Cereal is almost everyone’s favorite breakfast food. It comes in many shapes and flavors, so it’s suitable for kids as well as adults.
Most cereal comes in a box with a best-by date somewhere on the label. But, what if the package is past the date?
In some cases, cereal is still safe to eat past its best-by date, but there are a few things you should think about first.
Continue reading to learn if cereal goes bad, how long it can last, and the best storage method to preserve its freshness.
Table of Contents
Does Cereal Expire
As with other foods, it’s important to remember that the best-by date doesn’t have much to do with food safety. It’s only a date that indicates how long the product retains its quality, after which you might not find the same taste and odor.
Cereal can’t last forever, but it doesn’t go bad as quickly. Also, it doesn’t go bad after the best-by date, which means you can still use the package after, depending on how it was stored.
To be exact, breakfast cereal does expire, but it takes a long time. In most cases, it’s still safe to eat when expired, but only if there are no visible signs of spoilage.
How Long Does Cereal Last
How long your cereal lasts depends on the kind you have. A box of plain ones will last longer than a box of fruity ones, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Another factor that plays a significant role in its longevity is the condition of the package. In other words, it’s not the same whether the box has been opened or not. A pack of originally packed, unopened cereal is likely to last longer than the one you already opened.
As we said, you should first find the best-by date to ensure if it’s already expired. Many breakfast cereals can last several months after that date, but you should always inspect them first.
Expired cereal is typically safe to eat, but you’ll probably notice the quality isn’t the same. This is especially the case for those containing dried fruits, chocolate, or anything other than plain cereal.
Also, prepared cereal won’t last longer than a few days because of the milk you added to the mix.
Check the table below to learn how long your favorite breakfast cereal will last.
|Plain cereal||6-12 months||/|
|Cereal with fruits or chocolate||3-6 months||/|
|Opened cereal||4-6 months||/|
|Prepared cereal||/||3-4 days|
Tips to Tell if Cereal Has Gone Bad
Cereal has a long shelf life if stored properly. It’s usually a dry product with the best-by date far ahead, so you’ll have enough time to go through the box you bought.
But what about the one you found in your pantry? If you’re not sure when you bought it, it’s best to inspect it before eating.
Although cereal is unlikely to go bad, some types (with chocolate or fruit) can go bad sooner than you think. For this reason, it’s best to take a few minutes to look for traces of spoilage.
Here’s what you should look out for:
Mold is always the worst enemy, and it can easily get to your cereal. It usually occurs if you store the box in a moist environment. Scoop a cup of cereal and look at it closely to see if there’s any trace of mold. If you’re unsure, you can even remove the whole package just to be safe.
Insects love cereal, especially if you didn’t touch the box for quite a while. This is worth checking even if you don’t have problems with insects in your home. Ants often show up out of nowhere and will love your chocolate or fruit cereal mix. Weevils are also common to find in cereal boxes, so take a good look before eating. If you find anything weird, it’s best to throw it all away.
Cereal made from whole grains has natural oils that can go rancid after a while. It usually takes only about a week to occur with improperly stored cereal, so make sure to find a cool and dry storage spot. This is easy to spot since all you have to do is sniff the package. You can also take a bit or two if you’re not sure. Rancid cereal is not necessarily unsafe to eat, but you’ll notice the taste is far off.
Tips to Store Cereal
Cereal is relatively easy to store away since they come in boxes. The inside of the box is dark, so you don’t have to look for a dark spot in your kitchen.
Proper storage is everything, helping to prolong the life of your cereal by a long shot. In most cases, an adequately stored product can last months after its best-by date, whereas an improperly stored one won’t even last you a week.
Here’s what you can in terms of storage:
Find a dry place
This is a dry product, and you have to do everything you can to keep it that way. Exposing it to moisture strips it of its crunch we all love so much. For this reason, it’s best to store your cereal in the pantry if the area is dry.
Use an airtight container
Most cereal brands use boxes, and most people love leaving their cereal in these boxes. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s sometimes better to transfer it all into a new container. The box will easily pick up on any moisture, especially if it’s stored near your cooking area. It’s best to use an airtight jar or a container to help keep moisture away, keeping your cereal fresh regardless of where you keep it. Even if it came in a plastic bag and not a box, it’s still better to transfer it into something you can reseal.
Avoid using a sealing clip
Although these clips are usually useful when storing dry foods, they’re not the best for cereal. First, it’s not a tight enough closure, so you might find your cereal stale even if sealed. More so, the seal isn’t enough to keep the insects away, which is something to think about if you’re dealing with these annoying creatures.
Don’t prepare too much
Prepared cereal can only last for about three days, so try not to make any more than you’ll eat. If you do happen to have some leftovers, it’s best to keep them in the fridge. Again, place it in an airtight container to prevent any odors from getting in and out.
The Risks of Consuming Expired Cereal
The cereal is unlikely to go bad if you store it the right way. If not, it can go stale, but it would probably still be safe to eat. Of course, it would lose its crunch and much of the taste, but you won’t be exposing yourself to any risk.
That’s if we’re talking about plain cereal. Anything that has fruits, chocolate, and other extras will go bad quicker. It might also be unsafe to eat after a while.
Fruit, whole grain, and chocolate have a terrible taste once they go bad. The heavy-duty taste might linger in your mouth for a while, making you sick all day long.
You might also experience nausea depending on the particular cereal you eat. But, all in all, there is no severe risk in eating stale cereal.
On the other hand, moldy cereal is unsafe to consume, and you should throw it away. Mold is dangerous and can cause severe health issues like vomiting and diarrhea even if you consume a small amount.
Eating a whole bowl of moldy cereal might even result in food poisoning. The same goes for a prepared cereal you kept in your fridge for a week or two.
Not only is the taste already gone by this point, but the milk you mixed it with is probably also bad.
Can you Freeze Cereal?
You can freeze cereal, but you won’t get a much longer shelf life if you do so. Freezing doesn’t do anything for its freshness or shelf life, but it does improve the texture.
In other words, you’ll find frozen cereal much crunchier regardless of what you mix it with. It’s a healthy way to upstart your day, especially if you usually have a smoothie with it as well.
Because it’s frozen, the entire mix will be colder. You’re getting the same as you do when adding ice to your drinks. Keep in mind they don’t require defrosting.
However, this is only safe to do before you add milk. Freezing a prepared bowl of cereal isn’t the best idea since you’ll probably end up with a soggy mixture by the time it’s defrosted.
It takes only about an hour for cereal to freeze, so you can do this before eating if you don’t have much storage space in your freezer to store the whole box.
Cereal is one of the most favorite breakfast foods among kids and adults. It’s a quick and tasty food that comes in many shapes, flavors, colors, and quantities.
It lasts a long time, so don’t worry if you bought too much. Not only can you store it pretty much anywhere, but you can also freeze it to improve your breakfast experience.