Do Sprinkles Ever Expire?

If you've ever decorated holiday cookies or a birthday cake, odds are you probably have a half-used jar of sprinkles somewhere in your kitchen. You also likely don't even remember the last time you used them, and probably wonder if they are even still good.

Sprinkles are a fun, colorful addition to any dessert, and are also one of the most artificial looking things we eat, so it's not surprising we have to question their shelf life. The answer, however, is not as straightforward as you might expect. As Prepared Cooks explains, most sprinkles are made of little more than sugar, so they do not spoil like most foods. However, that does not mean they can never go bad, so checking if those multi-color balls you bought three Christmases ago can still be used on your friend's birthday cake isn't as simple as checking the label for an expiration date.

The best-by date is more like a guideline

While most packaged foods are required to list an expiration date, Prepared Cooks notes that in the case of sprinkles this date is much more like a guideline than a hard-and-fast rule.

Sugar on its own does not spoil and is resistant to bacteria growth, as long as long as it stays dry. So in order for sprinkles to last, they need to be stored properly. Like any food, sprinkles will stay fresher longer if they are unopened. But since they come in such large amounts, many jars are left half-used on the spice shelf or the back of the baking cabinet.

According to Eat By Date, Betty Crocker sprinkles are good for at least three years past the manufacturing date on the bottle, whether they are opened or closed, as long as they are stored properly, which in this case means in its original or similar air-tight container and in a cool, dry space like a pantry.

How to be sure

If you're still unsure if your sprinkles are up to snuff, there are several easy ways to check them before you use them on your latest confection (via Prepared Cooks).

First, look at them. If there are noticeable clumps, spots, or mold, this means moisture has gotten in and you should throw them out. If none of those signs are present, but the color has noticeably faded, they may still need to be replaced, but it's not a sure sign of expiration.

The sniff test is the next best way to tell if your sprinkles have gone bad. A sour smell means it's time to start fresh, but, as one Betty Crocker executive noted in Southern Living, "If they still smell sweet, they are good to eat."

Finally, if you're still unsure, take a small taste. If they taste sweet and haven't taken on a sour or stale undertone, you're in the clear — no matter the use-by date. If the taste has changed you should throw them away, but don't fret about taking that taste! It's almost impossible to get sick from expired sprinkles. The worst thing you can suffer is a bad aftertaste.

So next time you decide to spontaneously whip up a batch of sugar cookies and don't know if you need to run out to the store to replace your old holiday decorating kit, fear not. Unless you've made a major mistake in your sugar storage, you should be ready to roll.