Popcorn Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

Movie night is around the corner and popcorn is on sale! Such perfect timing! You’re too excited and end up buying too much for everyone. This leads you to one question: Does ready-to-eat popcorn go bad?

Or, stocking up your favorite foodstuff is what gives you a peace of mind lately. That’s including some packs of microwave popcorn.

Too bad, some of them have passed the recommended date. Does microwave popcorn go bad? And what about the dry kernels?

That’s just a cliché situation but relatable to many. If you experience a similar situation, this article is for you! Here, we take a closer look at popcorn’s shelf life, storage methods, and common signs of popcorn going bad. Read on!

How To Store Popcorn

We all know that popcorn is available in different shapes⁠—dry kernels, microwave packets, and ready-to-eat popped popcorn. No matter which popcorn you buy, the storage guidelines are relatively similar.

The critical part with popcorn storage is to keep it dry and protected from moisture. As long as the package is unopened, keep it safely in a cool, dry place, away from sources of heat and sunlight. Your pantry is preferable, but a kitchen cabinet or cupboard will do a great job as well.

After opening, you can keep the leftover in its original package as long as it is resealable. With dry popcorn kernels, if the packaging is not well resealable, transfer the grains into a jar or a sealed container. Don’t forget to label it.

Alternatively, seal it with a rubber band or a clip and store it with other dried goods in one big container. Just remember to finish the old pack, before opening the new one. I know you must be familiar with this rotating system, but a gentle reminder won’t hurt.

With leftover popped popcorn (whether store-bought or homemade), put them in an airtight container and keep it in a dry, cool place. Anywhere in the house should be fine as long as it is not too hot or damp. Otherwise, your favorite snack will get soggy in no time.

How To Tell If Popcorn Is Bad

Let’s start with the dry kernels. This variety is the most durable, but it can also go bad. In most cases, it is because the grains dry out or pick up too much moisture.

If it’s too dry, it doesn’t pop up. While, if it’s too damp, the kernel tends to grow molds. If you have old kernels, better pop a small amount and see how they turn out.

Another thing you need to check with dry kernels (as with flour and other dried stuff) is bugs infestation. If that’s the case, discard any leftover.

Microwave popcorn is prepared with oil or butter, so you can just pop it into the microwave, and it’s ready in two minutes. The downside is this variety tends to get rancid from the fat content. If that’s the case, your popcorn won’t be tasty anymore.

With ready-to-eat popcorn, it only stays fresh for a short time. The first thing you’ll notice is probably the texture. When kept too long, it becomes stale or too soggy, and it’s just not palatable anymore.

On the extreme sides, and this is very rare, in case you spot any molds, or it smells off, get rid of any of the remaining.

How Long Is Popcorn Good For?

Dry popcorn kernels usually come with a “best-by” or a production date. Like with most packaged foods, this date is a rough estimate to indicate that the product retains its quality under ideal storage conditions. The same thing goes with microwave popcorn and ready-to-eat one.

There is always a possibility that the product stays fresh and edible beyond the recommended date. With dry kernels, the average shelf life is 1 to 2 years, and you can allow 6 months (or even more) after the best-by date.

Microwave popcorn and ready-to-eat packs are less durable. However, you can expect they’re still suitable for a couple of weeks as long as the package is in perfect condition.

After opening or popping them at home, they’re generally best to eat while fresh, or maximum up to 1 to 2 weeks.

In any case, especially with old stuff, it’s always worth checking any spoilage signs before use.

Dry popcorn kernels1 to 2 years after production date or best by date + 6 months
Commercially-popped popcorn (unopened)Best by date + 1 month
Commercially-popped popcorn (unopened)1 to 2 weeks
Microwave popcorn (unopened)Best by + 1 to 2 weeks
Microwave popcorn (popped)1 to 2 weeks
Homemade popped popcorn1 to 2 weeks

This table is a rough estimate. The real shelf life may vary depending on brands, preparation methods, and storage conditions. If you notice any suspicious signs before the recommended date or the period stated above, better to stay on the safe side. 


Can you refrigerate or freeze popcorn?

Refrigeration and freezing are unnecessary and won’t extend the shelf life. Additionally, the texture will be completely ruined.

Can you reheat or microwave popped popcorn?

Although many people are against reheating already-popped popcorn, it’s still possible, though. Why don’t you try and be your own judge?

You can either use a microwave or an oven to reheat popcorn. The key is, don’t overheat them. Otherwise, you end up with stale, dried out popcorn.

Can you eat expired popcorn?

Most foods can stay good and edible for a certain period after the recommended date has passed, as long as the popcorn is kept under proper storage conditions, and the package is still perfect.

Is popcorn gluten-free?

If you buy popcorn kernels, they’re naturally gluten-free since only dried corn is used. But, be careful with flavored popcorn, the flavoring agents and other ingredients may contain gluten. To be 100% sure, always check the allergen information or reach out to the manufacturer.

Final Thought

Popcorn is every kid and grown-up favorite snack of all time. Keeping a pack or two always comes handy whenever the craving strikes. As with other foods, popcorn also goes bad eventually.

The utmost concern with storing popcorn is to keep it dry and protected from moisture. Dry kernels are the most long-lasting but can lose its ability to pop after a while. The average shelf life is 1 to 2 years or a few months, passing the best by date.

Microwave popcorn and ready-to-eat ones are less durable. Follow the best by date and enjoy while they’re still fresh before they get rancid or stale. After all, nothing beats fresh, warm popcorn right from the pot!

popcorn shelf life

*Photo by tendo23/depositphotos

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