My family eats a lot of oats, so it is one of the staples that we have stockpiled in bulk for emergencies. Even though oats are considered “non-perishable,” they can actually go bad. But, if you store oats properly, they can actually last for 25+ years.
The following methods of storing oats apply to all types including:
- Steel cut oats (aka Irish oats)
- Rolled oats (aka whole oats or old-fashioned oats)
- Instant oats (aka quick oats)
- Oat flour
Reasons Oats Go Bad
To understand the best way to store oats for the long term, you must first understand why oats go bad. Then you can store your oats in a way that protects against them.
1. Pantry Moths and Pests
You can’t see them, but there’s a good chance that there are insect eggs in oats when you buy them. Indian meal moths are the biggest offenders but sometimes weevils or other insects get into stored oats too.
It can take weeks for the eggs to hatch into larvae. The larvae stage can last several more weeks. So, if you let a bag of oats sit around long enough, you might find it infested with moths when you open it. The infestation can then spread to other foods in your pantry.
There are several ways to prevent pantry pests in oats:
- Freeze the oats before storage
- Put the oats in the microwave
- Store in an oxygen-free environment
For more on this, read this post on How to Prevent Pantry Pests in Your Food Storage
Oats are like tiny little sponges: they will absorb moisture from the air. In high-humid climates, this can mean that your stored oats start to grow mold. The same applies if you store your oats somewhere with high humidity, like the basement or garage (which is never recommended).
Food starts to degrade when exposed to air. This is the reason that an apple will turn brown once you cut it open.
Oxidation generally won’t make oats go bad – at least not in the sense where they become unsafe to eat. However, oxidation destroys vitamins and other nutrients. Leave oats exposed to air long enough and they will lose much of their nutritious value.
4. Bad Smells
Just like how oats will absorb moisture from the environment, they will also absorb odors. If you store oats someplace like your basement, don’t be surprised if those start to taste like your basement! The oats will still be safe to eat but taste really gross.
Ways to Store Oats Long-Term
Pantry, in Original Packaging or Air-Tight Containers
Oats will last for a very long time with no special storage needed. I even had a baggie of oats get lost behind a shelf in my pantry. They were still fine when I found it years later. The oats probably lost a lot of their vitamin content and had a few moths in them but were still fine to eat (yes, I ate the moths).
Despite this, it’s still best to use oats stored in your pantry within 12-24 months. To protect against pantry pests, put the oats in the freezer for a few days to kill any insect eggs. Then store them in air-tight containers, such as mason jars or food-safe plastic containers.
If you live in a humid area, then you’ll need to protect the oats against moisture. Otherwise, they can start to grow mold. The easiest way to do this is to put a desiccant into the food storage container.
There are many things you can use as desiccants:
- Silica gel packets – Check On Amazon
- Calcium chloride (aka pickling lime) in a cloth bag – Check On Amazon
- Small cloth bag filled with rice
All grains, including oats, rice and flour, will last indefinitely in the freezer. The cold temperature protects against oxidation and also kills any insect eggs.
I personally am not a big fan of storing large amounts of grains in the freezer. I’d rather use my precious freezer space for items that can’t be stored in the pantry.
However, if you don’t use oats that often and don’t want to deal with repackaging them, then the freezer is a good storage option. Just make sure you let the oats come to room temperature before using them in any baked goods.
The best way to store oats long-term (more than a year) is with oxygen absorbers. These are little packets of iron that absorb oxygen from the air. Insects and their eggs can’t survive without oxygen, so the oats will be safe from pests. Oxidation also won’t occur, so the oats will stay fresh and retain their nutrients. Oats stored with oxygen absorbers can last 25+ years.
For oxygen absorbers to work, the oats must be in air-tight packaging. Some options are:
Mylar bags are made from a metallic-like material that doesn’t let any air pass through. Put the oats in the Mylar bag, add OAs, and seal. Oats stored this way can last 25+ years. Read more about how to use Mylar bags here.
Buckets with gamma lids:
Food-grade buckets that use gamma lids provide a very secure seal. You can put a large amount of oats into the bucket, throw some oxygen absorbers on top, and then seal the bucket. This is a good way to store large amounts of oats. The only downside is that you’ll need to add more oxygen absorbers each time you open the bucket.
If you have access to a canning machine, you can store oats in #10 cans. Ultimately, I don’t recommend this because the cans are so expensive. It often ends up cheaper to just buy oats in #10 cans. Lots of survival food brands sell these. Read more about #10 cans here.
*Read more about how to use oxygen absorbers here.
**If you want to use desiccants and oxygen absorbers, the desiccant should go on the bottom of the container.
What about vacuum sealing?
Vacuum sealing removes air from the package. For foods that are sensitive to air, vacuum sealing can really extend shelf life. However, it really doesn’t make that much of a difference: the oats won’t last much longer in vacuum sealer bags than they would in their original packaging.
Further, those vacuum sealer bags aren’t completely air-tight: some air and moisture will get through tiny holes in the bag. Speaking from experience, moths can also chew through vacuum sealer bags. So, if you want to store oats long-term, you are better off using oxygen absorbers + Mylar bags.
How Long Will Oats Last?
Oats will typically last 6-24 months in the pantry. If you store oats with oxygen absorbers in airtight packaging, then they can last 25+ years.
Some types of oats will last much longer than others though. Steel-cut oats (which are oat grains that have been chopped up) contain a lot of natural oils. These oils are very sensitive and will eventually start to go rancid, especially in the presence of oxygen or heat.
By contrast, rolled oats and instant oats are steamed and then flattened. This processing helps stabilize the oils, so these types of oats will last the longest. Oat flour is very finely ground and has more surface area, so it will last slightly less.
Oat bran is the outer husk of whole oat groats. Bran contains a lot of natural oils, so it will go bad in about just 3 months. It isn’t recommended to store oat bran long-term, even with oxygen absorbers.
Most oatmeal packets contain powdered milk. The milk’s fats will start to go rancid over time, so oatmeal packets usually have the same shelf life as powdered milk.
Oat Shelf Life
|Type||Pantry||With Oxygen Absorbers|
|Steel cut oats||12-18 months||5-15 years|
|Rolled oats||12-24 months||25+ years|
|Instant oats||12-24 months||25+ years|
|Oat flour||6-12 months||10+ years|
|Oat bran||3-12 months||Not recommended|