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How can you tell if oatmeal has gone bad?

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Oatmeal is one of the most popular breakfast choices among people of all ages. You may question whether or not oatmeal can expire and how do you know if oatmeal has spoiled.

Whether you eat oats every day, or purchase bulk quantities, if you do not cook oatmeal on a regular basis then you will have to store oatmeal in a sealed airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark area. When stored properly, oat can easily last between one to two years, and as long as thirty years when sealed in plastic bins and #10 cans.

When improperly handled or stored, oats can expire quickly and turn rancid. The date labels are a recommended guideline, but your senses will ultimately tell if oatmeal has gone bad.

The important thing is how do you know if it is already gone bad or expired? If you are worried about the storage of oatmeal and these questions bother you, then you have come to the right place and this guide will help you.

How can you tell if oats have gone bad?

Oatmeal Storage

If you want to store dry oatmeal, then you do not need to follow rocket science. In the case of uncooked or raw oats, you need to keep them in a cool or dry place, and it can last long without any problems. 

Placing the oatmeal storage container in a pantry is a great choice, a fridge or freezer also works well but that is not always the most economical or efficient use of space. However, if you have a separate cupboard in your kitchen or downstairs basement area, then is is recommended to store bulk oats in these areas to maintain quality and freshness for long term.

Transfer any bulk packaging into sealed airtight containers after bringing it home to ensure the oats will not be exposed to air and moisture. As you can see, oatmeal may go bad, but if you store it properly you can extend the shelf life to maintain quality and freshness.

Oatmeal Date Labels

Best by, sell by, use by and best before are examples of expiration date labels that become continue to confuse the the consumer. So how do you know if the date label on your oatmeal is accurate?

To be honest, most date labels are not based on exact science.

In fact, manufacturers provide date labeling to help consumers and retailers decide when food is of best quality, label dating does not concern food safety.

How long can you store oatmeal?

As previously discussed, date labels are directly correlated with quality, and not necessarily food safety. In terms of quality, the shelf life of oats is affected by three main factors, type of oats, storage container and storage area.

Oatmeal: Whole grain oats, oat groats, have the longest shelf life because they are minimally processed and retain the whole shape. However, the most common oatmeal, steel cut oats, rolled oats and quick oats, each have different expiration dates. 

Steel cut oats frequently last three to five years, rolled oats between one to two years and quick oats have a shorter lifespan which ranges about six to nine months.

Storage container: An influential piece to improving shelf life. The oatmeal storage container must be airtight and reduce exposure to airflow and moisture. 

Oxidation can make the oats turn stale, while moisture results in the growth of mold. Both will affect the quality and freshness of the oats even if they are not expired based on date.

If you are looking to improve the length of time you can store oats, then this airtight ceramic container will do the trick. The lid is tight and prevents air from coming in contact with the oats, additionally it is blocks out the light so no UV damage can affect the dry goods.

Storage area: Clean, cool, dark and dry, those are the requirements for a good storage area. Oats can be stored in the fridge or freezer, however that is generally not the most efficient use of space and energy. Therefore, it is recommended to store oats in a dry storage or pantry.

How do know if oats have expired?

If date labels are not to be considered as fact, then what are the best ways to determine if your oats have expired? It’s recommended to rely on your senses to determine the freshness and quality of oats. 

Look and smell, then taste to determine whether oats are still safe to consume. Raw oats should have a sweet nutty smell, look dry and taste neutral without any strong, bitter or foul flavors. 

Discoloration: Fresh oats will have a light brown or cream-like color. Any bright or dark colors could be caused by the growth of mold or bugs that have penetrated the storage container.

Mold: Moisture can enter into unsealed packaging and lead to mold issues. Whole grain oats are a dry good, so exposure to moisture will cause the oats to grow bacteria and mold in the area. Mold will spread quickly and contaminate the entire package of dry oats.

Off-putting smell: When stored for an extended amount of time, the fats can turn rancid. This will result in an off-putting smell that no longer resembles a sweet nutty aroma, but it make smell bitter or sour.

Critters: Rodents and vermin can be disastrous if they find your dry storage stash. when left undisturbed, the critters will make a home, nest and multiply quickly. 

How long can you eat oatmeal after the expiration date?

If your oatmeal has been stored and kept properly, then you can consume it after the expiration date. If you have expired oatmeal, then you may notice some changes in their texture, color and flavor as well. 

As a result of freshness, you may lose some nutritional value of oatmeal. Otherwise, it is considered safe to eat! 

The fact is that oatmeal can go bad if you keep it under improper conditions that will affect changes in color and flavor. Uncooked oats will go bad easily if you keep them exposed to moisture, heat, and oxygen. 

It’s best to eat your oatmeal within one year or so. However, if you cannot finish within the timeframe, then follow the recommended storage procedures to extend the shelf life.

What happens if you eat expired oats?

Many commercial oats packages come with ‘best by’ date printed on that. But it does not mean that after that particular date or month it will go wrong.

Dry oats have a long lifespan. So, it will not go bad after the expiry date as this is a common misconception. 

If you have oats that have extended beyond the best-by date, then you can use them in cookies, muffins, or pancakes. It will not at all be harmful to you. 

Furthermore, the fact remains that the original package will not provide optimal freshness and nutritional value. So, expired oats can be safe to eat. However, if you notice any kinds of molds, discoloration, or off-putting smells, then do not eat

It depends on the quality of the oatmeal as well. If you buy the best products, then there will be less chance of unsatisfactory textures and foul smells.

In general, expired oats can still be good for months if not years beyond the date. Therefore, it is possible that expired oatswill not harm you in any way.

