It is always a disappointment to buy a bag of cotton candy, only to open it up and find a rock hard sugar ball. Yes, the fluffy clouds of deliciousness have a shelf life, and when it is reached, there isn’t much fluff left.
How long does cotton candy last in a bag? Unopened in a standard plastic bag, cotton candy will last three days to three weeks. In a plastic container with a tight sealed lid, cotton candy will last five to ten weeks. Left out in open air, cotton candy will last about ten to twenty minutes. The thickness and seal of the packaging, humidity, room temperature and vibration all will greatly affect how long cotton candy will last.
Cotton candy does not technically expire for years as the primary ingredient is sugar. Most expiration dates you see reflect a date when deflation can happen, not necessarily when the cotton candy has actually gone bad. To understand the shelf life of cotton candy can be crucial for events as well as placement on retail shelves.
Serving Options: Quite often customers want to use cotton candy as a centerpiece for their table settings. I do not recommend leaving the cotton candy out of the container and fully exposed longer than twenty minutes. The cotton candy will start to melt and will not look very appetizing. Cotton candy is not ideal as a centerpiece or in any application where it will be fully exposed to open air for an extended period of time. A great alternative would be repackaging larger bags of cotton candy to small jars or small bags for guests to enjoy a single serving size treat.
If you are putting cotton candy on a cake, cupcakes or cookies, top your dessert just before serving. If using cotton candy for drinks, the cotton candy will hold up if a small piece is placed in each empty glass, as long as drinks will be served within twenty minutes.
Standard Plastic Bag:
Shelf Life: If your cotton candy is prepackaged in a standard plastic bag from a cotton candy manufacturer, chances are they used a thick bag with an air tight seal that will keep your cotton candy fluffy for about two to three weeks unopened. Once opened, with no option to reseal the bag, you have a few hours before the cotton candy will begin to shrink.
DIY Shelf Life: If you are planning to make cotton candy party favors in plastic bags, I suggest at least a 3mil thickness for the bag. I would like to mention cellophane is not a great option, the cotton candy sticks to it and it will take you triple the time to stuff your bags and a whole lot more mess. Make sure you have a great seal on your bag! A great heat sealer, that I have been using for years is available on Amazon here. My favorite size bag for party favors is 8” x 6”, although they come in various sizes making it perfect for various event needs or large scale manufacturing. A small hole in the seal will let air in resulting in a hard ball of sugar within hours. For weddings, birthdays, or other events, I recommend making your party favors no more than 36 hours in advance.
Humidity/Temperature: I recommend storing your cotton candy at room temperature to get the longest life possible. A lot of customers ask me if the freezer or refrigerator is a good place for storage. My answer is always no. Unless your house temperature is over 80-85 degrees, stick with your counter top. You will run the risk of too much humidity in the fridge or freezer if the cotton candy isn’t sealed really well. Humidity is cotton candy’s worst enemy, the thinner the bag or poor seal, the easier it will be for moisture to get in and shrink your cotton candy.
Vibration: Try to avoid shaking your bags of cotton candy as vibration will shrink cotton candy. If the kids get a hold of the bags and throw them around, expect some shrinkage.
Shelf life: Prepackaged cotton candy in a mylar bag can last a few years unopened. The thick protection and great seal keep the cotton candy nice a fluffy. Once opened, I recommend eating your cotton candy within a few hours.
DIY Shelf Life: Mylar bags are extremely easy to use if you would like to package your own cotton candy and the shelf life is so long it is safe to manufacture a large amount all at once. They are a great economical option for someone starting a cotton candy business that isn’t ready to invest in containers. I know of many cotton candy companies that start out with mylar bags and never switch to anything else because they love them so much! I recommend a mylar bag like this. I also recommend the same heat sealer as mentioned above. Mylar bags are honestly a fantastic option with an extended shelf life you cannot get from any of the other cotton candy storage options.
Humidity/Temperature: Always store the bags in a space at room temperature. Do not leave the bags in direct sunlight as it will shrink the cotton candy. Mylar bags protect very well from humidity and it shouldn’t be an issue for unopened mylar bags.
Vibrations: Always try to avoid excessive vibration as it will cause shrinkage. Since it is a bag, the cotton candy can still get squished as well, so do not over pack boxes, etc.
Shelf Life: If you have bought cotton candy prepackaged in a thick, deli-like plastic container your cotton candy will last unopened about five to ten weeks. Once opened, you can replace the lid to protect the cotton candy, but I still recommend eating opened containers within a few days. Again, you will want to avoid major vibration with the cotton candy containers to avoid shrinking.
DIY Shelf Life: If you plan to package your own cotton candy into containers for high volume manufacturing or for smaller events, we recommend a container a nice thick container with a liquid tight seal. I recommend this container for party favors, and Cube Plastics Deli Cube containers with a recessed lid for large scale manufacturing.
Humidity/Temperature: As always, store the cotton candy at room temperature. Containers are thicker and will prevent cotton candy from shrinking in hotter temperatures compared to bags. So if you have a large amount of containers in boxes at a carnival, party, or large event, the cotton candy should stay nice and fluffy even in warmer temperatures, I would say up to 85 degrees. Containers are my favorite packaging option because they offer the best protection for cotton candy from humidity as well preventing the cotton candy from getting squished.
Vibrations: Again, you will want to avoid major vibration with the cotton candy containers to avoid shrinking. You don’t want your containers rolling around a moving car, etc.
Shelf Life: Unlike pre spun cotton candy, floss sugar has a very long shelf life. It will generally be dated two years out from when it was manufactured. Due to the raw materials used in floss sugar, it should be safe to use for many years.
Humidity/Temperature: The sugar floss should always be stored at room temperature in a dry, airtight container. Reseal-able bags or food grade buckets with tight lids are great options to store floss sugar. I always recommend to wholesale clients these containers for storage of the floss sugar. These containers are great for storing spun cotton candy as well. I love the high level of protection these buckets offer from humidity, pests, and debris. Take my word for it, you want this tool to open the lid, your fingers will thank you!
Vibration: Since there isn’t any air spun into the floss sugar yet, there isn’t any concern with vibration and shrinkage. I do recommend giving your floss sugar a quick mix before you use it each time as flavors and colors can settle to the bottom of the bucket especially if the bucket has been moved around a lot.
With a little bit of planning and attention to packaging, temperature, and storage you can have cotton candy last in a bag or container for an extended period of time. Always have cotton candy ready for carnivals, special events or just some delicious snacking.
Will Cotton Candy Melt? Cotton candy will melt when fully exposed to open air and should not be left out more than ten to twenty minutes. Humidity in the air will begin to melt cotton candy immediately, the higher the humidity, the faster this process will start. Placing cotton candy in a sealed bag or container will protect it and prevent it from melting.
Can Cotton Candy Go Bad? Cotton candy will take years to go bad as the primary ingredient is sugar with minimal flavor and color. Cotton candy generally has a short shelf life as it shrinks very easily. Depending on packaging, cotton candy begins to shrink two weeks to six months after manufacturing.
Can Cotton Candy Go in the Refrigerator? Cotton candy should not be refrigerated but stored in a dry, dark space at room temperature in sealed packaging. If the cotton candy will be in an environment hotter than 80-85 degrees, the cotton candy can be placed in a cooler spot such a refrigerator, however, there is risk the humidity in a refrigerator will cause shrinkage if the packaging is not sealed properly.