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How long do oats last after expiration?

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All food items have an expiration date date on the packaging, even oats and oatmeal. After this date has passed, they are considered to be expired foods. 

However, that doesn’t mean that the food is no longer good to eat. In the case of certain foods like oats, the safety to eat after an expiration date depends upon various factors revolving around oatmeal storage and the kind of oats being kept. 

How long do oats last after expiration? Store oats in a cool, dry and dark area to keep oats fresh for longer periods of time. Expiration date is not based on food safety, therefore it is possible for oats to last for years after the expiration date.

In this write-up, we are going to discuss the consequences to eat expired oats. Answered below are frequently asked questions about the expiration of oats and how long they can be kept after the expiration date.

Oat Storage

Storing dry goods is not rocket science and it does’t take specialized skills to store dry oatmeal. The best way to preserve freshness and extend the shelf life of oats is to keep them in a cool, dark and dry storage area.

It is important that the area is well ventilated since oats are a dry food that will absorb any moisture present in the air. Once the oats have been exposed to moisture, the rate of spoilage increases quickly.

The grain should be kept in oatmeal storage containers in a dry good area or pantry. A refrigerator or freezer can also work, however that is not the most economical use of cold storage space.

A dedicated kitchen cupboard or basement area makes it quite convenient to store bulk oats for the long term. Once the large quantity packaging has been opened, it is best to separate the remainder into usable portions that are sealed in airtight containers to seal oat moisture and air that could cause the oats to spoil quicker.

Do recognize that oatmeal can go bad, however following a few simple precautions can extend the shelf life far beyond the expiration date. Maintain freshness for the long term by keeping the oats from spoiling.

Oats offer a large number of health benefits including omega-3 fatty acids, high fiber, antioxidants and essential nutrients. Oats have proven the ability to boost heart health and lower cholesterol levels, therefore preserving freshness is important to keep the active compounds in good quality.

Oat Date Labels 

Do expiration dates really mean that the oats are bad to eat? Best before, use by, sell by and best by are used to define a date that oats are set to expire, but is the oat date label completely accurate?

Before going any further into this topic, it is noteworthy to mention that most date labels are not based on exact science.

In fact, manufacturers use date labels to help retailers and consumers determine the best quality, however label dating does not correlate with food safety or preservation methods.

By understanding that date labels have no relation to food safety, then it is safe to acknowledge that expiration dates do not affect the length of time it is possible to store oats.

Do oats get expired?

Yes, the amount of time for oats to expire depends upon how they are processed and stored. Though whole grain oats have a long shelf life, proper storage will ultimately affect the real expiration.

The lifespan of oats depends on the type of oats, storage container and storage conditions. They can get expired even before their use-by date if they are added with perishable contents, exposed to moisture or are not stored in an airtight container.

Oats: Oat groats have the longest lifespan as they are the hard kernel of the whole grain, however commercially processed uncooked steel-cut oats, rolled oats and quick oats can last up to 12 months. 

Moreover, if you store them in an airtight container or do not open their package then the lifespan can be significantly increased.

How long can oats last? In general, steel cut oats last three to five years, rolled oats about one to two years and quick oats have a shorter lifespan between six to nine months.

Storage container: Keeping the grain in an airtight storage container improves the shelf life by reducing exposure to moisture and oxygen. As a result, the fats are less prone to rancidity so the freshness is maintained for longer amounts of time.

The oxidation of fats is what makes oats taste stale, and expose to moisture allows mold growth that leads to spoilage. Therefore, the freshness can be affected completely irrelevant from the expiration date label stamped onto the packaging.

Storage area: A good storage area is clean, cool, dark and dry, these are the basic requirements. Long term storage is best when the room temperature remains stable and does not exceed 77°F or 25°C.

Large temperature fluctuations are not beneficial, and excessive exposure to heat degrades the preservation of fats.

The lifespan of oatmeal containing other ingredients like fruits or dry milk can be from 4 months to one year depending upon the storage area and the kind of ingredients added to the mix. If you are not sure about the expiry of your oats, then stick with the use by’ or best by’ date on the package.

How long does cooked oatmeal last in the fridge? Similarly, you should not consume already prepared or cooked oatmeal after 5 days if kept in the refrigerator, however, you can use it safely for up to 3 months if frozen right away. Cooked oatmeal must be properly cooled and placed in cold storage within 2 hours of preparation to keep bacteria growth to a minimum.

How do you know when oats are bad?

Though there is no test that can perfectly help in knowing when oats are bad or expired, one can easily determine this regard by relying on senses. Discoloration, mold or off-putting smells are clear distinction that the oats are bad.

Dry oatmeal can last for several years unless its texture or color has changed in any way. If it gives a different taste or odor than usual, then you should not eat them.

Mold can easily develop in the prepared oats due to moisture in them.

So aside from the expiration date of oats, take all the safety measures into consideration as eating bad oats poses many health risks.

Furthermore, cooked oats are a perishable food that should be stored in refrigeration within 2 hours of being prepared or fully consumed within 4 hours. According to the USDA, improper handling can lead to growth of food borne bacteria.

What happens if you eat expired oats?