Can rancid oats make you sick?

Yes, you can consume expired oats. However, they are not recommended for everyday use because they are less nutritious, may cause upset stomach, and can lead to intestinal inflammation.

Rancidity is simply the oxidation of fat. As a result, you can notice the fact that eating rancid oats will not make you ill or sick. 

So, you can eat rancid oats if it is only the fats that have oxidized. However, the molecules that form as oxidation occurs can disturb your digestive system

Above all, rancid oats are less nutritious as oxidation destroys the good fats and also diminishes the vitamin contents. Experts also agree on the fact that eating rancid oats will not make anyone sick. 

You can eat lapsed oats from time to time, but they are probably not optimal for regular consumption. The regular consumption of rancid oats can make you sick over time. It can cause some inflammatory diseases as well.

What can you do with old oatmeal?

Oats have health benefits such as high fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds like beta-glucan. They are very helpful to decrease the level of cholesterol, and can also boost the immune system as well.

If you have old oatmeal, then you should not throw it out. Many people automatically throw out oats if they have expired. But, you should not do it. 

You can use old oats on your skin to exfoliate and make your skin smooth and feel younger. Bath bombs, scrubs and soaps are simple and easy ways to use old oats that have passed their prime. 

Furthermore, oatmeal scrubs are a natural remedy for acne problems. Simply cook a basic porridge recipe with oatmeal and cool it before applying on the affected areas.

Apart from this, if you have dry and irritated skin, apply oatmeal on those parts of your skin. You can get soothing relief after applying this, and it helps to heal the open pores.

Make a face mask. You just need to mix one cup of oats with flour and little amount of water. Apply the mask and let sit for 15 minutes before washing off.

Your hair can also benefit from the quantities of vitamins and minerals found in oats. Use oats for hair care to encourage natural hair growth. It will also prevent split ends, treat dandruff, and soothe dry and itchy scalp.

Oats can work well as a soft and gentle scrub to neutralize odor on your pets.

Make crafts for easily amused little kids. If you have kids in your home, then you can turn the old oatsinto modeling clay.

After overnight soaking, it will turn hard dough just like the clay dough. Add food coloring if you want more creative versatility.

Expired Oatmeal: Final Thoughts

Oats are a healthy breakfast choice, especially for the kids, and a wonderful food item to start your day. They are very much easy to prepare, and even a novice cook can whip up a batch of delicious oats.

However, they’re some concerns over oats going bad and can you still eat expired oats. Dry oats must be stored inside an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark area to preserve quality. By following the recommended storage tips, you can easily extend the life of oats.

If oats have passed their expiration date, they are most likely safe to consume. Check for concerning factors such as discoloration, mold, off-putting smell and critters

If the quality of the oats has been compromised, then do not eat. However, do not rush to throw away old oats. They might still be useable for external uses such as skin care, kids’ crafts and to neutralize bad odors.

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malcolm roberton

Friday 10th of February 2023

i have a storage area which extends under the front steps, a concrete cave. unfortunately i placed a half sack of steel cut oats in contact with the concrete, some time ago, forgetting that the concrete would transmit moisture from the outside surface of itself. my very bad. this evening i found a 3 or 4 inch patch of mold flourishing where the paper shipping sack had been touching the inside surface of the wall.

i was immediately resigned to turning the whole bag out into the wild back garden. i could carefully cut away the sack to check the oats inside. i might salvage a few cups farthest away from the mold, which has no doubt colonised at least half.

as i write this i realise that i'm going to examine the bag, for my own learning, but not consume any. i remember that mold on some grains, rye for one, has dangerously hallucinagenic effects when consumed.

if you would give me yr opinion i'd be grateful.

cheers, mm


Saturday 11th of February 2023

Thanks for sharing the learning lesson with us... if there was a tiny amount of mold on the top of a very large bag, you might be able to save some oats at the bottom... however, if half the bag is contaminated then it is not worth the risk and I would discard right away. Better safe than sorry.


Tuesday 29th of March 2022


How long do you think the McCann's steel-cut oats in the metal tins would last unopened?


Tuesday 29th of March 2022

If properly stored is a cool, dark, well-ventilated area with no moisture entering into the can, then some people have reported a lifespan beyond 30 years. Unfortunately you won't know the condition of the steel cut oats until you open the can. Once the seal is broken, then the grains are exposed to oxygen and moisture that will eventually make the oatmeal go bad.

Jaehyun Yeom

Monday 28th of February 2022

Thank you for your post. I realized the stomach issue I had is caused by bad oatmeal. I didn't think it would easily go bad until I read your post. It was unsealed for 4 years.


Tuesday 1st of March 2022

4 year old unsealed oats could definitely go bad and lead to an upset stomach, especially if your body is not use to digesting oatmeal on a regular basis.

Ian Baker

Thursday 30th of December 2021

What if it's organic oatmeal and you just leave it in the little oatmeal packets, just like regular oatmeal packets, inside the box, inside a dry cool cupboard, past the expiration date?


Thursday 30th of December 2021

Being organic wont make any difference for the expiration date. The same information will apply and eventually the oatmeal will go bad, even though it may be beyond the expiration date.

Marc Durrant

Thursday 9th of December 2021

I just made a porridge bowl, god knows how old they where, (Got to sort cupboard out) when tried tasted like dish soap, spat out immediately.


Thursday 9th of December 2021

Hello Marc, thanks for sharing your experience with us! I have not experienced that taste from expired oats. Did you make the porridge in the microwave or a pot? Did the dish or cookware still have soap residue from dishwashing? Just a couple questions to determine if the taste really came from oats that have gone bad or soapy dishes.