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Can Popcorn Go Bad? (Yes & How To Store)

Quick Answer

It all depends on the type of popcorn it is. Unopened popped popcorn may only last around 3 months before going stale. Homemade popped popcorn or an opened bag of ready-to-eat popcorn may only last a week before going stale. Microwavable popcorn can last up to 4 months. Dry kernels will dry out over time, but should last for two months or so after best-by date.

If you are the kind of person who likes to eat popcorn during a movie, or eat it as a healthy alternative to a sugary snack, you may find that you often have more than enough to eat.

Can Popcorn Go Bad?

While you might have plenty of readymade popcorn sitting in the cupboard, what happens to the light and fluffy pieces of corn after a few months of them sitting in the cupboard? Do they go bad?

Whether you have poured a large amount of popcorn into a bucket, or have kernels unpopped that have been hidden away in the kitchen for months, you will want to know whether popcorn can go bad. 

Because you can buy popcorn in various forms, you will need to understand the different lengths of freshness and shelf life in order to avoid the popcorn from going stale. 

In this article we shall be looking at whether popcorn can go bad, and how to keep it fresher for longer.

What Is The Difference Between Popcorn Types?

While popcorn itself is pretty straightforward, it can be served in a number of different ways before being eaten.

For example, kernels. Dry kernels are the unpopped kind that need to be popped into the light and fluffy popcorn that we all know. This is usually done in a saucepan using oil. 

Dry kernels can also be bought in a microwavable packet. Usually these have a topping already added – including other ingredients – and only need to be warmed up in the microwave to pop. 

The other type of popcorn is ready-to-eat. This kind is already popped, and can be bought plain or with a flavor already added. 

Can Popcorn Go Bad?

Popcorn can be a tricky food to notice if it has gone bad or not. The thing is, it does not tend to ‘go bad’. If stored correctly, its flavor will begin to decline and the popcorn itself will become stale.

However, it is unlikely that you will see any mold or other discoloration to realize that the popcorn has gone bad. It is not like a dairy product, after all.

Unopened Popcorn

While you might be tempted to eat some unopened popcorn a few months or even a year after its best-by date, you may not want to. Not only will the popcorn be lacking in flavor, but it is likely that the popcorn itself will be soft, dry, and stale.

Not the worst, but definitely not enjoyable either. 

Microwave Popcorn

But what about if the popcorn is packaged and ready for the microwave? When it comes to microwavable popcorn, you will not be able to tell if it has gone bad or not. You will need to microwave the popcorn to see how they turn out.

Microwave popcorn is covered in fat. Once the kernels have popped, you may smell or see that the popcorn is rancid. When this is the case, get rid of the popcorn. Also, if you find the kernels don’t look or smell right, then do not even bother letting them pop. 

Dry Kernels

If you have some dry kernels in your cupboard that you have not seen in a few months, then you will want to see how much moisture they have. If they feel super dry, then it is unlikely that they will pop. 

Despite the name, they need moisture to allow them to pop. To add some moisture, place a pound of kernels into a jar and a teaspoon of water. Leave them to soak in the jar for up to three days, and shake the jar a number of times a day. 

How Long Can Popcorn Last For?

How Long Can Popcorn Last For?

Because there are different types of popcorn, there are different answers to this question. So, let’s take a look at how long the three main types of popcorn may last for.

Popcorn which has been pre-popped has quite a short shelf life once opened. If you have poured some into a bucket, or have opened a big package, then there is a good chance it will only last for another week before going stale.

If the package has not been opened yet, then it may last for up to 3 months. However, these months count from the date the popcorn was produced to right now. 

Be mindful of the best-by date, as a week or two after you will find the popcorn stale, even if the package has not been opened. 

If you have discovered microwave popcorn in your cupboard, you will want to look at the best-by date. It should be good for up to two months after the date, but it is always worth popping them and taking a look. 

Dry kernels on the other hand may seem like they might last for ages, but they are similar to microwave popcorn kernels. Over time they will dry out to the point of no return, despite the water trick (above). 

Once they reach the best-by date, they have a shelf life of around two months. You may find that the water trick still works at this point, however. 

What Is The Best Way To Store Popcorn?

When it comes to popcorn, how you store it is similar no matter which type that you have. Firstly, the best temperature is best at room temperature, or just below. However, if you find that the microwave popcorn says to put it in the fridge, then do so.

Keep both premade popcorn and kernels in an airtight container away from moisture. Also, you will not want any popcorn to be in direct sunlight or near sources of heat. For this reason, a cupboard or pantry will do. 

Again with microwave popcorn, leave it in the cupboard or pantry away from anything that may affect it. 

If you have opened a packet of kernels or popcorn, transfer them to an airtight container to make sure they are stored correctly. 

Final Thoughts

Popcorn makes a delicious snack or accompaniment to a movie on a Friday night. While it is associated with such, it is also just an easy way to eat food while enjoying a fictional storyline.

You can pop the kernels yourself, buy it pre-made, or place it in a microwave ready to be popped – and it has extra flavoring added to it too. However, you may have bought too much or have found an old package in your cupboard.

Unfortunately, popcorn does not last that long. It is better to be skeptical about a year old package of popcorn, because it is likely that it has gone stale and tasteless. 

So while you might think otherwise, popcorn can go bad. When it does go bad, while at first glance you might not notice, it will be best thrown out, otherwise expect horrible tasting popcorn. 

Jess Smith