Can Honey Go Bad or Make You Sick?
Barefootangel asks: “I read your report on honey and have a question. Yesterday (June 21, 2012) I went to a farmer’s market and while there I tried a teaspoon of raw honey. It left an awful taste and certainly did not taste like good honey. I helped my grandfather with his hives and know how honey should taste. After leaving the market I went to the drugstore to pick up some meds and while in the store, I got very dizzy, confused and sick. This was about 25 to 30 minutes after tasting the honey. I felt like the life had been let out of me. My daughter in law got me home and it was not until hours later that I remembered about the honey.
Could the honey have been bad or make me sick?”
It is very unlikely the honey was bad. Properly stored, honey can last many years without even any degradation of flavor, let alone spoiling. In the extreme, honey can last centuries, though the flavor and color will be affected the longer it is stored. That being said, it is possible for honey to go “bad” if improperly stored, though that depends somewhat on what you mean by “bad”.
Honey is hygroscopic, meaning that it will absorb water from things, even from the air. As mentioned in the previous article on this site that you referenced (Honey can be Used for a Variety of Medicinal Purposes), this has the effect of providing almost no free water for microbes and molds to use. Honey also has a low pH value, making an environment that is usually too acidic for most microbes. Honey also naturally produces hydrogen peroxide when it absorbs moisture, which further makes it hard for bacteria to take hold and “spoil” the honey, even if it’s improperly stored. However, if the water content of the honey gets high enough, certain types of yeast can survive and ferment the honey somewhat, creating alcohol and in that sense “spoiling” the honey. Although, with the correct type of yeast, lovers of mead might argue with the “spoiling” part. With the wrong type of yeast, it will become unpalatable and thus “go bad”.
It is extremely unlikely that anything of the sort was going on with the honey you tasted. It was no doubt fairly new/fresh, packaged, and stored properly. However, although it’s rare, even unspoiled, fresh honey can make you sick, particularly with raw honey where pollen and other particles are not filtered out.
So how can honey make you sick? It’s possible that the honey may have been made from nectar containing something you are allergic to or that the honey was made from nectar that contains something toxic to humans, such as nectar from rhododendrons or other plants from the family Ericaceae (including blueberries, huckleberries, cranberries, and azaleas, among others).
Honey made from nectar of things like rhododendrons can cause a variety of problems which will usually show up within a few minutes to a few hours of eating it, depending on the dosage. In this case, the symptoms are caused by a toxin known as grayanotoxin. These symptoms include sweating, nausea/vomiting, dizziness, weakness, paresthesia (numbness/prickling sensation) in your arms, legs, and around your mouth, low blood pressure, and excessive salivation. In extreme cases, when the dose gets high enough, you can experience loss of coordination, severe muscle weakness, lower or erratic heart rhythms, and even first, second, and third degree heart blocks. Despite how bad this all sounds, even in relatively high doses, this will rarely be fatal and symptoms and the effects of the grayanotoxin tend to dissipate within 24 hours.
All that being said, given the very small amount of the honey it sounds like you consumed, the grayanotoxin content would have had to be very high to affect you so severely, so you getting sick may have had nothing to do with the honey, or it could have just contained something you were highly allergic to unrelated to grayanotoxin. Particularly with raw honey that contains various particles and pollen, this is very possible.
As for the flavor, what nectar(s) honey is made from and weather conditions when it was made can also pretty drastically affect the flavor and color of the honey. As a general rule, the darker honey is, the stronger it will taste; the lighter it is, the milder it will taste. It should also be noted that doing things like overheating honey can cause it to turn darker and negatively affect the flavor. As it ages, particularly when not stored properly, it will also tend to darken and, of course, crystallize.
On another somewhat related note, honey that won’t make you sick can make babies sick, possibly fatally so. This is because the honey may contain Clostridium botulinum spores. These won’t usually effect people over 12 months old or so as microbes in most people’s intestinal tracts will inhibit the Clostridium botulinum spores from multiplying, but can germinate inside a baby’s less cultured digestive system and cause infant botulism. Specifically, these spores will produce botulinum toxin in the baby’s large intestine. This toxin will cause nerve problems, such as blocking their nerve endings’ ability to signal a muscle to contract.
It’s OK for a breastfeeding mother to eat honey though as Clostridium botulinum cannot be transmitted via breast milk to the baby. However, babies like to put everything in their mouths, so if you eat a lot of honey, best to make sure nothing with honey on it gets near the baby.
If you liked this post and the Bonus Honey Facts below, you might also like:
Bonus Honey Facts:
- When honey crystallizes, all you have to do to return it to its former state is place it in a glass jar (if it’s not already in one), then put the jar in a container of water, which you’ll then heat. If it’s raw honey and you want to retain most of the nutritional and medicinal benefits, make sure you don’t heat it to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. In either case, never boil honey. This will negatively affect the flavor.
- You can also microwave crystallized honey. In this case, to make sure you don’t overheat it, microwave it in 20-30 second increments, stirring and waiting about a minute in between sessions.
