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Does Honey Really Last Forever?

Does honey last indefinitely?

Fun Facts

Does Honey Really Last Forever?

It’s an extremely common factoid to stumble across. It can be found under Snapple lids, heard on trivia shows, or read about in a chain emails forwarded to you by a friend or relative. The claim is that honey is the only food that cannot spoil. Is there any truth to this? Does honey really last forever?

Does Honey Last Forever?

In most cases, yes. Honey has an indefinite shelf life. It’s the properties of processed honey that keep it from becoming a hotbed of microbes and other things that may spoil or contaminate it. As long as those properties aren’t altered, processed honey has a virtually indefinite shelf life.Honey Bee However, unprocessed honey (like the kind found in a beehive) hasn’t had its impurities filtered out and removed. This means it is more susceptible to being spoiled, and will spoil after about a year.

Honey is the only food item that is created with the sole purpose of being stored. Since bees need to eat during the winter, and plants aren’t flowering, their evolutionary goal was to create a food source that wouldn’t spoil after a few months. They needed something non-perishable (at least for a year or so) and nutritious — they needed honey. During its production, the bees slightly overcompensate, creating a food that has the potential to last for hundreds of years or more. No other food source is created this way.

Why Does Honey Last Forever?

In addition to having a low pH, honey has almost no water content and is loaded with sugar. This helps to dry out any bacteria that attempt to make its home in honey. Any bacteria that find itself in honey will have the water leached out of its cell walls thanks to osmosis.

The high sugar content and lack of water make honey a hypertonic solution, whereas bacteria and other living organisms are hypotonic. When you mix the two, they will equalize – this process is called osmosis. Since there is much more honey and sugar than bacteria, the bacteria lose the battle and have their water leached out of them into the honey. This causes instant death to any unfortunate bacteria.

Is Honey The Only Food That Lasts Indefinitely?

Honey isn’t the only food that has an indefinite shelf life, the sugar you find in your cabinets or on your kitchen table also is immune to spoilage as long as it is kept dry. Storing HoneyIn fact, sugar is so good at killing bacteria that it has been used in the past as a wound dressing. Honey itself has its own antibacterial properties and can also be used in a pinch to dress slight scrapes and cuts.

Molasses and any other thick and sugary syrups can also have an indefinite shelf life as long as they are properly processed. Many edible oils can also last indefinitely, as well as mustard seeds (they produce several antimicrobial compounds) and cornstarch (as long as it is kept dry). Many canned goods can last indefinitely, though while they don’t spoil, canned foods lose their nutritional value and flavor over time. The term “edible” then becomes a bit subjective.


While honey has a potentially indefinite shelf life, any flaws in the processing or make-up of honey can eventually cause it to spoil. Although most things are killed off by the inhospitable properties of honey, osmophilic yeasts can, and will take advantage of any flaws and thrive. If the sugar within honey ferments, it will create small amounts of alcohol and carbon dioxide. When this happens, it creates a slightly hospitable environment for these rare osmophilic yeasts.

None of these bacterial yeasts are dangerous to a person with a healthy immune system, however, they can cause opportunistic infections in people with weakened immune systems. The biggest concern is that they will ruin batches of food rather than posing a health risk or causing food poisoning.

Bonus Facts:

  • Honey is the only food product created by an insect that humans eat.
  • There is a 15,000 year old cave painting in Spain which depicts a human figure robbing honey out of a beehive.
  • There were 2,000 year old vats of sealed honey found in King Tut’s tomb. The honey is believed to be still edible.

Zdzisław E. Sikorski Chemical and functional properties of food components CRC Press 2007 p. 121
Lansing Prescott, John P. Harley, Donald A. Klein (1999). Microbiology. Boston
FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition’s Foodborne Pathogenic Microorganisms and Natural Toxins Handbook
Jull, AB (October 2008 8). “Honey as a topical treatment for wounds.” Cochrane database of systematic reviews



  1. Jessikah

    April 11, 2014 at 12:43 am

    Interesting article, however there is one inconstancy I noticed. You say that raw honey will spoil in a year, but you also said that “There were 2,000 year old vats of sealed honey found in King Tut’s tomb. The honey is believed to be still edible.” I really don’t believe that they had processed honey.

    • Honey Storage

      April 11, 2014 at 8:17 am

      I think you misread: Raw honey will spoil in a year left unprotected. The honey that was in the tomb was sealed up and in an extremely dry environment (a desert tomb). They are completely different circumstances.

      • MYOB

        April 18, 2014 at 12:12 pm

        So to be clear; can raw, unfiltered, cold-extracted honey last indefinitely provided it is properly sealed? I am about to purchase honey like this in sealed containers for the purpose of long term food storage and want to be certain it won’t spoil.

    • goo

      October 25, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      Why not? They had pyramids.

  2. William

    May 6, 2014 at 12:15 am

    This article mentioned that bees create honey for long-term food storage. How about the bees near the equator? It is obvious that there is no winter at the equator.

    • Erik

      April 24, 2015 at 6:44 am

      There is winter everywhere. I live close to the equator, and believe me, sometimes temperatures drop below 40F.

      • BeeHiver

        May 4, 2020 at 6:47 am

        “There is winter everywhere” nice statement you made there pal. Time to fact check yourself.

  3. John myatt

    June 13, 2014 at 9:29 am

    The bees near the equator still have an instinct to store honey, I would imagine that plants bearing nectar will bloom at different times of the year and therefore there may be a period when there is a lull and not enough nectar coming in to sustain a large colony. This is where stored honey comes into play.

    • William

      June 16, 2014 at 11:49 am

      You used the word ‘imagine’, this made your statement not persuasive enough, to me. However, nice try.

  4. Nelson

    September 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    My father kept bees; he died in 1986. I am still eating (as of 2014) honey that he took, extracted, and strained through cheesecloth before storing in jars.

    • Tecla

      January 28, 2017 at 10:49 am

      That is wonderful! I just started my first hive last year and will be hopefully extracting my first honey this summer. I have quite a bit of canned food and have peaches and applesauce that is 10-14 years old and still tastes like they were put up last year.

  5. ruby

    November 9, 2016 at 7:41 am

    I have a jar of honey dated best before date may 2014, bought from a supermarket. When I opened it, the top bit was runny honey, but the honey I bought is set honey. Can I still eat this?

  6. Ross Lopez

    December 16, 2016 at 11:17 am

    A friend has a stockpile of preserved foods he inherited from a community. From
    his supply he gave me two containers of honey. One glass the other metal. The honey in the glass container is odd looking. The dark brown liquid honey is settled 2″ to the top, and the lighter honey which settled below the dark looks like crushed cornbread. There is a “94” on the lid which could mean 1994? Curious as to the possiblility the honey is safe to eat.
    I have not opened the sealed metal 1/2 gallon container.
    I am not that eager to eat the honey but I have never seen honey to look that way. Thanks

  7. Kurt

    October 4, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    Honey that has settled is just fine to eat. All you need to do, is heat it up and it’s runny again. It’s generally a good idea to test stored food, or food you are not sure about. This goes for nearly everything in nature. The exceptions would be things that are instantly fatal when you do one of the steps, like some volcanic gases. Those are very likely not something you would mistake for food. If something doesn’t pass one step, stop right there. Don’t go on to the next one.

    See if there are obvious signs of spoilage, or even if it can be eaten
    Smell for spoilage
    Taste a little bit for flavor
    Hold tiny amount in mouth for a minute to find out if it makes your mouth feel numb or weird
    Swallow tiny amounts and wait a few minutes to find out if you feel bad.

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