When you're hungry or low on cash, a trip to your storage room may yield a box of expired cereal. Before you crack open the box and dig in, ensure that you're willing to eat old cereal.
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While safety-wise it should be fine, it may not have the best taste or texture and also could have lost some nutritional value. Carefully rotating your food storage can help prevent your cereal from going past its expiration date before you have a chance to dig in.
Read more: Healthy Cereals With No Sugar
While eating expired cereal isn't necessarily dangerous, the quality of your food, such as the taste, texture and nutritional content, can be compromised.
Food Safety and Expired Cereal
The purpose of expiration dates is to alert consumers when a food should be consumed by. After the expiration date, the manufacturing company makes no claims about the nutrition values, taste, texture and quality of a product.
Certain types of food survive well after the expiration date. Dairy products and fresh foods are usually the first to go sour, while unprocessed pantry foods like cereals, rice, nuts and beans can be stored and used well past the manufacturer's expiration date, as explained by the USDA.
According to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, cereal is safe to consume for 12 months past its package date — as long as the inner bag is intact and sealed.
Maintain Taste, Texture and Nutrition
The first thing you may notice when you open a box of old cereal is that it may not have the same taste and texture as usual.
While old cereal is technically safe to eat, you take a risk in eating cereal that may taste strange or is softer or more limp than before the expiration date. To minimize changes in flavor and texture, store your ready-to-eat cereals in a cool, dry space.
If you leave cereal on the shelf and it begins to deteriorate, you could experience a deterioration in the quality of the cereal as well as the taste. Certain nutritionally fortified cereals can lose some of their nutritional value after long months of sitting on the shelf.
If you're relying on old cereal to help provide some of your daily requirements for vitamins and minerals, you may want to look elsewhere to supplement your choice.
Read more: 11 Healthy Fortified Cereals and 10 to Avoid
Beware Insect Infestation
Cereal, rice, beans and other dry goods are magnets for certain insects like boll weevils that like to invade your pantry. If you leave a box of cereal on the shelf for a long period of time before trying to eat it, you may be greeted by a host of pests.
Help avoid insect infestation by inspecting boxes for signs of damage periodically and before you pour the cereal into a bowl. As the University of Arkansas System points out, foods can also be infested by bugs before purchase. Keep your pantry clean and dry, with all packaging well-sealed.