Does Microwave Popcorn Go Bad? Will It Spoil?

Does Microwave Popcorn Go Bad?

Microwave popcorn is one of America’s favorite snacks. It is deliciously easy. Pop it in the microwave, and within minutes you have a warm, buttery, salty bag of goodness ready to be devoured.

But what if that bag of gold’s Best By Date has passed? Is your movie night snack destined for the trash? Does that date matter? Or is it just a way to sell more popcorn?

The simple answer is: yes – all foods, including microwave popcorn, can spoil. But there are ways to extend the shelf life of microwave popcorn. Read on for storage and safety tips to keep this crunchy kernel pallet pleasing as long as possible.

What is Microwave Popcorn?

First, let’s meet the kernel. According to Popcorn Boss, popcorn dates to 4700 BC. Microwave popcorn is a modern cooking twist on this ancient grain. Microwave popcorn was accidentally discovered in 1945 by Percy Spencer.

However, Serious Eats tells us that microwave popcorn did not gain popularity until the 1980s when microwaves became more common household appliances. Speaking of shelf life, microwave popcorn originally contained butter and required refrigeration. Today’s variety uses cooking oils, making it shelf stable.

As the name implies, microwave popcorn is popcorn kernels designed to be cooked in the microwave. Pre-measured ingredients, including popcorn kernels, oil, and seasonings, are combined in a microwave-safe bag. The bag is designed to trap heat and steam during cooking to help the kernels heat up faster.

Popcorn kernels “pop” when the moisture inside the kernels heats up and bursts. So, all those little “pops” are mini explosions. Additionally, the bags are typically coated with seasoning. The kernels are coated with flavor as they pop and bounce around inside the bag.

How Long Does Microwave Popcorn Last?

Long shelf life makes microwave popcorn a popular pantry staple. Per Eat By Date, appropriately stored and unopened microwave popcorn should last about six to eight months. It is important not to confuse the shelf life of microwave popcorn with popcorn kernels.

Popcorn kernels, again, if stored properly, can last indefinitely. However, the addition of oils shortens microwave popcorn’s shelf life significantly. While the kernels can supposedly last a lifetime, the oils and seasoning do not.

So, what do you do with a package of microwave popcorn past its date? This is where “best by date” and “expiration date” come into play. They sound similar, but these two “dates” mean different things. Let’s take a look.

According to Popcorn Bistro,  “expiration” dates are based on food safety, while “best by” dates focus on food quality. The expiration date is the last date the food can be consumed safely.

Think meat, dairy, and other perishable foods. Foods past expiration should be tossed. Expired foods could be rotten and make you sick. Expiration dates are a directive and should not be ignored.

“Best by dates” are more suggestive and apply to the expected eating experience. Think chips, crackers, and cereal. It is unlikely that eating these foods after the best-by-date will make you sick, but they may not taste great. They could lose flavor and be less crunchy or stale.

In most cases, they are safe to eat, just less appetizing. Microwave popcorn falls into this category. However, it is recommended not to eat microwave popcorn more than one month past the best-by date, just to be safe.

Regardless of the label date, all food can spoil. Appearance, smell, and taste are excellent indicators of food safety and always supersede expiration or best-by-dates. Always follow the motto: “If in doubt, throw it out.”. This rule applies to microwave popcorn too.

5 Signs Your Microwave Popcorn Has Spoiled

Microwave popcorn has a long shelf life but can spoil over time. If your bag has any of these signs, throw it away. Better safe than sorry!

  1. It smells funny. The oils in the microwave popcorn bag can go rancid. If there is an unpleasant odor when the bag is opened, it’s likely the oils spoiled. Please give it a new home in your trash bin.
  2. It tastes weird. If it passes the sniff test but tastes off, rancid oils could be the culprit. Rancid oils can give popcorn a bitter taste. If the popcorn fails the taste test, feed it to the trash can. Don’t worry; while unpleasant tasting, the popcorn probably won’t make you sick.
  3. They are not popping. The moisture inside the kernels creates that pop. Over time, the kernels can dry out—no humidity, no pop – and sadly, no popcorn. Again, eating it won’t make you sick, but who wants to eat a bowl of “Old Maids,” aka unpopped kernels?
  4. Questionable kernels. Concerning moisture, popcorn kernels with dark or white spots signal mold or fungus. Don’t be tempted to sort out kernels that look “clean.” The entire batch is likely tainted and should be thrown away. Eating moldy popcorn could make you sick.
  5. Rock hard. Microwave popcorn and oils that harden into a coagulated lump are old and have outlived their shelf life. Don’t bother trying to break up the bunch. The quality of popcorn has passed its prime. Popcorn kernels should be free to roam around inside the bag. If not, time to toss.

3 Tips to Keep Microwave Popcorn Fresh

Nothing lasts forever, and sadly, that includes microwave popcorn. These storage tips will help it retain peak, popping performance up to and slightly beyond the best-by-date. (Don’t forget “beyond” is about one month.)

  1. That’s a Wrap: Orville Redenbacher, the all-knowing popcorn expert, strongly advises storing microwave popcorn in its original packaging, sealed in its plastic wrapper. Do not unwrap until ready to pop. The plastic wrapper keeps unwanted moisture out, protecting the pop.
  2. Stay Cool: As we learned, heat and humidity are the kernel’s main enemies. Pick a cool, dry place away from the stove, oven, and other heat sources. A cupboard or pantry will welcome these precious packages with open doors.
  3. Frost Bite: Keep the kernel cool but not cold. Resist the urge to store microwave popcorn in the fridge. It’s not a good idea. The low moisture environment inside the fridge could dry out the kernels. No moisture, no pop.

Poppin’ Fresh Popcorn Tips

Ready, set, pop! It’s time to transform that beloved bag into fluffy popcorn. But beware of the primary popping pitfall – the dreaded scorch. These tips will help reduce the burn, leaving you with the perfect pop.

Watch: Keep an eye on popcorn while cooking. As tempting as it may be, don’t walk away. Sure, the bags give popping directions, but every microwave is different. It only takes a few seconds to scorch the bag and stink up your house or office. Mind the pop – your family and office mates will thank you.

Listen: That joyous popping sound means you are minutes away from a delightful snack. But the fate of the popcorn lies in the balance. Too long, and it will scorch. Too short, and you’re left with a bag of old maids. When you only hear a pop per second, it’s time to press stop.

And there you have it. You are now a popcorn expert. Go ahead, get popping – enjoy!