Cereal is a staple of American breakfast meals that is especially popular with children. But how long is the shelf life of cereal, and can it go bad? There are varying factors that determine the quality and freshness of cereal over time.
Yes, cereal can go bad. Prepared cereal can go bad in as little as 3-4 days, while plain varieties of unprepared cereals can last 6-12 months past their expiration date. Unprepared cereal that has fruit or other extra components can last 3-6 months past the expiration date. Frozen unprepared cereal can last for several years without any changes to texture or flavor.
Understanding the shelf life of cereal when prepared or unprepared and the ways in which it can be stored can preserve your cereal for years to come.
Does Cereal Go Bad? How Long Does Cereal Last?
Cereal can go bad over time. The factors that determine how long cereal stays preserved depend on whether it is prepared or unprepared and the conditions in which the cereal is stored.
How Long Does Cereal Last Outside?
When stored at room temperature, unopened, unprepared cereal can be stored for 6-12 months past the expiration date. Once the container has been opened that the cereal originally came in, the shelf life reduces to 4-6 months.
Packaged ready-to-cook cereal, such as oatmeal, has a shelf life of 18-24 months at room temperature when unopened in the package it came in.
While it can take a long time for cereal to truly go bad, an open container of unprepared cereal will eventually grow stale and the texture will be compromised.
How Long Does Cereal Last in the Fridge?
Cooked cereal, such as oatmeal, will only last 4-5 days in the fridge. Prepared cereal has an even shorter shelf life in the fridge, as cereal becomes soggy within less than an hour of soaking in milk.
Unprepared cereal, on the other hand, can last 4-6 months past the expiration date when stored in the refrigerator in an opened container, or up to a year past the date in an unopened container.
If you have an opened container of cereal, make sure the plastic bag or plastic container is sealed shut tightly. If using a plastic bag, such as a Ziploc bag, make sure to press out all the air before sealing the bag shut.
How Long Does Cereal Last in the Freezer?
Cereal can last up to a few years in the freezer. There are some tips to preserve the quality of your cereal when stored in the freezer.
Pouring dried cereal into a bowl and freezing it for a minimum of an hour or overnight is a pro tip to make the milk stay colder longer that will eventually be poured into the bowl when the cereal is consumed.
Regardless of how long you’re freezing your cereal, whether overnight or for over a year, you’ll always want to ensure it’s packaged in an airtight plastic bag or plastic container to preserve its freshness.
Cereal can last as little as a few days, to up to a few years, depending on how it’s stored. Knowing how best to store your cereal for your needs can ensure it will stay edible for as long as needed.
How To Tell If Cereal Has Gone Bad / How To Know Cereal is Fresh
After storing your cereal, you’ll want to ensure its quality and freshness is intact prior to using it. There are some ways you can check to determine if your cereal is edible and safe to consume.
Appearance: If the cereal’s appearance has changed while being stored and no longer looks as it did when it was fresh, or has developed mold, you should discard it.
Smell: The smell of fresh cereal depends on the type of cereal you’re consuming, so if you smell an unusual odor coming from your cereal, it has likely gone bad and you shouldn’t eat it.
Taste: Your cereal may look normal in appearance, but if you taste it only to discover it doesn’t taste as it should, it has likely gone bad. If your cereal is stale, it’s probably still edible, but the quality and flavor will be diminished.
How to Store Cereal?
Whether you are storing an unopened or open container of cereal, there are a few different methods in which it can be stored.
Airtight Container: Opened cereal can be stored in an airtight container with a lid. Locking out extra air will help preserve the freshness and flavor of your cereal.
Airtight Plastic Bag or Freezer Bag: If your cereal is in an unopened container, no further action is needed other than to place it in the vicinity in which you want to store it-whether at room temperature, in the refrigerator, or in the freezer. Opened cereal can also be stored in an airtight plastic bag or freezer bag. Just make sure to lock out any extra air before sealing the bag off.
Can You Freeze Cereal? How?
It is possible to freeze cereal, but the process you use to freeze it will determine how long it will stay fresh and still maintain its quality.
Uncooked/Unprepared: Uncooked and unprepared cereals can be stored in the freezer using an airtight container or airtight plastic bag or freezer bag. The key is to ensure the lid to the container is on tight, or that any extra air is sealed off if using a plastic bag or freezer bag.
Cooked/Prepared: You can freeze cooked or prepared cereal, such as oatmeal, by dividing out the portions you want to freeze it in and using an airtight container or plastic bag.
How to Thaw Cereal?
When it comes to thawing cereal, there are two methods:
Microwave: Using the microwave to thaw cereal, especially cooked cereal such as oatmeal, is a perfectly safe way to dethaw cereal and consume quickly.
Room Temperature: Some people prefer frozen cereal, as it helps milk stay colder longer. That said, you can simply take your unprepared cereal out of the freezer, pour it into a bowl with your milk, and enjoy. It is also great as a frozen snack without milk.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cereal’s Shelf Life
Can Expired Cereal Make You Sick?
There is a very small chance expired cereal will make you sick. Consuming cereals after the best-by date shouldn’t be a cause for concern, though after some time, the flavor and texture of the cereal will diminish.
How Do You Fix Stale Cereal?
If you want to revive stale cereal, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and place the stale cereal on a baking sheet. Bake the cereal for 3-5 minutes to preserve cereal back to its pre-stale texture and flavor.
Cereal is a breakfast staple in the Americas that is perfect for busy workday mornings, especially for families with children. Knowing how to best store your cereal will preserve it for months, and in some cases, years to come.