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Is it safe to eat expired oats?

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When you are think about breakfast ideas, oatmeal is one of the first food items that comes to mind. If you don’t even remember when you last purchased the oats stored in the back of the pantry, then you may question whether or not oatmeal expires and if it is ok to eat expired oats.

If you don’t eat oats on a regular basis, then we won’t judge you, but they are generally purchased in large quantities so you will have to store oatmeal in an airtight container in a cool, dark and dry area. When oatmeal is properly kept, it can easily last one to two years, and possibly as long as thirty years when sealed in #10 cans or airtight plastic bins with oxygen absorbers.

Is it safe to eat expired oats? When oatmeal is handled or stored without caution, then oats can go bad, mold will grow and the fats will turn rancid. Date labels are only a recommended guideline used as an industry standard, in the end your senses will tell you if expired oats are safe to eat. 

In this article, we will discuss oatmeal storage, expiration and how to determine if expired oats are safe to eat. The most relevant factor is not the expiration date, but rather if oatmeal can go bad and how do you know when it is time to throw out those old oats. 

Oatmeal Storage

For extended shelf life, it does not take unique skills or special instructions to store dry oatmeal. The best way to preserve, maintain and extend shelf life is to keep the oats in a cool, dry and dark storage area that is well ventilated to prevent the buildup of moisture.

Keeping the grain in an oatmeal storage container in a pantry or dry goods area is the best. A fridge or freezer works well too, but may not be the most cost effective use of cold space. 

Having an extra cupboard in the kitchen or downstairs basement makes it convenient to store bulk oats for the long term to maintain quality. Once you have opened bulk packaging, separate into usable portions and seal in airtight containers to lockout air and moisture from coming in contact with the oats. 

It is important to recognize that oatmeal can go bad, however you may be able to extend shelf life by following these precautions to preserve and maintain freshness for the long term.

Oats offer a well rounded set of health benefits including high fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, essential nutrients, and antioxidant compounds like beta-glucan. Oats are very helpful to decrease cholesterol levels, and also boost heart health and the immune system as well, therefore it is important to preserve freshness so the quality of these active compounds remains intact.

Date Labels on Oatmeal

It can be tricky to differentiate between the means of expiration date labels. Use by, sell by, best by and best before that establish a defined date the oats are set to expire, but how do you know if the oatmeal date label is accurate?

Before we proceed any further, understand that a large majority of date labels are not based on exact science.

Date labels are provided by manufactures as a means to help customers and retailers determine the best quality of food, however label dating is not at all related to conditions of food safety and conditions of optimal preservation.

By acknowledging that date labels are related to quality and have no regard to food safety, then we can better understand how expiration dates affect the length of time you can store oatmeal.

How long does oatmeal last?

Date labels are not connected to food safety as much as they reference freshness. When discussing quality of oats, the shelf life is determined by three main factors, type of oats, storage container and storage area.

Oats: In terms of longevity, oat groats last the longest because they are the hard kernel after the outer shell or husk has been removed. Steel cut oats, rolled oats and quick oats are the most commonly consumed oats, however they each undergo different amounts of processing resulting in varying expiration dates.

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

Storage container: For improved shelf life, an airtight storage container will help to reduce exposure to oxygen and moisture. When oats are stored in a sealed container, the longevity is extended as the fats are less prone to rancidity. 

Oxidation of fats is what turns the oats stale, while exposure to moisture results in mold growth that will spoil the oats. Both factors affect the freshness of the oats, irrelevant to the expiration date label printed on the packaging.

Storage area: The basic requirements for a good storage area are clean, cool, dark and dry. For long term storage, the room temperature should not exceed 77°F or 25°C as excessive exposure to heat is detrimental to the preservation of fats. 

How long does oatmeal last in the fridge? Uncooked oats can also be stored in the fridge or freezer, however that is not really the most efficient use of energy and cold storage space. As a result, it is best to store oatmeal in a pantry or temperature controlled storage area.

How long does cooked oatmeal last? When stored in an airtight container following safe handling procedures, cooked oatmeal will last up to 6 days. Once cooked, oats must be properly cooled and refrigerated within 2 hours of preparation to prevent the growth of food borne bacteria.

