Does sugar expire?

In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question “Does sugar expire? we will also discuss the shelf life of sugar as well as the best ways of storing it.

Does sugar expire?

Sugar is one of those products that does not have an expiration date, falling into the category of non-perishable goods. Thus, it can last indefinitely if well stored.

Actually, sugar exerts a preservative power in foods because it is able to create an inhospitable environment for spoilage and harmful microorganisms. 

The mechanism of inhibition of microorganisms by sugar is mainly by lowering the water activity of foods. This protective effect occurs because sugar binds surrounding water molecules, making them unavailable for microbial growth [1].

The long shelf life of sugars is because it rarely undergoes microbial spoilage if properly prepared, processed, and stored [2].

This is primarily due to the lack of sufficient moisture, which makes microorganisms unable to thrive in pure sugar environments [2].

On the other hand, many different types of sugar can be found in the market. Some of them may be more prone to spoilage than others. 

A recent study highlighted brown sugar contains 8% of moisture and impurities, which is higher than refined and crystal sugars [3].

For this reason, brown sugar is more susceptible to the lumpy and eventual growth of certain species of fungi and bacteria, especially if incorrectly stored [3].

However, if improperly stored, all types of sugar can lose quality over time. For instance, if kept in high-humidity places exposed to air, sugar may clump and acquiring off-flavors.  

Clump occurs because sugar is a hygroscopic material that attracts water molecules, binding to them. Moreover, sugar can absorb strong odors – even through plastic packaging [4].

Importantly, Jay and others [2] highlight that storing sugar in extremely high moisture conditions may favor the growth of microorganisms, such as some bacteria species. 

Finally, poorly cleaned pantries or unprotected sugar packs can make sugar a target to insects and other plague attacks that will ruin its quality. 

How long does sugar last?

Sugar may last indefinitely if properly stored, but sometimes manufacturers label a best-before date of 2 years for quality concerns such as lumpiness or hardening.

Past the best-before date, provided that it was well stored, sugar is still safe to consume. 

How To Keep Sugar Safe?

Store sugar in a cool, clean, odor-free and dry place. Keeping sugar away from moisture is key to its safety and quality, as moisture pickup will contribute sharply to its degradation.

Storage containers should be opaque, airtight, and moisture/ odor-proof [4].

The fridge and the typical retail paper package for sugars are not suitable for long-term storage. Polyethylene bags, food-grade plastic buckets, glass canning jars, and cans are all suggested for dry sugar storage [4]. 

How to tell if sugar has gone bad?

Generally speaking, sugar will survive indefinitely provided it is stored correctly, but in certain instances, it may be necessary to discard it.

The presence of bugs or insects in the bag

At any sign of the presence of insects, rodents, or other plagues, for instance, by noticing spoilage of sugar packs, or strange bodies mixed with sugar, it is advisable to toss the product. 

The sugar has a strange odor to it

Most of the time, this happens, because it picks up an odor from the surroundings. If such is the situation, feel free to toss it away for the sake of quality assurance.

Mold growth

It is not likely that microorganisms will develop in sugar unless they have been subjected to extremely inadequate storage conditions, and moisture has been absorbed from the environment. If you notice any mold in your sugar, it is better to discard it. 


Often sugar becomes hard or lumpy due to moisture pickup. This can be undone by chopping lumps in a food processor. Unless you see any clear sign of spoilage (e.g. molds), caking is not harmful to your health.

Can I consume expired sugar?

You can consume expired sugar as long as it has been properly stored and shows no sign of spoilage. 

Sugar is supposed to last endlessly, provided that it has been well stored and handled. The best-before date, if printed, is related to quality issues but not to safety [5]. 


In this short article, we provided an answer to the question “does sugar expire? we also discussed the shelf life of sugar as well as the best ways of storing it.


1. Man CMD. Technological functions of salt in food products. In: Kilcast D, Angus F, editors. Reducing Salt in Foods: Woodhead Publishing; 2007. p. 157-73.

2. Jay JM. Food – Microbiology. 6th Ed, Aspen Food Science, 2000


4. Andrade L de A, Medeiros SDS de, Borges MTMR. Avaliação das características físico-químicas do açúcar mascavo adicionado de açúcar bruto de alta polarização. Braz J Food Technol [Internet]. 2018;21:e2017199. Abstract in English.


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