Does Popcorn Have a Shelf Life? How to Store It Correctly

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Popcorn is a food that has become a cultural icon. Not only is it an essential component of every successful sports event or decent movie theater experience, but it is also so widely prepared at home that many microwaves are designed with a button devoted to the duty of popping popcorn!

The persistent presence of this food in your home will almost certainly prompt the question: does popcorn expire?

Maybe you went a bit overboard with the microwave popcorn, or maybe you had a movie night and are now stuck with (poor you) loads of popped popcorn leftovers! Stay tuned as we explore the shelf life of popcorn in all phases and provide some advice on how to keep your favorite fluffy snack fresh for as long as possible.

What is Popcorn?

Our infatuation with popcorn has little mystery to us. Popcorn is delicious on its own, but what happens when you add a drizzle of melted butter and a sprinkle of salt? Oh, boy. That tasty popcorn has suddenly become absolutely enticing.

Research reveals that people discovered the delights of popcorn long before the creation of stovetops, microwaves, and popcorn machines, maybe thousands of years ago. Every maize kernel has a starchy inside that is surrounded by a strong outer husk. Long ago, humans found that heating these kernels caused the starch to break out of the husk and then consolidate into a fluffy, crunchable structure.

This procedure was not only entertaining to see (hey, don’t judge, they didn’t have Netflix back then), but it also freed previously contained nourishment inside each starchy kernel, allowing it to be digested by the human digestive system.

Can Any Corn Be Popcorn?

So, can you just pluck fresh kernels from any ear of corn, dry them, and pop them? Not so quickly! Although a handful of popcorn kernels may seem to be any other dried corn, there is only one kind of corn that will explode. This is because a corn kernel needs have a very strong outer shell on the outside and a precise starch and water content on the inside in order to pop and expand properly.

What Type of Corn is Popcorn?

The only kind of corn that yields popcorn is zea mays everta, a form of flint corn. Unlike sweet corn, which is soft and palatable when raw, flint corn is very hard and indigestible until cooked. Different forms of flint corn are used to create cornmeal, grits, and hominy, while the popcorn variety is ideal for popping!

Despite the fact that all popcorn is made from a single species of corn, it produces a wide range of forms, sizes, and even colors of popped popcorn. Popcorn kernels are often classified as either butterfly or mushroom popcorn. Butterfly popcorn produces an uneven shape, while mushroom kernels have a very round, homogeneous shape. Most microwaveable popcorn has butterfly kernels, however many ready-to-eat or flavored kinds have mushroom kernels.

How Long Does Popcorn Last?

Most commercially available popcorn will have a best by or expiry date. Although this date will give you a decent general indicator of how long your popcorn will keep its best freshness, it does not indicate that the popcorn is rotten the instant it exceeds this date! Frequently, popcorn will be safe and delicious to eat far beyond the date listed on the package.

The precise duration of this window, however, may vary depending on the kind of popcorn in issue, since some forms of popcorn include more perishable components than others. Moreover, the storage conditions have a significant impact on the shelf life of a box of popcorn.

Types of Popcorn

There is a broad variety of popcorn products available, ranging from plain, unprocessed popcorn kernels to flavored microwave popcorn and ready-to-eat variants. Let’s talk about what makes each person distinct and how these characteristics impact their particular life expectancies.

Popcorn Kernels

This popcorn is the least processed alternative available. Popcorn kernels are often offered in huge jars or sacks and, unlike microwave popcorn or freshly popped popcorn, do not include any oil or flavorings. These kernels may be popped on the stovetop in a big saucepan or microwaved in any microwave safe dish!

Shelf Life of Popcorn Kernels

Since a packet of pure popcorn kernels is basically simply a jar of dried corn, you’d think it’d last forever. It is possible, however, for dry popcorn to become overly dry.

As previously stated, the proper popping of a popcorn kernel is dependent on a little quantity of liquid trapped within the shell. Despite the kernels are so well packed within their shell that it may seem that no water can ever enter or depart, the fact is that moisture will eventually leak out of the kernels. As a result, trying to pop aged popcorn kernels may result in a bowl of hard rather than fluffy popcorn, or a high number of unpopped kernels.

