Can You Eat Expired Microwave Popcorn?

May 30, 2022
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Eating Expired Popcorn Can Potentially be Harmful

Popcorn is one of the most popular snacks in the country. From chocolate and caramel to traditional salt and butter varieties, more than 90% of Americans can’t get enough popcorn.

Many families opt for the ease and convenience of microwave bags, but with the snack’s snort shelf life, plenty wonder: does popcorn expire, and if so, can you eat expired popcorn?

Most experts agree that microwave popcorn is likely safe even past its expiration date. As nonperishable food, microwaveable packets are unlikely to attract foodborne pathogens when stored properly.

Photo of woman eating microwaved popcorn

In some cases popcorn can be safe to eat shortly after its expiration date

However, there is always a slight chance that expired popcorn kernels may contain bacteria, mold spores, or other pathogens. Contaminated popcorn kernels may pose a risk to you and your family.

It is good to know the potential risks when eating expired microwave popcorn. Read on to learn more about spotting expired popcorn and whether or not it’s safe to eat.

How Long Does Microwave Popcorn Last After Expiration Date

Even though popcorn is nonperishable, it will eventually spoil over time. Plenty of people ask: can you eat expired microwave popcorn? Does microwave popcorn go bad?

In most cases, it’s safe to eat popcorn slightly past expiration. However, it may not taste its best at that point.

Dry kernels contain fats and oils that can go rancid under unfavorable conditions. Exposure to air, moisture, and light can speed up this process.

Unpopped popcorn kernels contain a small amount of water in the pericarp. Unlike traditional sweetcorn, popping corn boasts a thick hull that protects the moist interior.

This hull is what allows pressure to build as water heats, eventually popping open to reveal a light, fluffy interior.

Photo of an open bag of microwave popcorn spilling onto a counter

Microwave popcorn can last past its expiration date for a short time in many cases

Adequate moisture content is essential for popcorn. Corn kernels need to contain around 13.5% to 14% water to pop.

A dry popcorn kernel will not burst in the microwave as there is no steam inside to build pressure. As old popcorn kernels lose their moisture, they’ll be less likely to form popcorn.

When stored correctly - either in an airtight container or for microwaveable popcorn in a sealed bag, unpopped kernels should last for 6 to 12 months.

After this point, even bagged popcorn can begin to lose moisture. They also pose a higher risk of going rancid and posing a food safety issue.

Most store popcorn brands have an expiration of 8 months to a year. However, popcorn will often stay good for several months past its due date.

If you keep your popcorn kernels in a cool, dark, and airtight location, they can last for up to two months past their expiration. Any longer, and you may find that they are too dry to pop.

Food jars on kitchen shelf.

Store Your Popcorn in a Cool, Dry, and Dark Pantry

Check that there are no holes or tears in the bag that could allow air and moisture to enter.

Try to avoid storing popcorn near the stove or oven. The excess heat and moisture may seep into kernels, destroying the outer hull.

Mold may also form on popcorn kernels in a warm, damp environment, posing a health risk for you and your family.

What Happens if You Eat Expired Popcorn?

If you have an expired bag of microwave popcorn in your pantry you may be wondering: can you eat expired microwave popcorn?

In most cases, eating expired popcorn won’t cause any problems. Unlike perishables such as meats and vegetables, popcorn kernels don’t typically attract common foodborne pathogens.

So can popcorn go bad? The answer is yes. And it can cause a variety of health issues - including food poisoning.

Going Rancid

Fats and oils can go rancid when exposed to elements such as air and humidity. In some cases, UV light can also make oils go rancid. Because unpopped kernels contain fats, they can spoil with time.

It’s easy to recognize rancid popcorn thanks to its strong, unpleasant odor. If you accidentally cook and eat rancid popcorn, it’s unlikely to give you a foodborne illness.

In most cases, it won’t harbor any disease-causing pathogens. Instead, the bitter taste is due to oils breaking down inside kernels.

Rancid popcorn won’t usually cause illness, but it can upset sensitive digestive systems. Eating it may lead to abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea, and possible vomiting.

Rancid popcorn may also exacerbate existing digestive issues such as IBS, gastroenteritis, and more.

