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Does honey spoil?

Does honey spoil

We know that the oldest honey found is believed to be 5 500 years old honey discovered in Georgia in 2003. Therefore, honey has a reputation for staying fresh and edible for a remarkably long time. It is a product with a very low moisture content. Pure natural honey does not spoil easily. However, there are many variables related to honey quality, processing methods and storage conditions that determine how long honey will retain its optimal flavour, texture and aroma. This article will analyse the factors that affect the shelf life and freshness of honey.

The nature of honey

Honey is mainly composed of glucose and fructose, which have natural preservative properties. The low moisture content of pure honey, around 17%, prevents the growth of bacteria that can cause other foods to spoil. Honey also contains enzymatically produced hydrogen peroxide, which gives it antibacterial and antifungal properties. For these reasons, when properly stored, natural raw honey will remain edible essentially forever without spoiling.

However, honey can undergo various changes in appearance, texture and crystallisation over long periods of time before it would be considered unfit for consumption. These changes alone do not necessarily indicate spoilage. This article looks at how to identify spoiled honey as opposed to altered but still safe honey.

Signs of spoiling

Fresh, high quality honey has a fragrant, floral aroma and a sweet, mild flavour with subtle notes of the nectar source. It has a smooth liquid or creamy consistency. It flows easily. Over time, even when unopened and stored under optimal conditions, honey may undergo changes that indicate a loss of freshness:

– Change in colour from light to darker yellow or brown;

– Loss of delicate aroma;

– Crystallisation from liquid to semi-solid granular texture.

But these signs don’t mean the honey has gone bad.

True spoilage refers to toxic moulds or bacteria that make honey unsafe. This only occurs when honey has too much moisture due to improper processing and storage. Moisture encourages the growth of micro-organisms that produce gases and cause honey to spoil.

What makes honey spoil

Natural raw honey has an indefinite shelf life. However, certain factors can turn honey into a hospitable environment for spoilage microbes:

  • Excessive moisture levels: Any moisture level above 18% opens up the possibility of fermentation and decomposition.
  • Dilution: Liquids added to honey during processing or after opening increase moisture beyond safe levels. Exposure to atmospheric moisture will also add moisture over time.
  • Temperature variations: Heating and cooling phases cause condensation inside the packaging. A single, constant temperature best preserves honey. Cold temperatures, even freezing, will not stop the chemical reactions behind spoiled honey. Constant cool storage works best.
  • Effects of oxygen: Microbes need oxygen to grow. Restricting the air space and sealing the containers prevents oxygen from entering the honey. Thereby preventing microbes from growing.

In summary, while pure raw honey resists spoilage intrinsically, factors that raise moisture or oxygen levels make it vulnerable to microbes. Keeping honey dry, sealed, allows it to avoid “going bad”.

When honey has spoiled

Despite honey’s anti-microbial properties, in exceptional cases it can spoil and become dangerous to eat. Symptoms described below indicate disposal is necessary:

  • Visible mold growth on the honey itself
  • Strange odors like rotting, alcohol, or chemicals
  • Foam, bubbling, or spurting liquid upon opening
  • Honey separating into clear, cloudy, or greenish liquid layers

Honey with these markers cannot be safely recovered. Even subtle changes in colour can mean that chemical reactions have taken place, producing toxic compounds. Therefore, spoiled honey that shows any of the above signs should not be consumed and must be discarded.

Spoiled honey is both a health hazard and a means of spreading spores and bacteria, so containers should be tightly sealed before disposal. Surfaces exposed to bad honey should be thoroughly cleaned to avoid contamination. Always err on the side of caution if honey appears to be of poor quality.

Storing honey properly

To retain high-quality honey without spoilage for as long as possible:

  • Select honey packaged in small, airtight containers like glass jars
  • Check that pure honey ingredients do not list any added liquids.
  • Keep containers sealed tightly to block oxygen and humidity.
  • Store honey at temperatures from -5 to +20 °C
  • Avoid temperature fluctuations like refrigerating after opening.

If crystallisation occurs, simply submerging the jars in warm water will restore the liquid state. Always use clean utensils and do not return unused honey from serving utensils to the main storage container to reduce contamination.

Following these honey storage guidelines prevents moisture accumulation, oxygenation, and temperature variability that enable microbial growth resulting in spoiled honey.

Conclusion

Finally, raw honey has innate antibacterial properties that give it an indefinite shelf life. Over time, its aroma, texture and flavour will deteriorate, but it will not necessarily “spoil” in the sense that toxic micro-organisms will grow if moisture, oxygen and temperature changes are not introduced. Properly stored honey will prevent spoilage and fermentation indefinitely. With careful sealing and moisture barriers, honey in ideal storage conditions will essentially never spoil.

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