Does Sugar Go Bad? How Long Does Sugar Last?

Sugar is a common ingredient in cooking and supposed to last a long time. But how long does it last before it goes bad? And how do we know if it’s gone bad?

Quick Answer

Your sugar might last for years, but without proper storage will become contaminated: 

  • If your sugar isn’t stored in a cool, dry place it could get moisture in it, leading to mold
  • Improperly stored sugar can also lead to insects getting inside
  • Sugar should also be stored away from anything with a strong odor since sugar absorbs odors
  • Even if it’s stored the right way, it’s best to pay attention to the sugar’s “best by” date. 

Here is a handy guide to how long your sugar should last, when it has gone bad, and some ways to make it last as long as possible.

Does Sugar Go Bad? How Long Does Sugar Last?

Under the right circumstances, sugar can last for a very long time because of its chemical composition, which is anti-bacterial in nature.  But, how long can it last?

How Long Does Sugar Last Outside?

In the right environment, that is, in a cool, dry pantry or cupboard, granulated sugar could last for years after opening.

It is a good idea to get rid of it around two years or so: Even if you don’t see any signs of it going bad. If there is a “best by” date on the package, you don’t have to follow it, although it’s a good idea.

Over time, the sugar could absorb smells: Sugar that has been around for a while won’t taste quite the same as it did when it was new, but it would still be edible.  Powdered sugar has a similar shelf life, and around 18 months is recommended for brown sugar.

How Long Does Sugar Last in the Fridge?

You can store your sugar in the refrigerator under the right circumstances, but it’s not generally recommended.  How long it lasts depends on how exposed it is to the air and moisture inside the fridge.

A refrigerator has more moisture in it than a pantry: Because of its cooling methods, fridges are wetter than usually recommended for storing white sugar.  It can be placed in an air-tight package that will keep the moisture out better, letting the sugar last longer.

Sugar is a preservative: Sugar’s chemical makeup means that it can stay good outside of the fridge, so you don’t need to store it in a fridge

How Long Does Sugar Last in the Freezer?

How long sugar lasts in the freezer depends on how much air-tight the packaging is.  If less air gets in, less moisture gets in.

Brown sugar is the one that freezes best: While you can freeze the other kinds of sugar, it’s usually easier to store them in the pantry due to the freezer having a lot of moisture in it.

Freezing can keep brown sugar from getting hard:  Brown sugar becomes hard when it’s kept in a dry place for too long.   Putting your brown sugar in an air-tight container in the freezer can prevent moisture from escaping, keeping the sugar soft when it thaws out.

Even if properly stored, your sugar will last longer if you make sure to check on it for any signs of contaminants.

How Do You Know if Your Sugar is going bad?

While sugar may last a long time, contaminants and other things can get into it through air or water if the packaging isn’t air-tight.

Mold: Normally sugar is anti-bacterial because it pulls the water out of the bacteria that gets into it, killing it.  This changes when water gets into the sugar, by humidity, or by being too close to a water source.  If the sugar gets damp for long enough, mold will eventually form.

Insects: Humans aren’t the only animals that love sugar.  Insects like ants, fruit flies, and some kinds of mites will not only eat sugar but sometimes lay their eggs in it.  Some insects will even die in it if they get trapped.  If you see any insects in or around your sugar, living or dead, then it’s time to toss it.  The same goes for insect eggs.  Make sure to look closely at your sugar before you use it.

Strange smells: While it isn’t actually a sign that your sugar is going bad, sugar’s chemical components absorb odors from nearby foods or other places.  This affects how the sugar smells and tastes, even if technically speaking it’s the same sugar and won’t actually harm anyone who eats it.

How Do You Store Sugar?

Sugar is at its best when it’s stored in a cool, dry place without any moisture.  There are different kinds of containers made for this purpose.

Paper packages: This works the best for white sugar in the short term.  While storing sugar in its package is the cheapest and quickest option, it’s not the most air-tight.

Tupperware: Tupperware is air-tight, but it’s one of the more expensive options.

Sealable plastic bags: These are cheap, space-efficient, and you can be seal them to be air-tight.  Some brands even come with labels to know the date.  Make sure that they’re fully sealed without excess air if you use them.  You can also use bags for different layers, like putting the sugar in a plastic bag and then in a piece of Tupperware.

Glass Jars: The kind of glass jars used for canning and making preserves are one of the more environmentally safe options

Frequently Asked Questions About Sugar’s Shelf Life

Sugar has a recommended use-by date of approximately two years after it’s packaged.  Here are some questions you might have about it.

My sugar has gone past its “best by” date, should I use it?

Sugar is a preservative, so the “best by” date is more of a quality-based date rather than a health-based one.  If you see no signs of bugs, mold, or strange smells, it should be okay to use.

What is the shelf life of artificial sugars?

Artificial sugar is like natural sugars.  If kept away from contaminants in a cool, dry place, you won’t have any trouble.

What if my sugar has lumps in it or becomes hard?

White sugar getting hard is NOT a sign that it is going bad, but it means that your sugar has become moist.  Humidity increases the chances for sugar to get moisture in it, decreasing its shelf life and causing it to clump.  The problem is solved by placing something inside the sugar container to wick away the moisture.  Some places sell clay bears that can do that, and cheaper options include a slice of bread, an apple slice, a handful of white rice placed in a mesh bag, and a cracker.

How do I make brown sugar soft?

Brown sugar has the opposite problem to white sugar; it contains molasses, which gets hard when it dries.  If it goes hard, that is a sign that it’s begun to dry out.  This can be fixed in several ways, such as by using a rolling pin or meat tenderizer on it.  You can also cover it with a moist paper towel and put it in a microwave for a few seconds.

Wrap Up

Sugar is an excellent example of a preservative, which has the benefit of lasting a long time under the right circumstances, but it can be contaminated or go bad.  The best thing to do if you aren’t sure is to check it before you use it.

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