If you are one of those people who enjoy buying things in bulk, one of the many questions you may have asked yourself while purchasing tons of this sticky fluid is, "Does honey go bad?" This sweet fluid has many benefits, among them medicinal, but if you thought that this is all the bee-product has to offer, you are certainly wrong. You will be surprised to learn that the product has quite a remarkable shelf life.
Honey is a product whose popularity has been evident since time immemorial. The product's sweet taste and medicinal properties, coupled with its long shelf life, has made it one of the most popular items in kitchen pantries worldwide.
Given the product's immense benefits, anyone would be forgiven if they decided to buy it in bulk. But, before you go on a honey shopping spree, one question you need to ask yourself is, "Does honey expire?"
Does honey go bad? The answer in short
Can honey go bad? Yes, it surely can, if it is not stored properly. If the product is left out unsealed in a humid environment, it will spoil.
However, with proper storage practices (no water added and the lid stays on), this product's lifespan is infinite. For this reason, people have unearthed jars containing good to eat honey from ancient Egyptian tombs from 5500BC.
This bee product is commonly listed as one of the food products that never expire, but why? What does this sticky fluid contain that makes it last for so long?
Properties that make honey last long
The product's chemical makes up is what makes it last so long. Here are some properties of honey that make it last long.
1. It is a sugar
Honey is a sugar, and as we know, sugars are hygroscopic, meaning that they contain very little water in their natural state but can readily suck in moisture if left unsealed.
The product's low moisture content aids in keeping it fresh as very few bacteria and microorganisms can survive in an environment with low moisture content; they would die.
For the product to actually go bad, there has to be something inside it that can spoil, and the inhospitable environment caused by the lack of moisture makes sure that organisms can't survive long enough in the jar to spoil.
The high sugar content in the product also increases its osmotic pressure, causing water to flow out of microbes' cells, hence stopping their growth and reproduction.
It is also worth noting that other hygroscopic food sources, such as molasses, actually go bad, even though it might take a long time. So, what does honey contain that gives it this supernatural power?
Bees are to be lauded for their contribution to increasing the lifespan of honey. Nectar is the first material collected by bees to make honey. Nectar is very high in water, up to 60-80%. Through the process of making honey, bees remove moisture by flapping their wings to dry out the nectar.
The chemical makeup of a bee's stomach also aids in giving the sticky fluid its hygroscopic property. Bees have an enzyme called glucose oxidase.
When bees regurgitate the nectar from their mouths into the combs to make honey, the enzyme mixes with the nectar, breaking it down into two by-products, gluconic acid and hydrogen peroxide, which then prevents the growth of bad things that could make honey go bad.
The hygroscopic nature of the sweet, sticky fluid makes it great for wound healing. When honey is not sealed in a jar, it sucks in moisture. When the product is applied on a wound, it draws out water from the wound while letting off a minute amount of hydrogen peroxide that promotes healing.
2. It is extremely acidic
The product is highly acidic, with its pH ranging from 3.4-6.1, with an average pH of 3.9. This is due to the presence of gluconic acid produced during nectar ripening.
Previously, it was thought that the acid would kill off anything that would want to grow in the bee product. However, this has been disproved.
Studies comparing varieties with lower and higher pH values did not find a significant difference in antimicrobial activity. But, for certain bacteria, such as C.diphtheriae, E.coli, Streptococcus, and Salmonella, an acidic environment is hostile and hinders their growth.
3. Its low moisture content
Despite containing 17-18% of water, the activity of water in honey is very low. This means that the sugars interact with the water molecules so that microorganisms cannot use them, and no fermentation or breakdown of honey can occur.
4. The product is quite dense
Honey is quite dense, so oxygen can't easily dissolve into it. This prevents many types of microbes from growing and reproducing.
5. Other contents
The product also contains various compounds such as polyphenols, flavonoids, methylglyoxal, bee peptides, and other antibacterial agents that may add to its antimicrobial qualities.
When can honey go bad?
Can honey go bad and make you sick? Yes, it surely can. If the product is not stored appropriately, it can go bad. Here are the things that may make the bee product bad for you:
1. If it is contaminated
Microbes naturally present in honey include bacteria, yeast, and molds from pollen, bees' digestive tract, dust, air, dirt, and flowers.
These organisms are found in very small quantities and are unable to multiply.
However, spores of the neurotoxin C. botulinum are found in 5-15% honey samples, although in very small amounts.
These spores are harmless for adults. However, although rarely, babies under the age of one may develop infant botulism, which can damage the nervous system, paralysis, and respiratory failure. This is why it's better to keep this sticky liquid away from kids of this age.
The product may also be contaminated during processing.
2. It can contain toxic compounds
When bees collect nectar from certain types of flowers, plant toxins may be transferred into the honey.
Furthermore, a substance called hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) is produced during the processing and aging of honey. This substance has a negative effect on health, e.g., it causes damage to cells and DNA.
Thus, it is recommended that the finished product contain no more than 40mg of HMF per kg of honey.
3. It may be adulterated
Since honey is an expensive, time-consuming food to produce, bees can be fed with sugar syrups from maize, cane, and beet sugar to cheapen production. Some manufacturers may even add sugar syrups directly to the finished product.
To speed up processing, this sweet fluid may be harvested before it's ripe, leaving it with higher and unsafe water content.
Naturally, bees store honey in their hives and dehydrate it so it can contain less than 18% of water; if harvested earlier, the water content can be over 25%, posing a higher risk of fermentation and bad taste.
4. It may be stored incorrectly
If left open or improperly sealed, the product's water content may rise to above the safe 18 % level, thus increasing the risk of fermentation.
5. It can crystallize and degrade over time
The product may crystallize because it contains more sugars than can be dissolved. Although crystallized honey may be safe to eat, the water released during crystallization increases the risk of fermentation.
How to store honey so that it doesn't go bad
- Store in an airtight container
- Store it in a cool, dry area. The product should ideally be stored below 50°F (10°C). However, storing it at cool room temperatures between 50–70 °F (10–20°C) is generally okay.
- Avoid contaminating it using dirty utensils, as this could allow bacteria, yeast, and molds to grow.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are more interesting facts about this sweet product:
Does honey spoil?
Yes, it does.
Does raw honey go bad?
Yes, it can go bad if it is not stored properly, that is, if it is left open or improperly sealed.
Does honey need to be refrigerated?
No, it does not. In fact, refrigeration may cause the product to crystallize faster and become denser.
How long does honey last? How long is honey good for?
If properly stored, this product may last a lifetime, i.e., it may never go bad.
So, to conclude, "Does honey go bad or expire?" Yes, it surely does. However, if properly stored under the right conditions, this sweet sticky liquid has an infinite lifespan.