Does Sugar Go Bad? [Shelf Life, Storage, and Expiration]

Here’s all about the shelf life, storage, and expiration of sugar. Learn whether it expires or not, what’s the best way to store it, and when to toss it.

Found a bag of sugar sitting in the cupboard for who knows how long and not sure if it’s still usable? Does sugar go bad?

Or maybe your sugar looks or smells iffy, and you want to ensure if it’s still usable.

If either sounds like you, you’re in the right place. Read on.


This article is about granulated white sugar. If you’re interested, we have separate articles about brown sugar (Does Brown Sugar Go Bad?) and powdered sugar (Does Powdered Sugar Go Bad?).

Sugar cubes
(credit: uwehermann)

Does Sugar Expire?

Sugar doesn’t go bad as long as you keep it away from moisture and pantry bugs. If you store it properly, it stays safe to use for years past the printed date, though it retains best quality for about two years of packaging.

That’s the key takeaway.

Next, let’s talk about how that works.

Sugar is a hygroscopic substance, which means it attracts water molecules. When any bacteria lands on top of sugar, the water from the bacteria is transferred to sugar via the process called osmosis.

Osmosis moves the water from a region of higher concentration to a region of lower concentration. And since there’s pretty much no water in sugar, almost all of the water in the bacteria gets transferred to sugar. At that point, the bacteria dies of dehydration.

That’s, broadly, how sugar inhibits microbial growth.

Put another way, sugar is a very difficult environment for bacteria to multiply or even live in.

(Yeah, there might be some dead bacteria in your sweet tea. Try not to think about next time you take a sip.)

Sugar cubes on red background
(credit: Mae Mu)

How Long Does Sugar Last?

Sugar retains best quality for about two years of packaging, but lasts indefinitely if you keep it away from moisture, heat, and pantry pests. The best-by date on the label is there because sugar tends to harden or get lumpy after prolonged storage, though those issues are easy to fix.

If there are some small clumps in the sugar, you can break them apart with a fork. For larger ones or lots of small ones, bring out the big guns, such as a blender, electric mixer, or a food processor.

That means that your package of granulated sugar sitting in the cabinet for how knows how long is most likely perfectly fine. Just as your old table salt is okay to use.

Eggs and sugar
Eggs and sugar

How To Tell If Sugar Is Bad?

Sugar basically lasts forever if you store it properly, but in certain cases, you might need to discard it.

Discard your sugar if:

  • There are insects or bugs in the bag, either dead or alive. In most cases, they find their way into the package and die there. If you find any, get rid of that sugar.
  • You can see mold or any other organic growth. The presence of any type of fuzz or other microbial growth (anything that looks alive, basically) indicates that water and microbes got into the package. And by water, I mean more than a few droplets. If that’s the case, grab a new bag.

Those are the typical signs of spoiled sugar. Next up, let’s talk about smelly sugar.

Why Does My Sugar Smell Bad?

Your sugar smells off most likely because it absorbed the odor from another food you stored nearby.

If that’s the case, it’s okay to use it, but remember that some of that odor might transfer to whatever dish you’re using the sugar for. That, in most cases, renders the sugar useless.

Now, if your sugar smells weird and the odor doesn’t resemble that of any of the nearby foods, throw it out that sugar no matter what. In that case, you don’t know why it smells bad, and that’s enough to toss it. Better safe than sorry.

Finally, let’s talk about storing sugar.

How To Store Sugar

Store sugar in a cool and dry place, away from any sources of heat. Once you open the package, the safest way is to transfer the sugar into an airtight container.

As you can tell, you store sugar the same way you store other dry goods such as rice or a popular sugar alternative – xylitol.

The most important thing is to keep sugar away from any moisture. It usually comes in paper bags that don’t provide any protection from water, so you must take care of that yourself.


A container has the benefit of protecting the sugar from any odors and pantry bugs.

Of course, leaving white sugar in its original packaging is okay too. Just make sure water or steam can’t reach it, and there aren’t any strong smells nearby.

Read more: How to store sugar?

How to store white sugar - bag sealed with a clip
How to store white sugar – bag sealed with a clip

FAQs about Sugar

Does Caster Sugar Go Off? How Long Does It Last?

Caster sugar, like regular sugar, lasts pretty much forever. It’s a refined white sugar that’s quite popular in Britain and Australia. It doesn’t go bad because it’s basically granulated sugar, just slightly finer than the regular one.

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