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Can Oatmeal Go Bad?

If oatmeal isn’t one of your go-to breakfast choices, finding a bag of oats that’s stored for who-knows-how-long isn’t anything unsual. Can oats or oatmeal go bad?

Oats come with a date on the label, sure, but it’s not like they’ll spoil a day or two later. Is it okay to eat oats past the date on the package?

If either of those questions have brought you here, you’re in the right place. Read along.

Measuring cup with oats
Measuring cup with oats

How To Tell If Oats or Oatmeal Are Bad

When checking if your oats are safe to eat, look for the following:

  • Mold. If you notice any, throw them out. But mold doesn’t always grow on the top of the oats. That brings us to the second option.
  • Smell. If the oats smell moldy or off in any way, discard them.
  • Discoloration or other changes in appearance. If there’s something off in the way they look, assume they’re gone.
  • Pantry pests. If you can see any bugs, either dead or alive, get rid of the oats.

As you can tell, the process is pretty much the same as for other dry goods, like rice or pasta.

When in doubt, throw it out.

Oats in a pot
Oats in a pot

When it comes to prepared oatmeal, look for:

  • Mold. It forms on top and is easy to spot.
  • Off smell. If it smells bad, you know it’s spoiled.
  • Storage time. If it sits in the fridge for longer than like 5 days, it probably is not safe to eat anymore.
Just cooked oatmeal
Just cooked oatmeal

How Long Do Oats and Oatmeal Last

Most manufacturers suggest that you should consume their oats within about a year or so. That’s reflected in the “best-by” date on the package.

The best-by date on the label is only an estimate of how long the oats should retain top quality.

If you take decent care of your oats (more on that in the storage section), yours will last months past the mentioned date.

Bowl of oatmeal with fruit
Bowl of oatmeal with fruit

How long do oats last after “expiration”? It depends on the variety.

Minimally processed ones like steel cut and rolled oats can retain quality for another year or even more.

More fancy varieties, like instant oats and those with dried fruit and other flavorings will start losing quality much sooner, like a couple of months past their date.

If you make a bowl of oatmeal, and it tastes kind of stale, it’s time to open a new pack. Same thing with breakfast cereal.

Oatmeal topped with fruit
Oatmeal topped with fruit

If you make oatmeal in bulk (e.g., in a slow cooker or you’re a fan of overnight oats), make sure you eat everything within five days.

Please note that if you add to your oatmeal some ingredients that might spoil sooner, the storage time shrinks accordingly.

Overnight oats before chilling in the fridge
Overnight oats before chilling in the fridge

How To Store Oats and Oatmeal

Oats should sit in a cool and dry place, away from sources of heat. The pantry or a kitchen cupboard works well for that purpose.

Additionally, make sure the package is sealed tightly when not in use.

That protects the oats from moisture, odors, and any pantry pests that might find their way to the storage location.

If the package your oats come in cannot be sealed tightly, consider using a plastic lidded container instead.

When it comes to prepared oatmeal, its place is in the refrigerator, sealed tightly.

Try not to make more oatmeal than what you’ll consume within 3 to 5 days, so nothing spoils and goes to waste.

Overnight oats done
Overnight oats done

Summary

  • If there’s mold or any (dead or alive) pantry pests in the oats container, discard them.
  • If your prepared oatmeal grows mold or sits in the fridge for more than 5 days, it’s time for it to go.
  • Oats last for months past the date on the label. The less processed they are (steel cut or rolled oats), the longer they keep for.
  • Keep your oats in a sealed container in a cool and dry place. Your leftover oatmeal or overnight oats should always sit in the fridge.