Can Popcorn Expire? The Complete Guide

The sweet sound of kernels popping makes me ready to put on some sweatpants, turn down the lights, and pop in my favorite movie. Whether it be kettle, caramel, cheesy, or doused in movie-theater butter, this light and airy treat is great for stuffing your face and not feeling too guilty about it.

A kernel is made up of a plant embryo, a starchy endosperm that feeds the embryo, and a hard exterior called the bran or hull. Sounds appetizing, doesn’t it? It gets better!

Inside each kernel is a droplet of water with an end goal to “pop.” Your job as the popcorn maker is to apply heat to the dried kernel so the droplet of water can convert to steam, building pressure, and essentially popping into this edible treat. Think of it as a game and you win a bucket of white, fluffy, crunchy popcorn at the end of it as your prize.

Popcorn is the only corn that pops, and there are several varieties of them. You’ve got the popular white variety, and then you have rice, pearl, red, black, rainbow, yellow, and blue. Those fancy ones are gourmet, specialty popcorn.

But as good as it is, we know there’s always an end to the bucket (literally and metaphorically). Does popcorn ever expire? Sadly, it does, but the good news is popcorn can go past the expiration date, and we’ve got the scoop to let you know what’s popping with these kernels.

How Long Does Popcorn Last?

There are so many factors when deciphering the lifespan of popcorn. The shelf life of popcorn can last from only a couple of days when popped to almost a year as kernels. Pre-propped in small batches (such as snack-size, personal bags) will last longer than fresh-popped in a large batch.  

In the un-popped kernel world, choosing dry, plain ones can help them be kept out longer. Then you can always add flavorful oils or butter later on. Microwaveable kernel options don’t last as long as the dry ones.

Do Popcorn Kernels Expire?

I’ll be honest, there has been an open container of kernels sitting in my pantry for months. I have always wondered if I would be able to pop them because I’ve been procrastinating eating them. There are just so many kernels!

With that being said, kernels do expire…at some point.  

Otherwise, popcorn kernels keep indefinitely with the proper storage. You just don’t want to wait too long or else your end results won’t be satisfactory. It may feel like you’re chewing popped cardboard. 

Does Popped Popcorn Expire?

If left unopened, popped popcorn can last you around two to four weeks. Once you open the package, the shelf life drops to about half the time at one to two weeks. 

But say you’re at the fair and you smell fresh popcorn lingering in the air and you just need a bag to take home with you (this is dedicated to my mom who always buys fresh kettle corn at whatever fair or amusement park we go to).

That gourmet popcorn you just bought can have a different shelf life than standard popped popcorn. This is due to the delicious extra toppings and flavors that are added to the popcorn to make it fancy.

How Long Does Microwave Popcorn Last?

Microwave popcorn lasts approximately six to eight months. Once kernels are popped, they don’t keep as long, especially if there’s product already on the kernel. Manufacturers of microwaveable popcorn make the packages containing oils, which eventually won’t taste great over time, which is why it’s suggested you should try to use microwaveable popcorn by the expiration date. 

I do recommend checking the package for specifics on shelf life and expiration dates. But if you happen to find an old package ready to be put in the microwave, and are feeling a little rebellious, you can use it. 

Is It OK to Eat Expired Popcorn?

Although it’s not going to taste fantastic, you can still eat expired popcorn. The expiration date is set because eventually the popcorn kernels lose moisture and go dry inside, resulting in stale or easily burnt popcorn, or they may not even pop at all. 

How to Tell if Popcorn Has Gone Bad

You can tell that a classic bag of popcorn has gone bad by its smell or look. If it smells off or there’s mold settling in there, it’s time to throw it out. Those are not the smells and toppings you want with your popcorn! This is very rare, but it’s never impossible!

For a milder case of bad popcorn, you’ll know it’s old when it’s stale. If you can enjoy the taste of stale popcorn, then good for you I hope you enjoy it! If not, I give you permission to throw it out.

How to Store Popcorn 

If your pre-packaged popped container or your sealed kernel container has yet to be open, keep it in a cool, dry place. I like to keep mine in the pantry in the candy drawer. I think of it as my movie theater drawer where I get all the good snacks.

However, if you’re already handfuls into a popped bag, keep it in an airtight container and then pack in a cool dry place. For opened dry kernels, try a vacuum-sealed container. 

An airtight container is always a go-to when storing foods to keep them fresh. There are such things as popcorn tins that are very common as gifts, especially during the holidays. If anyone wants to get me one, I wouldn’t be opposed.

There are also plastic and glass storage containers with sealable lids that would get the job done to maintain freshness. 

Can You Freeze Popcorn?

If you just really love a particular batch of popcorn and you want to preserve it for a while, you can even store it in the freezer. Just be sure to keep it in a freezer-safe bag and eliminate as much air space inside the bag as possible.

Also store unpopped kernels in the freezer in a sealed container, this way the popcorn doesn’t lose any moisture when you take them out. This way they’ll still be able to pop. 

What Can You Do With Old Popcorn?

If you can’t bring yourself to waste popcorn, even if you’re not eating it, there are a few methods

Holiday Decorations

A classic holiday decoration is sticking popcorn on a thread and using it as tinsel for a Christmas tree. This old-school staple is a never-dying classic and can be a unique addition to your décor.

Revive It

You can try to reheat already popped popcorn to fix the stale taste of it. Place the oven at a lower temperature for a few minutes at a time until you get the right consistency. This won’t guarantee fresh popcorn but it may help!

Package It

Because popcorn is light and airy, it’s got a little cushion to it. Stale popcorn can make for a great alternative to packaging peanuts. It’s weird, but it works!

Create Art

Old popcorn is great for kids’ crafts. They can use white glue and stick popcorn onto popsicle sticks, picture frames, or even make fake snow for a scenic project.

Feed it to the Critters

There’s no sense of throwing out old popcorn when you can throw it outside. Bits and pieces of the popped popcorn (not the kernels) make great chow for the squirrels, chipmunks, and others outside.

Make Trail Mix

You can still incorporate stale popcorn with delicious foods like chocolate, pretzels, raisins, and more to create a killer trail mix. You’ll be stuffing your face with everything else in the mix you’ll hardly realize the popcorn is stale!

Related Questions 

When Does Popcorn Seasoning Expire?

Dry seasonings technically don’t go bad, as you can pretty much use them for as long as you want past expiration. However, it is recommended that you use seasoning up to one year or eighteen months from the manufacture date or from opening the package. None of the ingredients will spoil but flavors can disintegrate as time passes.  

Does Popcorn Oil Go Bad?

If properly stored, an unopened bottle of corn oil will generally stay at best quality for about twenty-four months (or two years), or about six to twelve months past the date on the label.

Since it does eventually go bad, the best way to find out is to smell and look at the corn oil: if the oil develops an off odor, flavor, or appearance, it should be discarded.