Does the sugar in the drink facilitate a rise in the amount of bacteria?
August 21, 2006 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: Is "stale" Gatorade .. or any sugar based drink okay to drink?

Suppose I drink only half a bottle and then keep it outside for a day or two..does the sugar in the drink facilitate a rise in the amount of bacteria?
posted by wannabehippie to Food & Drink (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Pretty much yes. It's entirely a matter of chance, but the odds are pretty good that something got in there and has started to breed. (Unless, that is, Gatorade specifically has some sort of preservative included in its formula, which I doubt.)

I would generalize your statement: it isn't necessarily bacteria, though it can be. It's also possible for wild yeast to get in, or for certain kinds of fungal spores to get established, or a couple of other kinds of things as well.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 12:30 PM on August 21, 2006

I was just reading that sun tea (tea made by putting a jar of water with some tea bags out in the sun to heat and steep) is considered potentially hazardous, because of the bacterial growth encouraged by sunlight (which would have been killed had the water been boiled).

I think that's probably a bit alarmist, but if plain water grows enough bacteria to warrant an article, I would imagine a sugary drink would.
posted by occhiblu at 12:39 PM on August 21, 2006

If the bottle says "refrigerate after opening," then it is probably not the best idea to drink it.
posted by catseatcheese at 12:39 PM on August 21, 2006

Hmm...a quick look at the ingredients list for Gatorade reveals that it contains monopotassium phosphate, a chemical with, among other things, fungicidal properties, and sodium citrate, a chemical used for flavoring and as a preservative. So the Gatorade might be OK. This is America, after all. Did you really expect your food not to contain crazy chemicals?
posted by markcholden at 12:46 PM on August 21, 2006

This is purely anecdotal, but my autistic son drinks Gatorade a *lot*, and has for many years. We live in Central Florida, where the heat and the sun would presumably have a strong effect on any bacterial or other growth. Most of the time he is drinking refrigerated Gatorade, but it is not uncommon for him to have some from an opened bottle that may have been sitting in the back seat of the car for a few days. He has never, ever gotten sick from it. But as I said, that comes from an anecdotal non-scientific sample of one, your mileage may vary.
posted by Lokheed at 12:59 PM on August 21, 2006

(Yeah, but it was the "any sugar-based drink" question extension that's probably leading to most people's more conservative answers.)
posted by occhiblu at 1:01 PM on August 21, 2006

I don't think Gatorade has any sugar. Check that ingredients list and I'm sure you'll see 'high fructose corn syrup' right up near the top. Nasty shit.
posted by fixedgear at 1:04 PM on August 21, 2006

Apart from teh HFCS controversy, I have re-refrigerated bottles of Gatorade that had gotten warm overnight, and then drunk them later, but I tend to recap my bottles at any moment that they're not actively pouring cool liquid refreshment down my gullet, so my experience may not be typical either.
posted by baylink at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2006

Fructose is a type of sugar. Different than common table sugar (i.e., sucrose), to be sure, but sugar all the same.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 1:31 PM on August 21, 2006

So if that much sugar isn't enough to kill bacteria, how come you don't have problems with pure sugar cubes being left on the table for days at a time?
posted by sfenders at 1:45 PM on August 21, 2006

sfenders, bacteria need both food and moisture, and sugar cubes are seldom moist.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:53 PM on August 21, 2006

Yep. Moisture plus sugar is key. And to add some more anecdotal evidence, I almost always get at least a slight sore throat after drinking day-old, left-out Gatorade, Powerade and similar drinks. On occasion I've gotten even sicker than that. They say "refrigerate after opening" for a reason...
posted by limeonaire at 2:14 PM on August 21, 2006

fixedgear - Don't buy into the pseudoscience - high fructose corn syrup is essentially sugar and is no more dangerous than sugar.

The root problem is that we've added massive amounts of sugar/corn syrup into our diets with things like soda, which provide no nutritive value. People would rather blame corn syrup than their own dietary habits, though.


That said, gatorade certainly provides a good medium for microbe growth, and I'd be hesitant to drink anything that's been outside for a day or two. Same day, or a few hours, fine. If it's over 12 hours, though, I'd be hesitant.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:46 PM on August 21, 2006

So if that much sugar isn't enough to kill bacteria, how come you don't have problems with pure sugar cubes being left on the table for days at a time?

solid-one-love is right on. That kind of environment has little or no moisture. Putting bacteria in that kind of environment literally causes them to shrivel up and die. The osmotic gradient leads all the water to rush out of the cells faster than they can pump it back in.

