Raw oat dishes, such as overnight oats, are a great option for a healthy make-ahead breakfast or lunch. They can be endlessly customized to fit a variety of flavor preferences and dietary restrictions. However, raw oat dishes require different safety considerations than cooked oat dishes.
What Are Oats?
Oats are a type of cereal grain. The plant (Avena sativa) is harvested annually in the spring and then processed to produce the types of oat varieties that can be purchased from a grocery store. Traditionally, oats are cooked on a stovetop and eaten warm, but recipes using raw oats have grown in popularity. Raw-oat recipes offer a great alternative that can cut down on preparation time.
Oats can be purchased in many forms, which differ based on the way they are processed:
- dehusked grain kernels that have been cleaned and may have been steamed
Steel Cut Oats* or Pin Oats
- oat groats that have been cut into smaller pieces
*Refer to the manufacturer and product label/instructions to determine whether the oats you purchase can be safely consumed raw. Companies have different processes that may or may not allow raw consumption.
Rolled Oats (Old Fashioned Oats)
- oat groats that have been steamed, rolled under heavy machinery to be flattened, and dried to be shelf stable
Quick or Instant Oats
- rolled oats that have been steamed longer or rolled into smaller pieces to allow for quick cooking
- oat groats that have been ground into a fine meal
How to Store Oats
Oats are shelf-stable products that do not require refrigeration, but following these tips adapted from Michigan State University Extension can help extend the shelf life of store-bought oats (Nichols, 2017):
- Unopened dry oatmeal should be stored in a cool, clean, and dry place.
- Opened oatmeal should be stored and tightly covered in a resealable plastic bag or in a plastic or glass container. It is best practice to use opened oatmeal within one year.
- Dry oatmeal can also be stored in a freezer bag in the freezer for one year. The freezer should be at 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The “best by” or “best if used by” dates are really quality suggestions. The oatmeal after this date would still be safe to consume if it has been stored properly. Oatmeal can develop an off smell or flavor depending on where and how it was stored. Always look at, and smell, dry oatmeal before consuming or preparing it.
Oat Safety Considerations
- Ground raw rolled oats are often recommended as a safe substitution for raw wheat flour. This is because wheat flour should not be consumed raw (Penn State Extension, 2023). Raw rolled oats ground into a flour consistency can be used because the processing of rolled oats involves a steam-treating step that is generally sufficient to kill pathogenic bacteria, allowing them to be consumed raw with minimal risk to the consumer.
- Steel cut oats and oat groats are not subject to the additional heat treatment step that is applied when producing rolled oats. However, they may still be safe to consume raw. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions when determining if a raw oat product is suitable to eat without cooking.
- Oats do not contain wheat, but can be processed on the same equipment, which can result in contamination during storage, transportation, or processing. If following a gluten-free diet, purchase verified gluten-free rolled oats when consuming raw oats.
- Oats are a great source of fiber, which is important for feeling full.
- Oats also provide phosphorus, thiamine, magnesium, and zinc.
Basic Overnight Oats Recipe
Adapted from Food Network (2021).
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup milk (dairy, almond, or cashew milk
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup yogurt
- 1 teaspoon chia seeds (optional)
- a pinch of salt
- a drop of vanilla extract
- Add all ingredients to a clean container, such as a Mason jar, and stir or shake to thoroughly combine ingredients. The container should be thoroughly cleaned before adding the ingredients.
- Store in the refrigerator overnight or for at least six hours and up to two days.
- When ready to eat, add milk to thin oats to desired consistency and top with fruit, nuts, or other mix-ins.
Note: This recipe is customizable and can be adapted to fit many dietary preferences.
- dried blueberries, toasted walnuts, and a finely chopped apple
- dried cherries and almonds
- cinnamon, honey, and mashed or sliced banana
- chopped dates, walnuts, and sliced apple
- peanut butter and mashed bananas
- protein powder, honey, maple syrup, or other sweeteners
*Lactose-free yogurt and milk alternatives can be substituted in this recipe to adhere to a dairy-free diet.
Check out the following resources for more information about raw-oat safety:
- the safety of raw oatmeal
- the Nutrition Source
- nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods—a review
- commercial oats in gluten-free diet: a persistent risk for celiac patients
Food Network. (2021). What Are Rolled Oats? (Webpage). Retrieved from
Nichols, J. (2017). Dry oatmeal needs careful handling (Webpage). Retrieved from
Penn State Extension. (2023). Uncooked Flour: A Hazardous Ingredient? (Webpage). Retrieved from