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Is It OK to Eat Expired Cereal and How Can You Tell if Cereal Has Gone Bad?

There’s an old box of cereal in the cabinet that’s passed its “best-by” date, and you’re not sure what to do. Is it okay to eat expired cereal?

Or maybe your cereal is still within date but smells kind of weird. And you’re debating whether you should discard it or eat it anyway.

That brings the question: how can you tell if cereal has gone bad?

While cereal is a breakfast staple in many households, especially if you have kids, it’s not always clear how to go about the date on the label or when to discard the product.

If you’d like to learn more about those topics, read on.

Bag of Cheerios cereal

How Long Does Cereal Stay Good For?

Cereals last for months past the dates on their labels, but not all are created equal. The more ingredients prone to quality loss, such as whole wheat flour or nuts, the shorter the cereal will retain quality. Plain cereals keep quality the longest.

As you can tell, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of answer here. It all depends on the ingredients.

As you probably know, fats go rancid after being exposed to air, heat, and light for an extended period. And both whole wheat flour and nuts contain fat.

Because of that, cereals that include those might start to smell rancid or paint-like at some point.

Date on cereal label
Date on cereal label

Other ingredients, such as some dried fruit or flavorings, might simply not keep quality for more than a year or two. And if your cereal includes those, they might gradually lose flavor after sitting in storage for a long time.

Cereals are often fortified with various vitamins and minerals, and some of those don’t last that long. That means that while your cereal might be fine (flavor-wise), you might not get the full nutritional benefit if it’s months past its date.

Cereal up close
Cereal up close

Does Dry Cereal Expire? Is It Safe to Eat Expired Cereal?

Dry cereal doesn’t really expire, and it’s perfectly okay to eat cereal that’s past its date. Just make sure it’s is safe to eat before your make your breakfast, and you’re set.

If yours is really old (like 3+ years), it most likely will be an okay-ish experience instead of a great one, but that’s about it.

The date on the label is only an estimate of how long the cereal keeps quality, and it’s usually a pretty safe one. It’s usually 9 months to a year from the production date, while most cereals easily keep in decent shape for 2+ years.

If your cereal is loaded with ingredients that don’t retain quality for that long, you shouldn’t expect it to keep for more than a couple of months past its date.

Milk and cereal

How To Tell If Cereal Has Gone Bad?

Discard cereal that:

  • Smells like paint or rancid oil. That odor is caused by fat that’s gone rancid. While eating such cereal likely won’t be harmful, it’s better to err on the side of caution and throw out the package.
  • Has pantry bugs in the box. Like with sugar or flour, the presence of any pests, either dead or alive, means the product is spoiled. And make sure you go through other products that you store in the same cabinet and get rid of all the bugs that might be hiding there.
  • Is moldy. If water got inside, mold might form, especially if your cereal contains dried fruit. If you notice any mold, throw out the whole package.
  • Looks or smells off. If there’s anything that doesn’t qualify as one of the above but still makes you think that cereal is bad, assume you’re right and throw away the package. This pantry staple doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, so opening a new bag is the way to go here.
Bowl of Cheerios
Bowl of Cheerios

If everything about your cereal up to this point seems fine, eat some (dry) to assess the taste. If the flavor is okay or only a tad bit stale, feel free to prep your breakfast.

Salmonella contamination in cereals happens in the factory. If the producer catches that, they usually recall the whole series that might be affected. In other words, it’s not something that can (typically) happen at home, and definitely not something caused by prolonged storage.

Cheerios for breakfast
Cheerios for breakfast

How To Store Cereal

Store cereal in a cool and dry place, tightly sealed. Once you open the package, it’s best to transfer its contents to an airtight container, but in most cases, using a sealing clip is good enough.

That’s pretty much all there is to storing cereal – you just stick the bag or container in a cabinet in the kitchen, and it can sit there for months or even years.

If you have a problem with pantry bugs, definitely go with airtight containers. That sealing clip isn’t enough to keep those pests from infesting the bag. And seal your granola too.

Cereal bag sealed with a sealing clip
Cereal bag sealed with a sealing clip


  • Cereals last for months past their dates. The plain ones usually retain quality longer than those with nuts, dried fruit, or extra flavoring.
  • If your cereal smell rancid or foul, is infested by pantry bugs, or moldy, throw it out.
  • Store cereal in a dry and cool place. If you have an issue with pantry bugs, transfer cereals to an airtight container after opening.