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Does Honey Go Bad? When to Throw it Out

Honey is a golden treat that we can enjoy thanks to the efforts of bees.  Gathering plant nectar from millions of blossoms, bees convert the water nectar into a stable form of food.  One of the most remarkable characteristics about honey is the ability to last for a very long time without spoiling. Does it truly last forever?  Does honey go bad – ever?

Why Honey Lasts so Long Without Spoiling

Honey stored in jar with loose lid may go bad and ferment image.

Yes, I’m sure you have heard the stories about honey being found that is thousands of years old and still not spoiled.  They are true – though I have heard little about how good that old stuff tastes. The flavor has to be undesirable even if it is safe to eat.

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Many consumers have stories about jars of honey they have kept for 10 years or more that are still edible and delicious.  This is a common occurrence though some of these containers are thrown away out of fear or caution.

Why does honey last so long without going bad?  There are several special properties of raw honey that are responsible for its long-term storage abilities.

  • Acidic Properties
  • Enzymes from Bees
  • High Sugar Content

In spite of its smooth sweet taste, honey is actually rather acidic. Most types have a pH of about 3.26 – 4.48, few organisms can grow in it.  Bacteria such as salmonella or E colic are not about to prosper in this acidic environment.

During the conversion process, bees add invertase to raw nectar.  This causes the glucose oxidase enzymes to produce both hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid.

Honey is hygroscopic. This means that it absorbs water from anything in it or around. It can even absorb water from the air. Beekeepers use a honey refractometer to make sure their honey is ready to harvest.

This low water content environment makes it impossible for bacteria to grow.  All of the moisture is sucked out of the bacteria and causing them to die.

Honey crystallizing in a jar image.

When Can Honey Go Bad?

Despite these remarkable abilities, honey can go bad under certain circumstances.  When things are added to it or it is stored improperly this interferes with its special abilities.

  • Contaminates
  • Adulterated or Added Substances
  • Crystallization Over a Long Time

Worldwide, selling honey is big business and not every business owner is honest.  It is not uncommon to find product (especially that from other countries) that has been adulterated with substances such as corn syrup, molasses etc. 

This is done to stretch the amount of product for sale farther. By adding sweet imitations that are cheaper to produce, the seller has more product. This is an especial risk in products imported from other countries.

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Any added material can upset the sugar/water balance and enzyme content and result in spoilage. Sometimes, we do this ourselves unintentionally.

We must be careful when making infused honey products or Fire Cider-to ensure that we are not added too much moisture to the jar.

Bubbles and foam at top of jar with yeasty smell indicates fermentation image.

Crystallization is a natural process that happens to most varieties of honey.  Yet, people often throw out perfectly good jars of unnecessarily.   When your honey crystallizes or “turns to sugar” do not be alarmed.

You can easily fix it and convert it back into liquid form.  Even though some people enjoy it in this form – it is called Creamed Honey when purposely crystallized.

However, there is one situation when crystallization can result in honey that goes bad.  Bees ripen honey by reducing the amount of moisture to a stable level – this is often considered to be around 18%.

In a jar undergoing crystallization, as crystals form, excess water is released. If the honey had a border-line high water content to begin with, this excess moisture could result in fermentation. 

Proper Storage

To ensure that your jar lasts for a long time on the pantry shelf, proper storage is key.  Store honey in containers with air-tight lids to protect it from moisture.  Be sure that any container you wash and fill is clean and dry.

How Can You Tell If Your Jar of Honey Is Bad?

Remember, crystallization is not a sign of spoilage.  However, some types of honey that are allowed to crystallize for a long time may eventually ferment.   Other premium varieties will never crystallize or spoil – it depends on the nectar source as well.

If you open your jar and smell a yeasty odor, it is likely bad and should be thrown out.  Do not feed it to bees as it can cause digestive upset.

When properly bottled and stored, honey rarely spoils or goes bad.  Don’t throw it out if you see some crystallization – you can fix it!

In fact, you would be hard pressed to find something with a longer shelf life. But, but keep in mind that the flavor and color of stored honey can change over time.

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