sugar shelf life

Sugar Shelf Life: Can It Go Bad?

We all have sugar in our pantry. You can never run out of it as it’s a staple in every household.

So, you just found a long-forgotten pack of white sugar in the cupboard. You check the date, and it has passed the expiration date on the label. This situation leads you to one big question: Does sugar go bad? How long can you keep sugar?

We’ve all been there. Every now and then, we find something old in our food inventory. If you are curious about sugar’s shelf life, storage, and how to tell if sugar goes bad, keep reading! You’ll find all the answers in this article!

How To Store Sugar

We all know a bunch of sugar varieties that we usually use in our house.

When it comes to storage, it doesn’t really matter whether it is a white (granulated) sugar, sugar cubes, raw and unrefined sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, or coconut sugarall sugar needs to stay dry.

That being said, you should store your sugar inventory in a cool, dry area, away from heat and lights. Unopened packages can safely stand in your pantry. Keep sugar as is, no prep required. Make sure the packaging is perfect.

Meanwhile, opened packs of sugar are best stored in the cupboard or somewhere in the kitchen that’s easy to grab. Avoid storing sugar near a stove, oven, or windows where the temperature is too warm.

Sugar is a hygroscopic material that tends to absorb moisture from the environment. So, excess humidity is a real enemy for sugar. So, keeping sugar in a damp area or near a sink is never a good idea.

Once moisture or water gets into the container, sugar will harden and become clumpy. It’s not necessarily bad, but it creates an unnecessary problem in the kitchen.

Sugar is usually packed in either a paper bag, packets, or a resealable plastic pouch. If it is resealable, feel free to leave it like this after opening. Otherwise, you should transfer the sugar into a sealed airtight container. Or, just keep the whole pack into a sealed canister.

Either way, keep the container tightly sealed after use. Always use a clean spoon or measuring cup. Proper handling is vital to keep any nasty bugs away and to prevent the sugar from picking up odors from its surrounding.

Refrigeration is not recommended due to the risk of moisture build-up, which only makes your sugar lumpy.

Meanwhile, brown sugar tends to harden when the moisture is released into the environment. If you live in a very dry area, Domino Sugar suggests freezing brown sugar to keep it soft and prevent hardening. Thaw frozen sugar within 2 to 3 hours before use.

How Do You Tell If Sugar Is Bad?

Technically, sugar doesn’t go bad in a typical sense of food spoilage in fresh products. However, its quality can decrease during storage, mainly due to improper handling.

As mentioned earlier, sugar tends to attract and hold moisture. If that happens, sugar becomes clumpy and rock hard. 

How To Fix Hardened White Sugar

Don’t panic, there are a few ways to fix hardened sugar. Try it and see which method works best for you.

1. Break it up with a fork

If the clump is small and not that hard, you should easily break it up with a sharp object, like a fork.

2. Use a rolling pin, hammer, potato masher, or meat tenderizer

If the first method doesn’t work, try to break the clumps using a rolling pin, hammer, or a meat tenderizer. If this time it works, that’s good.

But, if you want a smoother consistency, put the sugar into a food processor or blender, and hit the pulse button for a few seconds. Don’t overdo it unless you want to make powdered sugar.

How To Soften Brown Sugar

In contrast to white sugar, brown sugar gets lumpy because it loses its moisture. So, what you need to do is to remoisturize the sugar.

1. Use a damp cloth

This method takes at least overnight up to two days. Place the hardened sugar in a container. Cover it with an aluminum foil. Then place a damp paper towel over the foil. Seal the container and check it the next day to see if the sugar is softened. Otherwise, leave it a little longer.

2. Microwave it

Place the sugar clumps in a microwave-safe container. Cover it with a damp paper towel or napkin. Turn on the microwave on high setting with an interval of 15 to 30 seconds.

3. Use an oven

Preheat the oven to 250ºC. Wrap the clumpy sugar in a damp cloth or paper towel and place it in an oven-proof pan. Heat it for a few minutes and watch carefully. As soon as the clumps start to soften, take them out. Be careful, it’s hot! 

So, when is the time to discard sugar?

If you forget to close the lid, bugs can enter and invade your sugar. So, if you find dead bugs, that’s gross, and it’s time to get rid of the sugar.

Another day, your sugar smells off or rancid. Perhaps, it has absorbed odors from other foods. This sugar won’t taste good on your coffee or whatever food you are making.

How Long Does Sugar Last?

With proper storage, sugar keeps for a very long time, or indefinitely. However, for the best quality, commercial sugar should be used within 18 to 24 months after the manufacturing date. That’s how we should interpret the “best by” or “use by” date. (*)

Beyond this date, sugar remains safe to use. Sometimes it gets clumpy or maybe smells a little off. If the quality drops too low, perhaps it’s best to discard it.

All kinds of sugar
–   Granulated (white) sugar
–   Powdered sugar/confectioner’s sugar/icing sugar
–   Brown sugar
–   Palm sugar, coconut sugar
Keeps indefinitely, use within 18 to 24 months for the best quality


Why does sugar have an expiration date?

An expiration date, whether it is a “best by” or a “use by” date, indicates when sugar should stay in its peak quality. It’s also useful for both retailers to rotate their stocks. As consumers, you should also look into this date before purchase. Make sure you have time to finish the product before its “best by” date to enjoy the prime quality.

Is it bad to use expired sugar?

Sugar remains safe to use beyond its expiration date. If you think that the quality is acceptable, no dead bugs spotted, feel free to use it.

Can you get sick from expired sugar?

Expired sugar won’t make you sick, but its quality degrades over time. Even so, consuming hard and dry sugar is still safe.

Final Thoughts

Sugar won’t spoil or go bad as other fresh produce does. Make sure you keep it dry and away from moisture to maintain its shelf life.

Store it at room temperature, and refrigeration won’t be necessary. Keep the container tightly closed after use.

Sugar keeps indefinitely, but for the best quality, it should be consumed within 18 to 24 months. Although sugar remains safe to use, the quality may slightly decline during storage.

expired sugar

Photo: jirkaejc/depositphotos

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