Does oatmeal expire?

If date labels are unreliable for determining the food safety of oats, then how do you know if oats have expired? In the end, the safety of oats is best decided by your senses to evaluate the freshness and quality.

Mold and unpleasant smells will be the leading causes of bad oats, however there could also be the presence of bugs or the discoloration on the surface. 

Do raw oats go bad? Look and smell, then taste, your sense will be the best guide to reveal if the oatmeal is still safe to eat. Raw oats will have a semi sweet, wholesome and nutty aroma, appear completely dry and taste indifferent without having any foul or off-putting flavors.

Discoloration: Fresh oats will have a semi cream or beige color. There should not be the presence of any bright or dark colors as this could symbolize the presence of bugs or mold that has entered into the storage container. 

Mold: Moisture entering into the storage container can be caused by a broken seal on the packaging that may result in mold issues on the oats. Whole grain oats are a dry good, therefore any exposure to moisture will cause mold or bacteria to grow on the surface of the affected area. 

Mold spreads quickly and will lead to contamination of the entire package. Molded oats should not be eaten.

Off-putting smell: When fats are exposed to air for an extended amount of time, they will start to turn rancid and produce a foul or unpleasant aroma. The smell will no longer resemble to sweet, nutty aroma of fresh oats, which has an effect on the taste.

Critters: Rodents and vermin are destructive if they find your dry storage area. If not dealt with quickly, they will nest and multiply, which will lead to a disastrous infestation.

Does cooked oatmeal go bad? Cooked oatmeal may last up to 6 days, but it will eventually go bad and spoil. Primary concerns to be aware of are mold, foul taste and off putting smell. 

Cooked oatmeal must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer within 2 hours of preparation for safe food handling. Additionally, it is recommended to store in an airtight container. 

When it comes time to reheat oatmeal, warm to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the risk of food borne illness to a minimum. 

Can you eat oatmeal after the expiration date?

Yes, you can absolutely eat oatmeal after it has expired. The ‘best by’ date on the label is only a manufacturer’s recommendation, it is not a food safety guideline.

If oatmeal has been properly stored in a cool, dry and dark area, then the risk of spoilage is minimal. The determining factors are signs of spoilage like discoloration, would smell, mold or pests.

When oats have sat on the shelf for many years, you may notice changes in color, taste and texture as well. As time extends and peak freshness passes by, the nutritional value of oatmeal may slightly degrade, however the oats would still be considered safe to eat.

In fact, oatmeal can go bad if the storage conditions are susceptible to various degrees of temperature, humidity change and constant exposure to direct sunlight. Uncooked oats need to be protected from heat, moisture and oxygen. 

It’s ultimately best to eat your oatmeal within one year or two, however that is not always achievable in our hectic lifestyle with various attention grabbing cravings. When you first open the packaging of oatmeal, take a few minutes to follow the recommended storage procedures that will extend the shelf life of the dry good before time lapse transpires.

Are expired oats bad?

Commercially packaged oatmeal does have a ‘best before’ or ‘use by’ date printed on the packaging. However, this particular date or month does not set an actual timeframe that the oats will go bad.

Dry whole grain oats have a long lifespan that is not subject to a predetermined date, but rather the storage conditions the dry good is kept. The expiration date is a common misconception that is not a conclusive factor for the length of time the oats are edible.

For oats that have past the date of expiration, they can safely be used in cooked recipes or baked goods and it will not be harmful

Once the seal has been broken, then the original packaging is no longer the best option for oatmeal storage. Freshness and nutritional value go hand in hand, therefore consider transferring the dry oats to a better storage container. 

In the end, expired oats can be safe to eat. If there are any signs of assorted colors, strong smells, mold or critters, then do not eat.

Type and quality of the oats is also an important factor for deciding if they are bad to eat. Less processed kinds of oats will last longer that finely ground alternatives, while selecting the best products will minimize unsatisfactory results in taste, texture and smell. 

Can expired oats make you sick?

