Whether you are a cereal fanatic or you just want to know whether you can put the stuff in your long-term food storage, knowing how long cereal can last is essential. Is the expiration date accurate? How long will the taste and texture really last?
Once the expiration date has passed, cereal will last between 6-8 months if unopened. If it has been opened but stays properly sealed when not in use, it can last 1-4 months. It will largely still be safe to consume thereafter, but it will quickly become stale and the taste will be compromised.
But there is more to know about this wonderful, prepared food. Let’s dig into how to interpret the expiration date, what you can do to extend the life of your cereal even further, and what cereals you can store the longest.
“Best By” Expiration Dates
You will likely see a “best by” date on your cereal box, indicating the estimated date that quality will be lost from an unopened box of cereal. It is important to note, though, that these dates are not hard and fast and they’re not an indication of how long the food is safe to eat.
If you see a “use by” date, then it is a different story. “Use by” expiration dates are reserved for perishable items such as dairy and meat products that will harm the body if consumed later. Those dates should be observed steadfastly. You won’t, however, see these “use by” dates on any box of prepared cereal, meaning that they can be eaten for years after the date. The problem is taste.
Ever had a long-expired bowl of Lucky Charms? It’s not pretty.
By the way, here is a little not-so-fun fact about maximizing your length of time before expiration.
Everyone knows that leaving your cereal box open can shorten its life. But do you know just how drastic it is?
If you leave a box of cereal completely open—meaning that the flaps are ajar and the inner bag leaves some of the contents exposed—your cereal can go stale in less than a week.
Proper storage is everything!
And speaking of which, there are a few unconventional means of storing cereal that could lengthen its life more still.
How to Make Cereal Last Even Longer
The hard-core storage enthusiasts are sure to be asking, “But can you freeze cereal to make it last longer?!” The answer is yes, but the results are mixed.
The first problem with storing cereal in the freezer is the amount of space it takes. You could store meat and vegetables, much more nutritious and filling options, and they would take up less space than cereal while lasting just as long. Unless you want to survive on cereal in the apocalypse, use your precious freezer space wisely.
The second issue with freezing cereal is that the texture as you know it will be instantly lost. Freezing and thawing anything with such fragile integrity will always lead to an adverse result. While the taste will be maintained for longer than if you were to just leave it in the pantry, it’ll lose its crunch and texture. However, I have heard some people say that they just eat the cereal while still frozen to give it a crunch. If that’s your thing, freeze away!
Another option for increasing shelf life is to vacuum seal your cereal. People who do this say they still have fresh cereal for nearly 3 years. If you have a vacuum sealer, this is actually a pretty good option. Not only does it do more to keep out moisture; but it also conserves storage space in your pantry.
The only problem is that it needs to be resealed after every time it is opened to put it back in storage. But if you want to store cereal as part of your long-term food storage, then vacuum sealing is your best option.
What Cereal Lasts the Longest?
Not many people can answer this question, but I unofficially ran an inadvertent experiment in college to definitively determine the answer. Soft sugar-coated cereals like Fruit Loops, Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisp, etc. do not do very well when it comes to longevity, especially after the box has been opened.
What I found (and this seems to be the case with those I have talked to and other articles I have come across) is that dense cereals such as Grape Nuts and Shredded Wheat have the best chance of staying crunchy and flavorful. The former especially just never wants to die. It may be your grandma’s cereal and it may not taste like chocolate, but it could be the right choice for your emergency bunker (if there is such a cereal).
Long-Term Storage Alternatives to Cereal
If breakfast food storage is what you are looking for, there are a few options that will just flat-out last a lot longer than cereal.
A Family Home Storage no. 10 can of oats offers 30 years of freshness. Granted, these have been specifically treated with oxygen absorption and proper sealing. A can of Quaker won’t come near that number, but the dry-packed oats are easily accessible and quite affordable.
The same company offers dry-packed nonfat milk that lasts 20 years. I can tell you personally that, while it doesn’t taste just like milk, a 10-year-old pack of this stuff is definitely edible. You are missing out if you don’t have a box of it in your long-term storage.
Sugar and Flour
Though not specifically for breakfast, these are some of the most versatile food items around. You could make pancakes, waffles, scones, etc. for a whole family without putting a dent in your stash. Properly packed and sealed, a can of either can last up to 30 years if kept in a cool, dry place.