How Long Are Popcorn Kernels Good For?

Dry popcorn kernels may be kept correctly for years, although their quality degrades with time. To guarantee consistent popping and the finest flavor, use them within 1 year of the printed date, however this does not always imply they will be rotten beyond this time. Worst case scenario, try a tiny batch and if the popping isn’t quite right, chuck them and purchase some fresh popcorn.

Microwave Popcorn

Microwave popcorn makes popping even easier by combining all of the ingredients in a single bag! Just place the popcorn bag in the microwave, set the timer, and in a few minutes you’ll have perfectly popped kernels in a pouch that’s much too simple to munch from.

The microwaveable packets may seem to be an afterthought, but they really provide the ideal atmosphere to trap steam, thus popping the kernels without the need for any containers with lids or special popping equipment.

Since the popcorn bursts within the bag, microwave popcorn usually contains some form of oil to help the kernels cook. Several microwaveable popcorns include salt as well as additional ingredients like spices, garlic, or even cheese flavored!

Shelf Life of Microwave Popcorn

You’d assume that since microwave popcorn is individually packed in thick paper bags with a layer of plastic shrink wrap, it would last longer than loose popcorn kernels. Although it is true that this additional packing will aid to reduce air exposure and moisture loss from the kernels, the issue is that those delightful additional additives are more volatile than the corn kernels themselves.

Many flavorings, particularly cheese powders, deteriorate fast. Even microwave popcorn seasoned merely with salt is more dangerous than loose, dry popcorn kernels! This is due to the fact that oil may deteriorate. Most butter-flavored popcorn is also produced using oils, which may grow rancid over time, particularly if subjected to temperature variations during storage.

How Long is Microwave Popcorn Good For?

You should be able to consume microwaveable popcorn for up to three months beyond the expiry date if it has been properly kept. Following that, any oil-based components are at danger of deteriorating, and the kernels themselves are likely to have started to dry up, causing severe issues with proper popping.

Ready-to-Eat Popcorn

Ready-to-eat popcorn requires no preparation; just open the bag and begin snacking! This handy cooked popcorn is often seen in vacuum sealed bags alongside potato chips and pretzels in the snack section. Ready-to-eat popcorn is extremely popular at carnivals, fairs, sporting events, and even gift stores!

Shelf Life of Ready-to-Eat Popcorn

Depending on how it is packed, the shelf life of prepared popcorn might vary greatly. Factory sealed kinds will always last longer than plastic bag varieties since most vacuum packed snack items, such as popcorn and potato chips, have the oxygen removed and replaced with nitrogen, preventing oxidation! Since nitrogen is relatively inert, it has no nasty de-crisping impact on your prized nibbles.

How Long is Ready-to-Eat Popcorn Good For?

Unopened factory sealed popcorn will likely keep for a few months beyond its best by date. But, once opened, the quality will swiftly deteriorate, and you may only have one to two weeks before the popcorn becomes stale.

If you buy a bag of popcorn from a fair booth, bear in mind that it was not factory sealed and is still being exposed to the aging effects of oxygen, even within the bag. In this situation, the time is absolutely ticking, so eat up while the going is good!

How Can You Tell If Popcorn is Bad?

Like other ruined foods, spoilt popcorn will undoubtedly display some trademark indicators of decomposition or loss in quality, at which point you should throw it away.

  • If you have a significant percentage of unpopped kernels (50% or more) after popping your popcorn, this shows that the popcorn is old and the kernels have dried up.
  • Microwave popcorn’s oil constituents or butter flavoring may get rancid, so sniff the bag for any off-putting scents, since rotten oil may take on a metallic or bitter tone.
  • If a microwave popcorn bag fails to inflate correctly while heating, or if the popcorn starts to burn before it has finished popping, it is a solid indicator of age.

How to Store Popcorn

The sort of popcorn you have will determine how you keep it. Unpopped popcorn (whether in microwaveable packages or loose kernels) has a much shorter shelf life than popped popcorn.

Unpopped Popcorn

The standards of food storage are the same whether you have unpopped popcorn in microwavable pouches, a large bag of loose kernels, or one of those vintage styled aluminum tins (yes, they still manufacture those!).

