If you’ve ever wondered why sugar goes bad, there are a number of factors that can cause it to happen, and there are also several ways to prevent it.
Maybe you just came across an old bag of sugar in your pantry and want to know if it’s still okay to use it in a recipe or put in your coffee. Or, maybe you just exposed your sugar to something and are worried it won’t be edible now. In either case, you need to figure out if you should discard it or if it’s still okay to eat.
There are 5 reasons why sugar can go bad:
- It has been exposed to moisture
- It has been infested by pantry pests
- It has been left out in the elements
- It has been mixed with something else
- It has been opened, but not used, for a long period of time
Most of us have at least one kind of sugar tucked into our pantry. Whether it’s white, brown, powdered, or otherwise, sugar is an important part of our baking and cooking needs. There is nothing less satisfying than opening up a bag of sugar to find that it no longer seems to be as fresh as the last time you used it. But knowing when you can use it or if you should throw it away will be more apparent once you know what can cause sugar to go bad, and what you should be looking for before you make that call.
I love to cook and can’t stand when I reach for an item and I realize its shelf life has expired. Trying to determine whether or not I can use it is sometimes frustrating, especially if I don’t have time to run to the store, or my budget is tight. Luckily, figuring out if sugar is fine to use is not that hard. And, there are some great, inexpensive ways to prevent it from being a concern in the future!
5 Reasons Why Sugar Goes Bad
Our love of sugar dates back to prehistoric times when sugar canes were chewed on for enjoyment. Throughout the centuries, every civilization has prioritized sugar as a mainstay in our diets for its ability to sweeten foods and its seemingly endless shelf life.
It is hard to spoil sugar. Because of its properties, sugar is not a natural habitat for bacteria to grow and therefore most organisms won’t be attracted to it, unless conditions are quite severe.
For this reason, it takes a lot to make sugar go bad. But, when it does, it should be discarded because it can make you ill like any other food that has spoiled.
Knowing that it takes a lot to make sugar go bad is a good thing for those of us who like to cook and bake. But knowing what will make it go bad, how to prepare for that, and how to prevent it, is helpful as well.
1. It Has Been Exposed to Moisture
One of the biggest culprits to ruining your sugar is moisture.
If you have a bag of sugar that has gotten wet, or someone spills water into your container of sugar, chances are you’ll know right away.
Sugar tends to “clump up” when it’s exposed to water molecules. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but can become problematic if not addressed.
If you see a clump in your bag of sugar and you know it’s due to moisture, or water exposure, try breaking the clump up. It should be relatively easy.
If, on the other hand, the clump stays hard, or you smell something strange, the sugar’s exposure to moisture may have been significant or long enough that it is now growing mold.
If that’s the case, the sugar should be discarded.
2. It Has Been Infested by Pantry Pests
Another surefire way for your sugar to go bad is if it gets invaded by insects…”pantry pests”, as I like to call them.
If you happen to see some not-so-welcome visitors in your sugar, chances are you have an infestation of Sugar Mites, Grain Beetles, or Weevils in your pantry.
Though these little pests won’t hurt you, they are not pleasant to find in your food and probably shouldn’t be ingested.
It’s hard to get rid of these pesky little pests, so your best recourse is going to be to toss your sugar once you discover them.
You will probably also have to toss other items in your pantry, as the mites, beetles and weevils have probably also had an eating fest in your other pantry items as well.
3. It Has Been Left Out in the Elements
Another common cause for sugar to go bad is if it’s left out in the elements for too long.
As I mentioned above, water and sugar don’t mix (unless you intentionally want them to!)
Leaving a container of sugar outside in the rain will most likely make it unsalvageable. And, too much exposure to sunlight won’t necessarily make your sugar go bad, but it may change the taste enough that it won’t be desirable to you in your next cup of coffee or baked dish.
If you are going to take sugar outside, on a camping trip or picnic outing, make sure to seal it well or be prepared to toss it when you bring it back indoors.
4. It Has Been Mixed With Something Else
Though sugar is a true pantry staple and has a shelf life that will allow it to stay there for extremely long periods of time, if its pure form is compromised, it can go bad.
I’ve already discussed how water can cause sugar to mold if left for a long period of time, but other liquids can cause sugar to go bad much more quickly.
Any food item that contains fats or proteins will change the form of sugar and cause it to go rancid if left unattended.
A perfect example of this would be if a spoon or measuring cup was used to hold butter or milk and was then placed into a container of sugar.
Once the already-used spoon or cup has touched sugar, the whole container will start to go bad unless the exposed sugar is discarded.
5. It Has Been Opened, But Not Used, for a Long Period of Time
Yes, sugar has an extremely long shelf life, but like all good things, at some point, that will end.
Though a bag of sugar in your pantry may never fully go bad on its own, there will come a time when it starts to lose its taste, and the consistency of it will change.
If your sugar is properly stored, this will take a significantly long time. Sugar left in its original bag will begin to change eventually.
Most food experts agree that a bag of sugar should probably be discarded after about two years of sitting on your pantry shelf. After that, it just won’t serve its purpose as well in most foods.
If stored correctly, however, you will be able to keep it on your shelf for a much longer time.
How to Prevent Sugar from Going Bad
Finding a way to store your sugar for the long haul is easier than ever, thanks to several storage options available.
Most cooking and baking enthusiasts will suggest a simple, straightforward approach to sugar storage.
Purchasing a container that has been specifically designed to store items like sugars will be the best way for you to ensure your sugar won’t be exposed to moisture, pests, or other environmental factors that can reduce its long shelf life.
These containers come in all sorts of sizes, colors, and price points. Once you determine how accessible you want the sugar to be, how much you are going to store, and how much you want to spend, you will be able to find the right container to meet your needs.
About THE AUTHOR
I have over a decade of experience in food and beverage management, including a ServSafe food safety qualification. As part of this qualification, I have been professionally trained in safe food storage.Read More About Mark Walker