- Similar to how refrigerating bread will make it go stale faster, putting honey in a refrigerator will make it crystallize faster.
- There are over 300 unique types of honey produced in the United States alone. Given that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to keep track of what plants one’s bees are getting nectar from, you’ll usually just see honey classified based on color, rather than from nectar from a distinct variety of plant.
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I have a can of raw honey made in 1999. Both ends of the can have expanded and when we opened it, the honey spewed out, almost fizzy. We tasted it and it tastes of the metal can. Is this dangerous to us or not?
I certainly wouldn’t eat anything that had caused the container to expand, then spewed out… almost fizzy! A good rule of thumb is, when the container shows signs if bulging or has expanded (no longer the original shape), don’t consume / eat it! You can bet some sort of chemical reaction has taken place. To cause a container to expand, a gas of some sort has been created. I wouldn’t take the risk in eating it! At the very least, you might be getting a high dose of
Aluminum from the can that you don’t need. Better to be safe than sorry!
(There are some gases created in chemical reactions that are perfectly safe. For example, when making yeast rolls, the gas produced by the yeast when combined with water is what causes bread to rise.)
Honey is an acid. Stored in a metal can, it could corrode the can, so it’s probably not a good idea to eat that. There’s a reason most beekeepers use glass jars when packaging.
Please I have a very big problems with honey!!!i think I have big problems eating honey.i think it is an allergy.half a spoon of raw honey will make me sick in the stomach just like a stomach ache!!!when everybody enjoys eating the honey I just watch them eat!!!!!!!!! Please help me!!!
you are allergic to honey. not that big of a deal.
So, what does your doctor say? Unless you are suicidal you might want to stop eating honey– it’s obvious something there is making you sick
Honey is certainly dangerous. I consumed a large amount over time in my hot tea and ended up with Laryngeal Angioedema… which almost killed me. Recover was gradual and took almost a year. I was oversensitive during that time to nuts, shellfish, and other Botilism-containing foords like corn syup and pure maple syrup.
It is a medicine that is also a food. Don’t be fooled: it is not a natural alternative to sugar or sweetners.
Thanks for the clarification about possible toxins in raw honey which I recently bought as part of the Amish recipe to resolve acid reflux. I had a reaction to the honey – nausea – and thought the honey was not good until a doctor friend explained about the toxin.
i have a couple jars of honey that i was given and they have a little bit of what looks like a white foam. just a small section a quarter or 2 in size. the jar is still sealed. nothing seems to be leaking out. do you think it’s ok to eat?
Perfectly OK (I’ve eaten it myself many times without any problems). It’s made of tiny bubbles trapped in honey when the raw honey was poured into the jar and maybe some particles of wax and polled that wasn’t completely removed from the honey. The foam just verifies that your honey was homemade.
That white “foam” is likely just a bit of wax and possibly air bubbles. These are common in fresh honey products, and I’d see them as indications the beekeeper is selling truly raw unfiltered honey!
Me and my son robbed a hive that was between 2 walls on the beach, the walls were wood. We put the honey in mason jars. about a month later the lids on the mason jars puffed up and the honey taste sour. Whats up, when I was a young boy me and my grandfather did things the same way and never had that problem.
If there is too much moisture in the honey, fermentation can take place. If the honey comb was not capped with wax that means the moisture content was not below the ideal level, 17-21%. If the honey comb was capped then the moisture content was fine but you took too long to process the honey and moisture was allowed to return. I’m not an expert on this, I’m just a person that keeps bees as a hobby.
Growing up, my mother always said, if the can, lid, bag or whatever is bulging, don’t eat it. Since no honey expert has replied to your question, I wouldn’t eat it. But, you might contact your county extention agent, if you have one,or poison control for an answer.
I ate some honey on a waffle and within 1 hour I couldn’t control my balance. I got very sick on my stomach. I have vomit numerous times and have tinkling in my feet and hands. My balance is still not back 10 hours later. Have eat this many times before but nothing has ever happened like this
I kept new honey in the plastic container (water tight) for few months and now some yellow white granular material has grown on its surface. Is this honey edible. I have tried to search Internet for remedy but so far in vain. Anybody has suggestions. Pls mag me back.
I added water to the crystalized honey and put it back in the cupboard. It got moldy and sulfery smelling and gas escaped when I re opened it a few weeks later. I have learned a lesson…Thankyou.
I have been using honey in my tea that is locally-produced from the same farm for the past four years. A few months ago, I got my first taste of truly bad honey – it tasted like what I imagine gasoline would taste like. I routinely buy four bottles at a time and all four bottles had this taste. There was a hand-written lot number on the bottom of the bottle. I went to a different store and purchased a bottle with a different lot number and the honey tasted fine. I emailed the farm and took the four bottles back to the store and the manager looked at me like I was crazy. She said she had no other complaints about the honey. Recently I started taking pain medication Tramadol for a bad disk in my back and have been extremely nauseous for two days. I had the same nausea two weeks ago. Because I took the Tramadol the day before yesterday and the nausea remains, I wonder if it may have been bad honey again and not the Tramadol after all. I recently bought some Organics Full Circle honey which was with the national brand honeys instead of the local honey and got the same gasoline taste again. Now, I am wondering if it was all in my head. Because I drink tea every day, was it the Tramadol making me nauseous or something wrong with my honey? I don’t know which would be worse.
