How to Tell if Honey Is Bad​

Honey is a natural resource with long-lasting properties — if you seal it properly and store it for hundreds of years, it’s still good for eating. Despite being able to last so long, it still can’t remain as fresh as it was when first sealed.

As a beekeeper or a consumer of honey, you should be able to tell when your honey is going bad. So you can handle it and ensure its quality.

Why Honey Lasts

If you want to know how honey gets bad, you need to know what makes it last. There are three major properties as to why honey lasts so long:

  1. Higher content of sugar than moisture.
  2. Antimicrobial enzymes produced by bees.
  3. Acidic nature.

Honey Has a Higher Sugar Content Than Moisture

Honey comprises of 80 percent sugar and 18 percent moisture. Its high sugar content helps to prevent the growth and reproduction of microorganisms, such as fungi and bacteria.

Here’s how it works — the high sugar content in honey causes the osmotic pressure within it to get high. Thus, leading to an osmotic effect, which forces water within the cells of microorganisms to flow out.

Also, given the content of water is very low, this allows the high sugar content to interact with the water molecules in such a way that microorganisms won’t be able to sustain life. In short, due to the low water content in honey, it doesn’t break down.

Another thing to note is that honey is too dense for microbes to grow and reproduce because oxygen can’t dissolve easily in it.

Honey Contains Antimicrobial Enzymes

The microbial enzyme in honey is glucose oxidase. Bees secrete the enzymes into the nectar to help preserve honey from microbes. Once the honey is ripe enough, the glucose oxidase enzymes convert the sugar within the honey to produce both hydrogen peroxide and gluconic acid. The hydrogen peroxide kills bacteria.

Honey is Acidic in Nature 

The pH of honey can be very acidic as it ranges from 3.2–4.5 and averages a pH of 3.9. The acidic nature of honey is because of gluconic acid, which is produced once the nectar ripens, and after glucose oxidase is secreted into it from the bee.

Bacteria such as E.coli, salmonella and streptococcus can’t sustain their lives in honey because of their acidic nature.

Does Honey Get Bad?

Yes. Although honey has a lot of antimicrobial properties, it can still go bad and cause one to get ill. There are several instances for this occur:

  • Contamination
  • Adulterated
  • Incorrectly stored
  • Crystallized for a long period


There are two ways in which honey gets contaminated with microbes:

  • Natural contamination
  • Man-made contamination

Natural contamination

There are a handful of microbes that are naturally present in honey:

  • Bacteria
  • Molds
  • Yeast

These can be gotten from air, dust, dirt, flowers, pollen or the bee’s digestive tract. They don’t grow or multiply properly in honey and are only found in tiny quantities. This is because of the honey’s antimicrobial properties, as we discussed above. Therefore, these natural microbes aren’t a health concern.

However, in terms of lethality, the same can’t be said for C. botulinum, which is also a naturally occurring contaminant of honey. 

It’s a neurotoxin that’s harmless to adults but, in rare cases, can cause serious damage to the nervous system of babies aged one or lower. It can also cause respiratory issues and paralysis in babies.

Man-made contamination

Contamination of honey can also occur via secondary interference. It could be because of the equipment used during processing by humans, insects, animals, wind and even water.

Adulterated Honey

Given the costs and time in producing honey, businesses look to adulterate it to reduce the cost of production and increase the volume of the product. Such adulteration of honey can be done by feeding bees with the sugar syrup from maize.

Feeding bees sugar syrup can be bad for both bees and the honey. Diseases can be transferred among bees while they feed close to each other.

Incorrectly Stored Honey

When you don’t store honey properly, you risk hindering its antimicrobial properties. This will lead to contamination and degradation of the honey. When honey is left exposed to sunlight, its water content will increase, giving the microbes the resources to grow and multiply.

If Left to Crystalize for a Long Period

It’s not a health risk if honey crystallizes since it’s a natural process and even occurs when you store honey correctly. It only becomes bad when it’s left to crystallize for a long time — this will cause more water to be released and fermentation to occur. You’ll notice this when the color of the honey becomes whiter and appear opaque.

Fermentation isn’t dangerous but causes the honey to lose its taste and attractive golden color.

How Can You Tell If Honey Is Bad?

When honey is getting bad, it develops a cloudy yellow color instead of a clear golden one — the texture then becomes thicker until it’s grainy. Once it’s finally considered “bad,” the color becomes white, and the texture gets hard. This whole process is because of the crystallization of honey for a long time.

Another indication is when the honey becomes darker, loses its aroma and flavor. This is caused by storing honey for a very long time. If consumed in this state, it’s not a health risk, but it’s no longer an attractive food.


Honey is a natural resource that doesn’t spoil easily because of its antimicrobial properties. When honey does get bad, you should have enough information to know the cause of why, whether that’s due to a natural process or through human intervention.

A tell-tale sign of honey becoming bad or adulterated can be visually determined with just a change of its color and the thickness of the honey.

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