Does Honey Expire or Go Bad?

by Charlie

Honey is a beloved natural sweetener with thousands of years of history. Archeologists have found samples of honey from as far back as 5000 years BC – and the most exciting thing about those samples? They were perfectly preserved.

Now, of course, those samples aren’t for consumption – they’re a valuable historical artifact, after all – but what matters is that thousand-year-old honey could be consumed and the consumer would be none the wiser about its age if the honey jars were sealed the proper way.

Does honey go bad? Honey doesn’t go bad. It may change appearance, color, even taste – but it doesn’t go bad in a sense where you should be afraid of grave consequences if you consume it.

That doesn’t mean all honey is equal – depending on how long, where, and how you store it, honey may preserve or lose its nutrients, change the taste, etc. So if you want to enjoy the honey to its fullest potential, make sure it’s stored the proper way.

How Long Does Honey Last?

Honey doesn’t have a definitive shelf-life. It can be stored for many years, and – if properly sealed – be as perfectly edible and enjoyable as honey made yesterday.

That said, it changes structure after some time, which some consumers may find unappealing. Commercially sold honey usually doesn’t have a “use by date” marked on the jar – it may, however, have a “best by date”.

This is due to the fact, that while honey will not spoil, per se, it will start going through some structural changes over time.

While fresh honey is liquid, golden, and clear, it won’t remain like this forever. After a certain amount of time, the glucose in honey will start to crystalize. This will turn honey thicker and grainier, with its color starting to pale and become cloudy yellow instead of clear gold.

The “best by date” usually takes these changes into account.

However, make no mistake, crystalized honey is just as safe for consumption, as a fresh one. Crystallization can even be a good thing – it’s an indicator that your honey is raw and unpasteurized. Pasteurization is used in honey-making specifically to slow down the prospective crystallization = but it can devoid the honey of vitamins and nutrients.

So, if you want to rip full benefits, you should get the raw unpasteurized honey – even if it will crystalize sooner.

What Can Make Honey “Go Bad”?

Honey is antibacterial and acidic, having a pH of around 3.2-6.1. Not only does this make it next to impossible for anything harmful to grow in there, but effective in killing certain bacteria (however, you could contaminate honey yourself if you use dirty utensils – and these bacteria or molds may take footing and grow).

Naturally, honey has one enemy – moisture. Honey can be contaminated with moisture if it’s stored improperly (thus it’s on you to ensure water never gets into your honey pot) or due to early harvesting. If honey is harvested before it’s ripe, its water content will be much higher – over 25% – than that of ripe honey (18%).

High moisture makes honey susceptible to fermentation, which is what is most commonly referred to as “spoiled” honey.

Another thing is the production process. Despite honey’s antibacterial qualities, if it’s contaminated during the production process, it may contain certain harmful microorganisms and neurotoxins. These microorganisms and neurotoxins can thankfully be measured and contaminated honey – at least contaminated to the point where it would be dangerous to humans – isn’t usually put on shelves.

The neurotoxin C. botulinum may be found in honey in minuscule amounts. While the neurotoxin isn’t harmful to adults in the amounts found in these samples – babies younger than 1-year-old (in very rare cases, but still) could develop infant botulism.

How Should Honey Be Stored?

For honey not to degrade in quality and maintain its vitamins and nutrients over a long period it needs to be stored properly.

You will need to:

  • Use an airtight container made from glass or stainless steel: as mentioned above honey should be sealed properly to avoid being contaminated with moisture and retain its quality. If kept in containers made of plastic, iron, or wood – it will lose its nutrients faster and the likelihood of moisture contamination will increase.
  • Pay attention to temperature: honey doesn’t like extreme temperatures, be it heat or cold. You can keep it in the refrigerator in summer to avoid the heat, but a cool or room-temperature place would be better.
  • Avoid contaminating honey while using it: if you use dirty utensils while handling honey, you may inadvertently contaminate it yourself, so make sure your utensils are clean before you dig in.

What Happens if I Eat Spoiled Honey?

Most likely – nothing at all. Both crystallized and fermented honey is safe for consumption, even if you may not enjoy the taste (though fermented honey is becoming a trend specifically for its characteristic sour taste).

That said, if the honey is looking unappealing – it tastes off, has a lot of water, or looks like its foaming, you should probably get rid of it, since it may be the case of outside contamination from dirty utensils.

Even if you consume honey you think is “off” you aren’t likely to suffer from any serious consequences – yet, better safe than sorry.

Conclusion

Honey is among the very few foods that don’t go bad. It doesn’t have a shelf-life, per se – and can be safely consumed years after being purchased. It’s antibacterial and acidic, which makes it very hard for any harmful microorganisms to take footing and grow in it.

That said, honey will change its appearance and taste if kept over a long period. It will likely be due to crystallization (becoming paler, thicker, and grainier), but it can also be due to fermentation due to moisture exposure if honey isn’t kept properly sealed – if that’s the case, its taste will become sour and may seem off.

If the taste of your honey is weird to you, the texture is looking foamy, or you’ve noticed there’s a lot of water in the jar alongside honey – you’re better of disposing of it. While the chances of it being something dangerous is very small and you’re more likely than not to be perfectly fine after consuming it – the changes may be due to outside contamination, and not worth the risk.

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