How to Store Sugar for The Long Term


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Last Updated: June 2, 2021

Sugar is one of those foods which will last forever, even without any special packaging.  However, it’s not recommended to keep sugar in its original packaging.

Here’s what you need to know about storing sugar for the long term.

Does White Sugar Go Bad?

White sugar has a forever shelf life and will never go bad. However, if exposed to moisture, sugar can turn into a rock-hard clump.  This does not mean the sugar has gone bad but does make it harder to use.

Likewise, if sugar is not stored properly, insects and other pests can get into your sugar and contaminate it.  Sugar can also absorb bad smells from whatever is stored nearby.

Best way to store white sugar:

White sugar needs to be kept in air-tight containers.  This will protect it from pantry pests and also help prevent it from turning into a rock-hard clump.  You’ll also want to make sure the sugar is kept away from household chemicals or anything with bad smells.  If sugar is kept in your basement, for example, it will start to get a musty smell to it.

Smaller quantities of sugar can be stored in mason jars or food-grade plastic containers with air-tight seals. If you want to store larger amounts of sugar, food-grade buckets with gasket lids are a good option.  The gasket lid (aka gamma lid) provides a tight seal.

As an extra precaution, some people put the sugar in sealed Mylar bags before putting it into the bucket.  This helps keep the sugar from clumping. It also protects the sugar from damage from natural disasters, such as earthquakes and flooding, and also makes it easier to use the sugar.

gamma lid

Gasket lids (above) are recommended when storing bulk sugar in buckets.

Does Brown Sugar Go Bad?

Like white sugar, brown sugar lasts forever.  However, brown sugar contains a lot of moisture.  As it dries out, the texture can change, it can clump, or it can turn into a rock-hard lump.  Because of this, most sources will only put the shelf life of brown sugar at around 2 years. You can still use brown sugar which is clumpy or rock-hard though.

Best way to store brown sugar:

Brown sugar should be kept in an air-tight container.  Put a clay disk in the container with the sugar.  This will keep the brown sugar moist and prevent it from clumping. If stored long enough though, the brown sugar will still eventually clump.

For emergency preparedness, a lot of people don’t bother storing brown sugar.  Instead, they store white sugar and molasses.  The two can be mixed together to make brown sugar.

Does Powdered Sugar Go Bad?

Powdered sugar never goes bad.  However, because it quickly starts clumping, most manufacturers will usually put a “best by” date of 2 years on powdered sugar. However,  It is subject to the same issues as white granular sugar though, so you’ll want to make sure it is stored in an air-tight container.

Best way to store powdered sugar:

Store powdered sugar in air-tight containers away from bad smells.  If you want to store powdered sugar long-term, your best option is to put the bags of powdered sugar directly into a bucket with a gasket lid; it will be fine indefinitely. Alternatively, you can put the powdered sugar into sealed #10 cans or Mylar bags.

Can I Use Oxygen Absorbers with Sugar?

Do NOT use oxygen absorbers with sugar. Sugar doesn’t go bad, so there is no reason to use oxygen absorbers: it won’t help the sugar last any longer.  Further, oxygen absorbers will turn the sugar into a rock-hard clump.

There is also some debate as to whether oxygen absorbers could result in botulism poisoning with brown sugar (botulism only grows in moist, oxygen-less environments).  While it isn’t likely you’d get botulism from brown sugar, it’s still better not to use oxygen absorbers with it.

Read more about using oxygen absorbers for food storage.

Can I Vacuum Seal Sugar?

You can vacuum seal sugar but there really isn’t much of a point.  Air doesn’t cause sugar to go bad, so vacuum sealing to remove the air won’t help the sugar last longer.

Further, vacuum sealer bags aren’t completely impervious: they will let some air and moisture through.  In the short-term, vacuum sealing will prevent brown sugar and powdered sugar from clumping. But, if you store them long enough, they will still clump.

Can I Freeze Sugar?

You can freeze all types of sugar but it isn’t recommended.  Sugar has a high surface area so will quickly absorb bad smells from inside your freezer.  Freezing won’t help prevent clumping either.  The only real reason to freeze sugar is if you have issues with pests getting into your sugar supply.  If you do want to freeze sugar, make sure it is in an air-tight container.

Can I Refrigerate Sugar?

You definitely don’t want to refrigerate any type of sugar.  The main reason is that refrigerators typically have lots of bad odors in them which the sugar will quickly absorb.  Refrigerators are also very high humidity, so the sugar will clump quickly in the refrigerator.  If you have issues with pests getting into your sugar, it is better to invest in better-quality storage containers or freeze the sugar.

