Can candy canes go bad?

In this brief study, we will answer the question, “can candy go bad?” Additionally, we will explain the shelf life and storage of candy canes.

Can candy canes go bad?

Candy canes will rarely go bad in a way that can make you sick. They will simply lose quality to a level that they do not look appetizing. The best-before date of candy canes is about one year.

A candy cane is composed basically of sugar, corn syrup, flavoring, food coloring, and water. They will unlikely undergo microbial spoilage because the high concentration of sugars makes the canes an adverse environment for them.

This happens because when added to foods, sugar holds water molecules tight to it, leaving them unavailable to other interactions, like being used for microorganisms’ growth.

There is a technical way to say that: sugar reduces the water activity (Aw) of the canes to such a low level that microorganism growth, including those causing spoilage and diseases,  is no longer possible [1].

Despite being microbiologically safe, candy canes will experience a quality drop over time, becoming sticky, gritty, flavorless, or colorless. 

All of these reactions take place mainly after opening the candy cane box and can be quickened by incorrect storage conditions (heat, moisture).      

How Long Do Candy Canes Keep Their Freshness?

After opening, candy canes can keep fresh for a while as long as they are properly stored. Providing that the candy cane is maintained in immaculate condition and that the wrapper is not punctured or broken, a candy cane has a shelf life of about one year [2].

Signs that your candy canes have reached the end of their lifespan

When determining whether or not your candy cane has gone bad, there are many signs to watch out for. 

  • Sweet canes are well-known for their mild to medium peppermint flavor. So if you rip off the wrapper, put the candy into your mouth, and find it’s completely flavorless, it is because the cane candy has gone bad.
  • Besides losing its peppermint flavor, candy canes can develop off flavors, characterized by unpleasant tastes or odors.  
  • Colors may also fade away, indicating the poor quality of your sweet.
  • The wrapper of the candy cane should easily pull away from the cane. If you are having trouble removing the wrapper off the candy cane, this is a signal that the candies picked up water from their surroundings.

This increase in moisture content forms a dilute sugar solution on the surface of the sweet making the surface sticky and even cloudy [1].

This diluted sugar solution also favors sugar crystallization, giving a gritty texture to the candy and later, even a cloudy appearance [1]. Heat exposure can also favor sugar crystalization.  

Incorrect storage is the main cause of these undesirable reactions.

  • Unless you ripped the candy cane accidentally while taking it from the box or putting it on the table, avoid consuming one that has a torn wrapper or has been pierced. Because of the broken wrapper, the candy cane has been exposed to elements, bacteria, and even insects.

Is it OK to eat a candy cane that has expired?

From a microbiological point of view, and as long as it has been correctly stored, expired candy canes are safe to eat because dangerous bacteria cannot grow in such a highly sweet environment.

But if your sweet looks odd, melted, sticky, with strange odors or flavors, or corrupted packages, it is not recommended to eat it.  

The Most Effective Method of Storing Candy Canes

Candy canes are very easy to preserve since they are packed in their original packaging. Usually, packs and wrapping materials of candy canes are water-proof and avoid water pick up.

A general rule to follow is to keep your candy in a cool, dry, and dark place, preferentially at room temperature [3]. 

Candies do not like to be too hot because high temperatures can discolor, melt, or warp candy. They also do not like humidity, because water promotes sugar crystallization and a sticky appearance [1, 2]. 

Also, keep the packages (box if available, and wrapping paper) free from any damage. This will avoid moisture pickup and insect attacks.


In this brief study, we answered the question, “can candy go bad?” Additionally, we explained the shelf life and storage of candy canes.


1.  Misfists H. Application Properties of Glucose Syrups. Wiley Blackwell 2010.