Does Microwave Popcorn Expire? How Long Does It Last?

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It's home movie night, and you need the ultimate go-to snack: microwave popcorn. You reach into the pantry and realize the popcorn has gone past its best by date printed on the box. Has it truly expired, and is it safe to consume? Keep reading to find out if it's okay to microwave your popcorn or if you should reach for the potato chips instead.

Microwave popcorn can last two to three months beyond the recommended best by date. As long as your popcorn is within this timeframe, it is perfectly fine to eat it, with a few exceptions. If the popcorn has an off-putting smell or only half of the kernels popped, chances are the oil has turned rancid, and the grains have dried out. If either situation applies, it's wise to toss it in the trash. 

Now that you know how long microwave popcorn lasts beyond its printed date, we'll look at how microwaving popcorn measures up against other ways of cooking popcorn, as well as address some questions and concerns you may have about this tasty snack.

Cooking popcorn in the microwave, Does Microwave Popcorn Expire? How Long Does It Last?

How Does Microwaving Popcorn Compare To Other Popcorn Cooking Methods?

Microwave Popcorn

Cooking popcorn in the microwave

Microwave popcorn is packaged in individual paper bags and then sealed in plastic to retain freshness. Oil, salt, butter, and sometimes other seasonings are added to the kernels for the ultimate convenience. The cooking time is usually three to four minutes for a standard size bag, and it's a good idea not to use the popcorn button on your microwave, as these are usually inaccurate.

Air Popper Popcorn

A hot air popcorn popper in process of making popcorn

Air poppers spin raw kernels in a heated chamber to make popcorn in about three minutes. No oil or butter is required for cooking, making it a healthier option. They do have some downsides, however. Air poppers will take up counter space, and they will need to be cleaned regularly after each use. Also, they tend to make a lot of noise during operation.

Stovetop Popcorn

Popcorn on the stove

Making stovetop popcorn involves using a large pot with a lid, oil, and kernels. Once the oil is heated and the kernels are added, continuously shake the pot back and forth to avoid scorching. Some pots are made especially for stovetop popcorn that includes a hand crank. The total time to make stovetop popcorn from start to finish is about ten minutes.

Can Expired Popcorn Hurt You?

Top view close up portrait of hands taking sweet pop corn from bucket

We all know that eating expired foods like meat can cause foodborne illnesses. But does expired popcorn make you sick? Possibly. Since microwave popcorn contains fats and oils inside the bag, it can turn rancid over time. If you've had your popcorn for over a year past the best by date, it's a good idea to check for signs of expiration like a bad smell or lots of un-popped kernels.

Keep microwave popcorn in your pantry or a kitchen cabinet away from the stove, as moisture and heat can cause mold to form. Also, if the outer plastic wrap is missing from your popcorn, it's best to err on the side of caution and trash it.

Can You Save Leftover Microwave Popcorn?

Soft butter popcorn after cooking in the microwave oven

You can save leftover microwave popcorn if stored properly. Let's look at some storage methods that'll keep your popcorn fresher for longer.

Air-Tight Container

Air-tight containers are your best bet for keeping popcorn fresh and can be purchased in plastic or glass.

Click here to see these glass Mason jars with locking lids on Amazon.

Ziploc Bags

If you don't have a container to use, Ziploc bags will do the trick; just make sure to get all of the air out before sealing.

Click here to see these resealable Ziploc bags on Amazon.

Bowl With Silicone Stretch Lid

Silicone stretch lids come in various sizes to fit any size bowl. They help create an air-tight seal to keep your popcorn from going stale.

Click here to see this variety pack of silicone stretch lids on Amazon.

Bag Clips

Bag clips are ideal for sealing store-bought bags of popcorn.

Click here to see this 12 pack of bag clips on Amazon.

How Long Does Popped Popcorn Stay Fresh?

Seed expanded, partially popped, inverted and corn snack

Popped popcorn can stay fresh for one to two weeks. If you'd like to reheat your popcorn, avoid the microwave. Instead, spread the popcorn in a single layer on a baking sheet and place it in the oven for five minutes at 250 degrees.

One surprising way to make your popcorn last even longer is to freeze it for up to three months. Popcorn will not freeze itself, but the cold from the freezer will keep it fresh as long as it's kept in a sealed Ziploc bag.

What Can You Do With Old Popcorn?

Sweet homemade popcorn balls ready to eat

You can use old popcorn that's not super stale to make some delicious sweet and salty recipes. We've got six recipe ideas that we think you'll love!

Popcorn Balls

These traditional popcorn balls only take 20 minutes to make.

Popcorn Cookies

Chocolate, popcorn, and pecans come together for these delicious cookies.

Marshmallow Popcorn

This recipe calls for microwave popcorn mixed with gooey mini marshmallows.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Popcorn

This quick, five-minute recipe lets you make your own gourmet popcorn at home.

Popcorn Bread

Use finely ground popcorn for this easy bread recipe.

Honey Popcorn Bars

Honey and popcorn combine with fruits and nuts to make healthy, homemade bars.

How Do You Know If Popcorn Kernels Are Bad?

Bowl with corn kernels for popcorn

If you make popcorn and find that you're left with more raw kernels than popped ones, this is a good indication that your kernels are bad and should be disposed of. If your popcorn seems stale after popping, it probably means the kernels have been sitting around for too long or weren't stored properly.

How Do You Store Popcorn Kernels Long Term?

Organic yellow corn seed or maize in a glass jar with lid

Popcorn kernels will last a long time when stored correctly. Keep them in a dry place, like the pantry, in an air-tight container. Although raw kernels can last indefinitely, it's best to eat them within a year of purchasing to ensure consistent popping and fresh taste.

The Takeaway

Use microwave popcorn within three months of the best by date for quality taste and texture. It is a fast, convenient snack that you can enjoy fresh or leftover. You can store leftover popcorn in an air-tight container for up to two weeks to eat on its own or incorporate it into a new, delicious recipe.

For more expert advice on popcorn, be sure to read:

What Is The Best Pot For Making Popcorn?

What’s The Best Way To Make Popcorn On An Electric Stove?

Can You Make Popcorn in a Toaster Oven? [Here’s How!]

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