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  1. Storing brown sugar does not have to be necessary as long as you have white sugar and molasses on hand. I make my brown sugar as I need it. Mix one tablespoon of molasses into one cup of white sugar. I’ve done this for years.

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    • That’s a great tip, thanks! I also stockpile molasses, but more as a source of iron than for making brown sugar. I mix molasses with peanut butter and spread it on apples or crackers. Delicious.

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  2. If I don’t learn it from the site I learn it from readers’ posts. Thanks for posting that recipe! One last thing to worry about.

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    • Good question — I’ll update the post to address that. No, you don’t need a desiccant when packing sugar or salt. It won’t do any harm but it could cause them to clump (which also isn’t harmful but it’s a pain when you’ve got to use a chisel to hack up your sugar or salt!). Instead, I’d just recommend making sure it is a dry day when you pack your food. That advice applies to ALL foods though. If you live somewhere humid, then get your AC going for a while to dry the air out.

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  3. Am confused. You say sugar should be repackaged. At the end you wrote one can just toss the sugar bags into the bucket. Can I use zip lock bags instead of Mylar bags?

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    • Sorry about the confusion. I rewrote that part to make it more clear. Sugar can go straight into a bucket. However, to make it easier to use and provide an extra layer of protection (if the bucket cracks or breaks during an earthquake, for example), it’s smart to put the sugar in bags and then put it into the buckets.

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  4. you can put a marsh mellow to keep it soft I have done this and put in a tight rubber maid container and its fresh for years . I do not use much brown sugar and read it and it really works the amount for two cups is 1 large marsh mellow

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    • No — you don’t need oxygen absorbers for any sugar. You especially don’t want it with brown sugar because brown sugar is so moist and could create a botulism issue.

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    • Oddly, I find that pantry pests don’t go for the sugar. They prefer my whole grains and dry beans. And they love my curry spice mix. Ants can sometimes get into sugar, but that’s solvable with airtight lids. So, in answer to your question, I would just put the sugar in air-tight containers (truly airtight!) and the sugar will be fine. No need to freeze it.

      Now, keeping it safe from rats….that’s another issue. You’d want to keep large amounts of sugar in buckets to keep them out.

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  5. You can turn sugar soft .. Brown or white, even hard baked cookies… by placing a piece of soft bread in the package and closing for a few hours or overnight.. the sugar will absorb the moisture

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  6. I put up brown sugar in number 10 cans about 20 years ago. Just opened some. How can I tell if it’s good? Not a solid clump. Can scoop it out with a serving spoon. What would I consider a warning sign to not eat? Just don’t know what I should look for.

    Reply
    • Wow! You’ve been prepping for longer than a lot of us 🙂 The only real thing you need to worry about with brown sugar stored that way is botulism. While it’s highly unlikely that botulism was in the sugar and the moisture levels were high enough for it to survive, it is still a concern. WHO says, “Though spores of C. botulinum are heat-resistant, the toxin produced by bacteria growing out of the spores under anaerobic conditions is destroyed by boiling (for example, at internal temperature greater than 85 °C for 5 minutes or longer).” So, if you really want to use the brown sugar and be extra precautious about it, maybe bake with it instead of eating it uncooked?

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  7. So all I need to do is open package of white sugar and dump in bucket? Can I put Individual amounts in zip lock bags instead of mauler first? Is there a difference between lid with a rubber ring and gasket lids And if so are the lids with. Rubber rings just as Effective

    Reply
    • Yes, basically you can just dump the sugar into a bucket. 🙂 Putting it in zip bags first is fine.
      As for lids with a rubber ring: that could be the exact same thing as a gasket lid. But it could also mean a one-peice lid which has a rubber ring around the edges (like an o-ring). If that’s the case, it will also provide a good seal but be a pain to open. That’s why I like the two-piece gasket lids better.

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    • Those should be fine semi-long term. However, any airtight container which uses silicone as a seal will eventually lose its seal and start to leak. It has to do with how silicone becomes brittle as it ages. I have no idea how long it would take for the seal to fail. Mylar is more reliable.

      Reply
  8. How about storing sugar in a used 32 Oz. aseptic carton that has been rinsed and thoroughly dried. It has a plastic screw top. (Originally contained vegetable broth. Or almond milk).

    Reply

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