Packaged oats come with an expiration date printed on the label. The manufacturer recommends to use the oats up to that date, but there is nothing wrong with using the oats after that date if they are not raced or spoiled.

The lifespan of dry oats is long, therefore it is safe to use them even after the expiration date printed on their package, unless they have been previously cooked, exposed to moisture or gone rancid from improper storage.

Use oats beyond the best by date in cooked recipes like muffins, pancakes, and cookies. If the oats are still fresh, they will not be harmful to your health in any case.

Some people believe that after the expiration date the food safety has been compromised. In reality, it is only the nutritional value and freshness of the oats that may not be retained in the original package. 

So to avoid such doubts, transfer oats in an airtight container to extend their shelf life. However, you should not eat them if their color has changed, they give odd smells or any kind of molds are noticed.

So, generally, oats can be used for months beyond their expiration date depending upon the quality, processing, and type of storage option chosen.

Can rancid oats make you sick?

Yes, consuming rancid oats in a daily routine can make you sick as they lack nutrition. Additionally, rancid oats can cause inflammation in the intestines that may upset your stomach.

Oxidation of fat can cause rancidity in any food. In general, it is safe to eat a small amount of rancid oats if they are rancid due to oxidation of fat as it will not make you sick or ill. 

Consuming large quantities of oxidized fats can affect your digestive system to some extent and give you an upset stomach.

Moreover, oxidation of oats can reduce vitamins as well as abolish good fats which can reduce the nutrition levels of your rancid oats. You will not feel sick by eating rancid oats, but experts recommend to avoid eating them regularly.

So, you can eat expired oats on occasional. However, you can fall ill with time if you eat rancid oats on a regular routine as they can affect your digestive system and can cause inflammatory issues.

How can you tell if oats are bad?

If we have determined that the date labels on the oat packaging are unreliable in regards to food safety, then how do you tell if oats are bad? Ultimately, the safety of oats is dictate by your senses to asses freshness and quality.

Mold and foul smells are the predominant causes of bad oats, but the presence of bugs or discoloration of the grains can also be signs of spoilage.

Coloration: When fresh, oats have a light cream or beige color. Any sign of bright or dark colors cold signify the presence of bugs or mold that have contaminated the storage container.

Mold: If moisture enters into the storage container than mold is commonly the result. Whole grain oats are a dry good that should only be exposed to moisture when being cooked, otherwise mold will grow on the surface and eventually overtake the entire container. Moldy oats should not be consumed.

Smell: Fresh oats have a sweet and nutty aroma that translates into the taste. Fats become oxidized when exposed to air for an extended amount of time and eventually a rancid, foul or unpleasant smell will arise.

Bugs: Critters, rodents and vermin are extremely destructive when they have access to a dry foods storage area. If the issue is not resolved in a timely manner, they will nest and multiply very quickly leading to a ravaging infestation.

Can cooked oatmeal go bad? Cooked oatmeal may last as long as 6 days when kept in the refrigerator, however it will eventually spoil and go bad. The main concerns are foul smell, mold or tasting off.

Cooked oats must be refrigerated or frozen within 2 hours of preparation if going to be served as leftovers. Additionally, the cooked oats should be placed into an airtight container.

When it is time to reheat oatmeal, warm until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit to minimize the risk of food borne illness.

How long can you eat oatmeal after expiration date?

The expiration date of oatmeal can vary depending upon the type, condition, and storage options used.

Under optimal conditions, oatmeal can last beyond the expiration date:

  • Instant Oatmeal: 1-2 years
  • Cream or flavored Instant Oatmeal: 6-9 months
  • 1 minute Oatmeal: 2-3 years
  • 5 minute Oatmeal: 2-3 years
  • Quick oats: 1-2 months
  • Rolled Oats: 2-3 years
  • Irish or Steel Cut Oatmeal: 3-5 years
  • Oatmeal Cookies: 2-3 Days in the pantry or 4-6 months in the freezer
  • Prepared or Cooked Oatmeal: 5-7 days in the fridge or 4-6 months when stored in the freezer
Do oats last after expiration

Oats Expiration Date: Final Thoughts

In the end, it is safe to eat expired oats depending on the quality, preparation and storage. When stored under optimal conditions, oats can stay fresh for years after the expiration date.

Dry oats should be kept in a cool, dry and dark storage area to maintain freshness. Extreme temperature fluctuations, direct sunlight or moisture can directly affect the oats and lead to rapid spoilage.

The lifespan of good quality oats is extended when stored in an airtight container. A sealed container reduces oxidation and potential exposure to moisture.

Depending of the type of oats and how finely ground or processed, the range is from several months to several years beyond the expiration date. 

However the lifespan of cooked or prepared expired oats can be very less. Cooked oats should be stored in the fridge or freezer and consumed as soon as possible. 

Oats do last beyond their expiration date, but how long is determined by the factors like kind of oats and storage conditions. There is no need to throw away oats the day after they expire, just use your senses to determine whether or not the oats are still fresh and can still be eaten.

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mihilal fernando

Monday 19th of September 2022

Very well explained. Oats are a healthy food that lasts for a very long time.