Do Popcorn Kernels Go Bad? | Build a Stash

Do you enjoy having popcorn on hand but are worried you do not eat it enough to keep it in your pantry? Luckily popcorn lasts longer than you may think.

Dry and unpopped kernels can last indefinitely when stored under the right conditions, in a cool and dry location, and sealed in an airtight container. However, these kernels may not taste as fresh as newly purchased kernels, and you should replace them once they are a year past the sell-by date.

As someone who loves having a pantry stocked with virtually everything, I have come across popcorn past the printed date. While they might not be as fresh as new kernels, you do not need to toss them immediately. Below I discuss the shelf-life of dry popcorn kernels, how to tell if you should still eat them, and how to keep popcorn kernels fresh.

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Do Popcorn Kernels Go Bad?

Dry popcorn kernels do not technically go bad but do not expect them to taste like popcorn bought from the store yesterday. Old popcorn kernels will not pop as effectively as fresh popcorn.

This is due to the moisture content inside the kernels diminishing. This moisture is key to the kernels popping; if they do pop, the texture will not be as fluffy. This change in texture will not make you sick, so it is safe to consume.

On the other hand, microwave popcorn goes bad as the kernels are stored in oils that can become rancid with time. So if your microwave popcorn smells sour, don’t eat it.

How Long Do Popcorn Kernels Last?

Storing popcorn kernels in airtight containers in a cool and dry location will allow you to store them indefinitely. If you have an open container, the shelf life is within a year of opening them.

You should only use microwave popcorn up to three months past the sell-by date. The oils and additives the popcorn is packed with enhance the flavor but also diminish the shelf life.

Microwave popcorn can be kept up to three months past the sell-by date. Make sure it is still sealed in plastic packaging if you plan to store it.

How Can I Tell If Popcorn Kernels are Bad?

If you are unsure how long you have had your popcorn kernels on hand, there are a few ways to tell if it is fresh enough to eat.

Color

Look closely at the kernels. If you see any dark spots on them, throw them out. This could be a sign of mold growing inside the kernels.

Smell

It can be tough with plain kernels, but microwave popcorn can have a rancid smell if the oils have turned. The best way to tell is to prepare the popcorn and smell it. If it smells even remotely sour or off, do not eat it.

Mold

If you see the telltale signs of mold, black and white spots, through the popcorn away immediately.

Do not remove the kernels with mold, and use the rest. While this may seem like a good idea, the mold has likely penetrated all the kernels, whether you can see it or not.

Insects

Like flour, bugs and nasty pests can make a home in your popcorn kernels if they are not sealed properly.

If you see any bugs, get rid of the popcorn and check your other pantry items for the same issue.

Taste

The taste is the best way to know if popcorn is past its prime. Any bitter or sour taste with microwaveable popcorn means the oils have turned.

For dry kernels, they will have virtually no flavor.

Texture

When old popcorn kernels are popped, they will have an off-putting texture, if the kernels even pop at all.

With microwave popcorn, feel the package. If it is a lump of solid kernels and oils, get rid of it. The popcorn should still move freely in the package if it is fresh.

When in doubt, throw it out!

How to Store Popcorn Long-Term

Storing dry unpopped popcorn kernels for long-term storage does not require special equipment.

Store the kernels in airtight containers if they were not originally stored in one.  Then place this container in a cool and dry location like your pantry.

If you plan to store popcorn kernels for an emergency preparedness kit, consider keeping them in mylar bags. They are designed to block air, moisture, pests, and light.

With microwave popcorn, just leave it in the packaging until you plan to pop it. Keep the box in the pantry next to your dry kernels; it will keep until three months after the sell-by date.

Does Old Popcorn Not Pop?

The older the popcorn kernels, the less likely they are to pop. The reason popcorn pops is the moisture levels inside the kernels need to be in the 13 to 14% range to successfully pop.

The popping reaction inside the kernel is triggered by the moisture inside turning to steam. Once this occurs, the pressure rises inside the kernel, causing the starchy interior to break through the shell.

If the popcorn does not have enough moisture, not enough pressure can build up inside the kernel. Fortunately, the kernels can be rehydrated, making them able to pop again.

How Do You Revive Old Popcorn Kernels?

If you can't make the trip to the store but are still craving popcorn, you are in luck. There is a simple way to rehydrate the kernels so they will once again pop.

  1. Fill a saute or saucepan with one and a half inches of water.
  2. Put ½ a cup of the stale popcorn kernels into a small bowl.
  3. Place the bowl in the center of the pan of water.
  4. Cover the pan and bowl with a lid or foil.
  5. Steam the kernels on high for about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the kernels from the bowl.
  7. Add the popcorn kernels to your favorite popcorn maker.
  8. Enjoy popcorn!

Will Expired Popcorn Make You Sick?

If the popcorn is only a couple of months past the sell-by date, it will not make you sick unless there is visible mold on the kernels.

As mentioned before, the worst that will happen is the popcorn will be very dry and have a funky texture.

If you see mold on the kernels, it is possible that they can make you sick. Like other rancid foods, you can experience common symptoms of food poisoning like vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.

For microwave popcorn, you will need to be extra cautious. The oils and seasonings packaged with the kernels will turn rancid with time.

Eating this not only tastes bad, but it can cause food poisoning, among other sicknesses.

Does Popped Popcorn Go Bad?

If you don't like popping your popcorn or just prefer to open a popcorn bag and get to snacking, you should still know if the popcorn is good to eat.

Commercially popped popcorn follows the same guidelines as dry unpopped kernels. Once it is past the sell-by date, it will have a different texture and taste stale.

If you want to keep the ready-to-eat popcorn fresh as long as possible, remove it from the original bag and store it in an airtight container like a Ziplock bag.

By storing it this way, the freshness date on the bag will be accurate, which is normally about two or three months after production.

About THE AUTHOR

Virginia Just

Virginia Just

My name is Virginia Just, and I have a passion for food and consider myself to be a great home cook. I love watching Hell’s Kitchen and Masterchef with my husband to learn new techniques. I am currently working on getting my first of many nutrition certifications to become a Nutrition Coach and advise people struggling to stay healthy.

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