There are certain bacteria/microfungus species that have adapted to high salinity/high sugar conditions, but even so, your bowl of sugar is almost certainly safe.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:52 PM on August 21, 2006

I Am Not A Food Scientist, but to my knowledge, cola and Gatorade aren't usually pasteurized before packaging and yet they sit on the store shelves without refrigeration to no ill effect. I always assumed it was because some things are too sugary for bacteria growth. Nevertheless, I don't refrigerate honey or syrup, either. Upon reflection, maybe it's a pH thing.
posted by Skwirl at 3:04 PM on August 21, 2006

Cola syrup is pasteurized as one of the final steps. The water that it's mixed with is purified and treated with a small amount of chlorine to kill microorganisms. This sterile mixture is then sealed into the can or bottle. Additionally, preservatives are used that retard bacterial growth.

Honey and syrup are fine due to high concentrations of sugar.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:36 PM on August 21, 2006

Okay, no moisture, good point. I was also thinking of honey in my assumption that there's some level of sugar that'll kill common bacteria, but checking google it seems it has some other unique anti-bacterial stuff going on. Wikipedia does say of honey "because of its high sugar concentration, it kills bacteria by plasmolysis", and this says "Their enzyme rich saliva turns the sucrose into glucose and fructose, which bind to the remaining water, leaving a cocktail in which bacteria cannot survive."
posted by sfenders at 3:37 PM on August 21, 2006

Honey and syrup are fine due to high concentrations of sugar. ... so how close is Gatorade to a high enough concentration?
posted by sfenders at 3:38 PM on August 21, 2006

Honey contains anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agents. It's something the bees include, for precisely this reason.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 6:38 PM on August 21, 2006

According to some random web searching I did, you'd need maybe about twice as much solute concentration of sugars and such as has Gatorade for osmotic pressure to start being a problem for bacterial growth. It makes an excellent home for bacterial growth. pH and preservatives are more significant in some other kinds of sugary drinks.
posted by sfenders at 7:53 PM on August 21, 2006

A few years ago I worked with a woman from Germany, who watched me inspect a sandwich I'd put in the office fridge a week earlier. It didn't pass muster for me, and when I went to throw it away, she lambasted me.

Apparently, Americans regularly throw away food that the rest of the world (or at least the places she'd been) considers perfectly suitable for consumption. She chalked it up to a combination of our germaphobia and our tendency to be impressed by all things new (and the converse, our tendency to be unimpressed by old).

She ate the sandwich, and teased me a couple more times that day about how she wasn't sick or dead yet.

I've made it a point to be less wasteful with food ever since.
posted by nadise at 8:18 PM on August 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

A doctor once recommended drinking flat cola to relieve chronic stomach cramps when I was young (we thought it was appendicitis)... and it worked.
Can't imagine that he'd have suggested it if there was a serious risk of infection.

Perhaps gatorade is somewhat more neutral, though, and therefore more conducive to becterial growth than an acidic cola?
posted by Chunder at 1:36 AM on August 22, 2006

Thanks, chrisamiller, I knew that. Point was sugary or high fructose-y drinks are a waste of money. It's marketing.
posted by fixedgear at 9:57 AM on August 22, 2006

I haven't read all the suggestions here, but I have a related story that is pretty entertaining.

I was in 7th grade, and brought a bottle of gatorade mixed with a little fruit juice to school every day. The friday before vacation began, I forgot to bring home my half full bottle and left it in my locker.

Got back to school after vacation, went into my locker to get out some books. After a few classes, my name was announced to go down to the principals office.

In the office were both of my parents. I immeditely got nervous but had no idea what I did wrong. My princpal comes out with my gatarade bottle, and said it had spilled inside my locker and leaked out onto the floor. It had feremented and turned into [what smelled like] real alcohol! My princpal was concerned I was given or brought in an alcoholic beverage in 7th grade! I told them it had been in my locker since the Friday before vacation, and they sort-of realized what had happened, but still wanted to get it tested to be sure.

Well a week later the results were in: I was not an alcoholic 14 year old and my principal has no faith. I still remembver what the bottle smelled like.. and if I were your friend, I would go buy a fresh one.

I would'nt drink accidently made alcoholic beverages if I were you.
posted by Ryaske at 1:12 PM on September 9, 2006

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