped kernels on the same day. If you do pop and do not eat them all, store them in a sealed container, or they will be stale within a day or two.

What Happens When Popcorn Expires?

When popcorn reaches its expiration, moisture within the kernels dries up, resulting in them no longer being able to pop.

Some kernels in the packet might still pop, but you’ll encounter a lot more unpopped ones that go to waste. You may also notice a darker shade once popcorn dries up, but this isn’t always noticeable.

Additionally, the oils within a popcorn bag will dry up and begin to turn rotten, making the popcorn taste off and also producing a nasty smell when you open a microwave bag.

More reasons why your popcorn might be chewy here.

Can I Eat Expired Popcorn?

Popcorn retains its moisture for 6–12 months, so it might have been sitting on the supermarket shelf for months before you pick it up. While you can eat popcorn after its expiration date (particularly if it doesn’t contain dairy), the kernels will dry out on the inside, causing them to taste stale and lose their crunchy texture. Expired popcorn can easily burn, too.

Additionally, expired popcorn can become unsafe to consume if it has mold (which isn’t always visible to the eye). This can cause sickness, stomach discomfort, vomiting, and diarrhea.

If your popcorn is too stale to eat here’s our full guide to disposing of old popcorn.

Stop Popcorn from Turning Stale

Aside from taking note of use-by dates, you can be proactive to keep your popcorn tasty, fresh, and mold-free.

Store the Kernels Properly

stored popcorn

Keep the kernels in a tightly sealed jar, container, or bag somewhere dry and cool. Avoid storing them near direct sunlight, water, or a heating system. Also, ensure that the lid or packet is completely closed to preserve moisture levels, ensuring they pop.

Never store unpopped kernels in the fridge or freezer, as this will affect the moisture levels and could prevent the kernels from popping.

Choose the Right Popcorn

To increase your popcorn’s lifespan, opt for dry, plain kernels that you can flavor later. Microwave popcorn bags don’t last as long because they’re already flavored with oil and seasoning.

Consider Smaller Bags

Unless you intend to consume a large packet of popcorn (no judgment) or share it among friends, consider switching to smaller packets. Doing so means that you don’t have to seal up an opened bag and have the bother of transferring the popcorn to an airtight container.

​​Revive Stale Popcorn

All is not over if you notice that your popcorn is looking a little worse for wear. To revive stale popcorn, you can try the following:

  • Spread them on a baking tray and pop them in the oven for about 5 mins at 250F
  • Throw them in your air fryer for 2 mins on high.
  • Consider injecting more flavors with fresh ingredients and more seasoning
  • Use nearly stale popcorn as a topping on ice cream or with other snacks.

And remember you can store popped popcorn in the freezer.


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