Desiccant Food Safety
October 4, 2015 11:59 AM   Subscribe

The internet seems to say that silica gel is safe to use in a food context. I have a jar of sugar that's pretty lumpy. Is there any concern about placing a desiccant packet in the jar for a while? Note that this packet did not come with a food item.
posted by Phredward to Food & Drink (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I recently had a bag of Trader Joe's kale chips that came with a food-grade desiccant — you could always buy one of those (yummy too) and use that packet.
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:02 PM on October 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would only use a silica packet that had been used in food previously--that way it's guaranteed to be foodsafe.

That said, if it's white (granulated) sugar, just tip it out of the jar and crush the bits.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2015

The issue would be if the silica was produced in a way that meant it had impurities that you wouldn't want nestled next to your tasty sugar.

I think there are also often silica gel packets in dried seaweed snacks, if you want another idea of something likely to contain some.
posted by quaking fajita at 12:12 PM on October 4, 2015

A marshmallow or two is also a pretty good desiccant, fyi
posted by you're a kitty! at 12:14 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could always separate the packet from the sugar with a piece of baking paper or something.
If it's brown sugar, it will go back to normal if you leave a piece of bread in the jar overnight.
posted by Naanwhal at 12:39 PM on October 4, 2015

Yep, I was going to say to put the packet in an open plastic bag inside the sugar container so there is exchange of air but no physical contact between the packet and the sugar.
posted by Night_owl at 12:47 PM on October 4, 2015

It's harmless, but also useless, unless you immediately removed that pack from a fresh, airtight factory bag.

They quickly fill up like a sponge with water from the air, and after that are no more or less able to absorb water than a piece of paper.

People seem to believe that somehow perpetual motion is possible with silica gel. However, the Conservation of Energy still applies, and it takes energy to remove water from one material to another.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:06 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Which is why you put the used packet in a warm oven for an hour or so to drive out the water. It probably wouldn't work so well in a gas oven since burning natural gas produces a significant amount of water vapor.
posted by wierdo at 1:30 PM on October 4, 2015

You could use a few grains of rice as a definitely-food-safe desiccant. For maximum effect, roast the rice on a frying pan (no oil) until the rice turns yellow/brown.
posted by tickingclock at 1:41 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would not use silica gel that had been previously used. The new gel might be fine, what's dissolved in it later is the problem.
posted by gorcha at 1:49 PM on October 4, 2015

Silica gel is fancy sand. Don't put sand in your food. Use rice.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:31 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

You can put a slice of sandwich bread in with brown sugar. Might also work with granulated sugar.
posted by hydra77 at 2:44 PM on October 4, 2015

FWIW I currently use small boveda humidity packets (originally designed for cigar humidors) and they work great for sugar. Something at relative humidity 72 or below works great for keeping sugar non lumpy.
posted by Karaage at 2:58 PM on October 4, 2015

I would not use silica gel that had been previously used.

To regenerate them, all you need to do is bake them at slightly more than boiling temperature, say 250 F. We do this in the lab all the time. They can absorb odours, too, and I'd just chuck 'em if they smell off. It's likely not practical to deodorize them at home.

We eat and drink silicon dioxide all the time. The chemical isn't harmful, but the physical form of it can be: it's sharp and can cut your insides if you ingest it. It's also an inhalation hazard (seriously), so don't open those little bags.
posted by bonehead at 3:35 PM on October 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Use a cracker to dry things out, use a slice of apple to soften brown sugar.
posted by Oyéah at 4:24 PM on October 4, 2015

Silica gel is fancy sand. Don't put sand in your food. Use rice.

1. No one is suggesting anyone put sand or silica gel in the food. Ceramic bowls are made of silica, too - does that mean eating cereal out of a bowl is the same as eating sand?

2. Rice is no better (or worse) than silica packets at removing moisture, once they reach the saturation point of the atmosphere.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:03 PM on October 6, 2015

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