Yes, expired oats can still be good to eat for months and possibly years beyond the date. Therefore, it is safe to say that expired oats are ok and will not be harmful to eat.

Expired oats are not recommended for everyday consumption because they may contain less nutritional value. Furthermore, they might cause intestinal inflammation that could inevitably lead to an upset stomach.

Is it ok to eat rancid oats? The oxidation of fats is the primary source for rancidity. The results are mild differences in taste and smell, but rancid oats will not make you feel sick or ill.

As oxidation sets in, the differences will become more noticeable over time. You can eat rancid oats if the only concern is the oxidation of fats, however the molecule transformations can bother your digestive system

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

Noteworthy, rancidity is destructive to fats and diminishes nutrient levels. Therefore, rancid oats are less nutritious and experts will not recommend longterm consumption even though they will not make you sick.

From time to time, confidently dig into a batch of acid oats and they will probably not make you sick. Though they are not recommended for regular consumption as rancid oats offer less nutrition and may eventually lead to inflammatory disease that can make you sick over time

What can you do with old oatmeal?

It is common to throw expired oats in the dumpster, however there are plenty of ways to make the best out of the situation by effectively using the old oatmeal. If you no longer feel the urge to consume the old oats, then use them for body care as a natural ingredient. 

Old oats can be used to exfoliate skin to make it feel smooth with a simple body scrubs, soaps and bath bombs. Another quick and easy application for oats that are past their prime is to pour a handful of oats into the tub and take an oatmeal bath.  

Oatmeal scrubs have been used successfully to remedy acne problems, irritated skin and healthy hair.  Prepare a basic porridge, then cool it down before utilizing on affected areas.

The same basic porridge can also be applied as a face mask to hydrate and moisturize for a younger feeling completion. Let the mask sit for 15 minutes before washing off.

Old oats will definitely benefit as an oatmeal bath for dogs. Gently soften their hair and moisturize their skin at the same time that you neutralize pet odor with a mild smell that contains no strong fragrances.  

Make arts and crafts to entertain young kids. Turn old oats into modeling clay or paper cache for creative projects that kids can do at home.

can you eat expired oats

Can You Eat Expired Oatmeal?

Yes, you can eat expired oatmeal. The “best before” label date has no effect on the exact condition of the oats, therefore you can safely consume old oats if they have past the expiration date.

There is no doubt that oats offer a tremendous offering of healthy benefits that make it a healthy breakfast options for all ages. Without much time or advanced cooking skills, you can whip up a batch of oatmeal, overnight oats or use them to make a wide range of oats recipes. 

In regards to concerns over the expiry date, storage conditions play the largest role in the spoiling, rancidity or outside influences that can cause the oats to go bad. Dry oats must be stored inside an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark area to for long term. 

Follow the recommended storage tips and you can easily extend the shelf life of oats and oatmeal.

If oatmeal has exceeded its expiration date, they are most likely safe to eat. The most concerning factors are not the expiration date, but actually and signs of discoloration, mold, off-putting smells and pests

Do not eat oats that have been compromised in any way, they are not safe and may cause food borne illness. That being said, old oats might be utilizable in external ways like body care, kids crafts and to neutralize pet odors so that you do not need to throw them out right away. 

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Z. Dash

Wednesday 3rd of May 2023

Nobody asked you what the most efficient use of cold storage areas is, and to keep repeating that storing oats there may be inefficient is entirely inappropriate for this article.

Joyce E Ryan

Wednesday 13th of July 2022

I recently purchased 2 boxes of Quaker Oat Bran from Amazon. The boxes were damaged and there was some loose oat bran in the package. Neither box had an expiration date. Amazon says that I can't return the boxes. I'm not sure if it safe to the cereal. I would appreciate your opinion. Thanks.


Thursday 14th of July 2022

First of all I find it weird that Quaker Oats do not have an expiration on their label. Secondly, I am not surprised by the damage inside an Amazon box, it wouldnt be the first time. As far as the oats are concerned, I would think that they are fine. As long as there are not visual debris from something else inside the oats, and the oats dont smell funky, they should be fine. Of course if you feel at all uncertain or uncomfortable about the situation, then it is best to discard.