Popcorn kernels should be stored in an airtight container in a cold, dark spot, such as a pantry cabinet or a kitchen closet. Take care not to allow excess moisture to develop within the bottle or bag, and allow the container to dry completely if condensation does form inside.

Microwavable popcorn pouches or tins should be kept entirely closed until ready to use. If you unintentionally remove the plastic wrap from a popcorn bag that isn’t quite ready to pop, rewrap it in plastic wrap to keep it fresh, or store the pouches and tins in big resealable plastic bags.

How to Store Popped Popcorn

So you couldn’t finish the full bag of popcorn in one sitting? Not a problem! Although it has a shorter shelf life after popping, leftover popcorn may be kept in an airtight container for many days. To prevent stale popcorn, remove as much air as possible from the container and avoid any moisture exposure at all times!

How Long is Popcorn Good For? Final Thoughts

Bottom line: popcorn does expire, but it is unlikely to degrade to the point of posing a health danger. It is conceivable that the oils and flavorings in microwave popcorn and ready-to-eat popcorn may turn, but your nose will most likely discover this when you open the bag or smell the box. As a result, you may consume expired microwave popcorn for many months beyond the stated date as long as you store it correctly and keep an eye (and a nose!) out for symptoms of degradation.

Loose popcorn kernels with no additional additives have the longest shelf life, and the only danger is that they will become too dry to pop one day! Yet, once popped, popcorn is particularly vulnerable to moisture and oxidation and becomes stale rapidly.

Thus, if you were searching for a reason to eat the whole bag or pot, this is it. You are quite welcome.


How do you store popped popcorn long term?

Fill an airtight jar halfway with popcorn.

If you use a too big container, the popcorn will become stale quicker. Fill the container all the way to the top if possible to reduce the amount of air in it. If you don’t have a jar or a hard storage container, a sealable plastic bag will do.

Can I eat 2 year expired popcorn?

Popcorn retains moisture for around 6-12 months, thus most popcorn on the store and in microwaveable bags has an expiry date of approximately 8 months. While you may consume popcorn beyond the expiry date, eating more than two months later may result in extremely dry popcorn.

Should I store popcorn in the refrigerator?

The quick answer? – No, putting the popcorn kernels in the refrigerator will not help the popcorn “pop” better, but storing the newly popped kernels in a well sealed container inside a refrigerator or a cabinet will make the popcorn last longer, remain fresh, and taste just as good!

Can you save old popcorn?

Avoid the desire to throw away that old bag of popcorn. Spread the snack on a baking sheet and cook in the oven at 250°F for approximately five minutes to bring it back to life. It should be just like new!

Can you store popped popcorn in a Ziploc bag?

If you must store the popcorn in a Ziploc bag, be careful to push out as much air as possible before closing the bag, and consume it within a few days to avoid it going stale.

Does popcorn go bad unpopped?

Do unpopped kernels spoil? Unpopped kernels have the potential to spoil. Despite the fact that loose kernels may be preserved properly for years, the great majority of individuals do not. As a result, unpopped kernels might decay at a considerably quicker rate.

What can I do with old unpopped popcorn?

5 Ways to Utilize Unpopped Popcorn Kernels
Combine the Unpopped Popcorn Kernels with the Cheesy Grits.
Make Popcorn Ice Cream from Own Kernels.
Make an ice pack out of the popcorn kernels.
Try making beanbags out of unpopped popcorn kernels…. Consider holding a contest at a charity event.
Feb 4, 2021

How long does popcorn stay fresh in a bag?

Opened popcorn tins and bags, if properly maintained, may keep bagged popcorn fresh for up to two weeks. Sealed tins will keep for three weeks. We suggest storing your popcorn in its original tins or bags, properly packed, and kept in a cold, dry location.

Can I eat 2 year old microwave popcorn?

So don’t worry: it’ll be a long before that happens. Popcorn may be stored forever, while microwave popcorn can be stored for six to eight months, according to Eat By Date.

Is it OK to store popcorn in the freezer?

To answer the question simply, yes, popcorn can be frozen! Popcorn does not get frozen by being placed in the freezer. That keeps things fresher for longer!

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