Um… Dude, you’re insane. Stop posting ridiculous comments like this.
“baby’s like to put everything in their mouths, ”
Great article but you guys either don’t catch your SpelCheck when it screws up or you need lessons in grammar.
My cousin robbed the hive after rainfall and gifted me a bottle of honey. The honey have a foam on the surface and very sour taste. I am confused whether to use it or not.
I already know the answer to this but my parents and my brothers do not believe me we received some honey in a container that is a silver tin can the honey went dark and they think it went bad I eat it all the time in my coffee and my tea and just take it to spoonful of it can you help me out here and let them know it is perfectly fine thank you
I drank honey with milk for months – no visible color change because of milk.
Last time i made chamomile tea – mild yellow color tea turned in less than 1 minute very black
after adding honey — now balance problems, weak legs, and hot feet like to know if it could be honey the cause.
Fully agree with the article response by Daven to the main question.
I have 3 giant 5 lbs tub of Really Raw Honey purchased in 2000. Just opened one tub and like some members here, it turned into a completely rich deep dark mahogany color. Planning to make Mead. Scooped a tablespoon and chew out the honeycombs but it still tasted good and sweet. Though I recalled when I sampled it in 2000 b4 buying, the taste and texture were more candy like syrupy smooth and its color was a nice matt yellow. Nevertheless, read a lot on aged honey and almost always available info suggests honey never spoils, just like salt. Taste is pretty smoky sweet. Can’t wait for the Mead to be ready in a few weeks. If honey discovered in thousands of years in ancient Egyptian and Mayan catacombs were still edible today, guess the gods know what enduring luxuries they bury with for their journey to the other life.
I have 3 giant 5 lbs tub of Really Raw Honey purchased in 2000. Just opened one tub and it turned into a completely rich deep dark mahogany color. Planning to make Mead. Scooped a tablespoon and chew out the honeycombs but it still tasted good and sweet. Though I recalled when I sampled it in 2000 b4 buying, the taste and texture were more candy like syrupy smooth and its color was a nice matt yellow. Nevertheless, read a lot on aged honey and almost always available info suggests honey never spoils, just like salt. Taste is pretty smoky sweet. Can’t wait for the Mead to be ready in a few weeks. If honey discovered in thousands of years in ancient Egyptian and Mayan catacombs were still edible today, guess the gods know what enduring luxuries they bury with for their journey to the other life.
I left my raw honey in the trunk and it’s really hot here. Will that spoil the honey?
October 28 at 1:48 pm, I purchased Sourwood Honey from a Farmers Market with a vendor there. When I arrived home in ten minutes. The Lid was loose on it. I dripped a spoon in half way. I noticed it was a fast drip from the spoon. I tasted the honey. It was very very very sweet like someone had poured alot of sugar in it. I have never tasted honey like this. Well, it is twelve hours later after eating and brushing my teeth. I still have a strange sensation in my mouth. Actually, brushing made it worst. Which makes me think about the honey. I only put food in my mouth. I have consumed honey before and this has never happen. Why is this sensation still in my mouth? Should I be concern?
I ate old honey that had been sitting on my kitchen shelf for way over a year. It had partly solidified probably because my kitchen’s freezing cold. I had to dig hard with a knife to get it out. It tasted gorgeous and went well on Ryvita crackers with some butter. Nothing wrong with it.
My brother was given a quart of ” home grown ” honey about 2 months ago in a mason jar : but not sealed tight . HE HAD IT SETTING ON HIS KICHEN COUNTER . yesterday he seen a drip on the counter and when he looked at the jar it had abut a quarter inch of foam on it he skimmed it off and threw away .later he came back and more foam had developed on it and said it tasted funny . Why would it produce foam like this and should he use it?? He has gotten honey from the same man before and it’s been O.K
Sounds like the honey was not fully dehydrated. When bees remove the water from the honey, it doesn’t tend to Fermi t. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you might just harvest nectar that hasn’t quite gotten to honey. With the higher moisture content, that will ferment…
I have warmed my crystallized honey in a pan of warm water. Now that its smooth again I want to make a helper for a dry hacking cough. It says to stir it in warm water now and it will be like a cough medice. Hopefully slow down the dry cough.how much should I make. Small amount or a few doses
I have in fact gotten sick from spoiled honey on several occasions.
The longer honey sets around the more likely the container will leak and allow air and moisture to be absorbed.
This can cause bacteria to form that can make you sick.
The first warning sign is a strong odor that may smell like feet and some foam on top of the honey.
This is a indication that some bacteria is living in the honey so throw it out.
Symptoms of food poisoning may follow soon after consuming spoiled honey.
Always read date codes on honey and if none are present be sure the honey is clear not cloudy with no foam at the top
i found some old honey and the color was very dark and tasted very bitter almost like black coffee. is it still good?