Mold and Mildew

If you store your microwave popcorn in an area prone to moisture buildup, you may see mold growing on corn kernels. Spores will settle in any warm, damp environment with plenty of food.

If you notice mold on your popcorn kernels, it’s best to throw them away. Some foodborne molds produce toxic byproducts known as mycotoxins .

A man with stomach pain consuming expired microwave popcorn on a couch.

Food Poisoning is a Real Risk for Popcorn That Has Mold Growing On It

If you or a family member ingest these chemicals, it could result in a trip to the emergency room.

Foodborne Illnesses

In rare cases, expired popcorn may contain dangerous bacteria that can be harmful. When tested, raw popcorn kernels have been known to contain salmonella .

Flavored kernels such as caramel popcorn may be more susceptible to attracting germs. They contain additives and sweeteners that can attract mold, bacteria, and even insects.

Fortunately, microwaving old popcorn will kill most foodborne pathogens before consumption.

Most of the time, eating stale popcorn won’t cause any short or long-term problems. However, it isn’t likely to taste as good as fresh kernels.

Even if popped popcorn is safe to eat, it may taste dry, stale, or otherwise unpleasant.

Can You Pop Expired Popcorn?

If popcorn is just a couple of months past expiration, you should have no trouble popping it in the microwave. The hull should still contain enough water to build the pressure needed to burst.

If your popcorn is too moist or too dry, it likely won’t pop in the microwave. Kernels that have sat too long may not burst, nor will those in improper storage conditions.

In many cases, only some kernels will pop in a bag of expired microwave popcorn. While popped corn is safe to eat, a high number of unpopped kernels may pose a risk.

Photo of unpopped popcorn kernels

Unpopped Kernels Can Damage Teeth and in Rare Cases Can Cause Even More Serious Health Problems

If you bite down too hard on a fully formed kernel, you may risk damaging your teeth. Swallowing kernels can also cause serious digestive issues, especially in children.

An unpopped kernel can sit and build up in the gut to form a potentially life-threatening bezoar .

In most cases, it’s best to err on the side of caution and pop microwave popcorn within its expiration window. You’ll get better-tasting popcorn and fewer kernels in the mix.

If you notice your popcorn has expired, you may want to throw it out and buy a fresh bag.

Tips for Fixing Expired Microwave Popcorn

If your microwaveable popcorn has recently expired, it’s likely still good for another month or two before it starts losing moisture. However, old popcorn may not be as flavorful as a newer bag.

Read on to learn some helpful tricks for making a less-than-fresh bag taste like gourmet popcorn.

Add Some Flavor

Expired microwave popcorn.

Butter and Salt Can Wake Up the Flavor of Most Food - Especially Popcorn

If your popcorn is tasting a little flat, adding some flavorings can help it to taste fresh again. Many people choose to add salt and melted butter, which can mask a stale taste.

Additives such as melted chocolate, caramel, cheese, and more can also improve flavor.

Try the Stovetop Method

If your popcorn is dry and stale, it may help to cook it in additional oil. You can remove unpopped kernels from a microwave bag and cook them on the stovetop using hot oil or melted butter for a more intense flavor.

Toss It Into the Oven

If you’ve already popped your popcorn, it can start tasting stale after sitting out in the open. You can refresh the taste by sticking your popcorn in the oven.

The oven will help it taste light, fluffy, and crispy again after taking on moisture.

Spread the popped popcorn in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place it in the oven for around five minutes at 200℉ for the best results.

Repurpose Your Popcorn

In some cases, stale popcorn might be past the point of saving. Fortunately, you don’t necessarily have to throw it away. You can use stale popcorn in recipes such as popcorn balls and popcorn cookies to repurpose old popcorn into something delicious.

Frank Salvatore

Hey there - I'm Frank Salvatore. I created this site as a comprehensive kitchen resource. You'll find everything you need to know about everything in your kitchen. From appliances to utensils and layout - it is covered on this site!

About Me
Frank Salvatore
I created this site as a comprehensive kitchen resource. You'll find everything you need to know about everything in your kitchen. From appliances to utensils and layout - it is covered on this site!
Learn More About Me
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