How long can you keep honey? (3 factors affecting shelf life)

In this article, we will answer the question “How long can you keep honey?” and discuss the factors that affect the shelf life of honey, how to store honey, and what causes the loss of quality in the honey.

How long can you keep honey?

You can keep honey for periods varying from 6 months to about 2 years (1, 2). However, how long you can keep honey depends on many factors, such as the chemical composition of the honey and its properties and the storage conditions (1, 2, 3, 4).

Factors that can determine the shelf life of honey are the temperature of storage, light exposure, exposure to humidity and possible microbial contaminations (5).

What affects the shelf life of honey?

The shelf life of honey can be affected by the storage conditions and the intrinsic properties of the honey (1, 2, 3, 4, 5):

The botanic origin of the honey: The type of honey determines its composition and consequently the presence of compounds that give honey its resistance against microbial activity, mainly the antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, the concentration of sugars and the pH.

The storage conditions: The main environmental factors that affect the shelf life of honey are temperature and humidity. High temperatures promote accelerated chemical reactions, leading to the loss of the properties of honey and the generation of hydroxymethylfurfural, which causes nutritional losses and colour changes.

High moisture leads to an increase in the water activity of honey, promoting the growth of osmophilic bacteria. These can cause fermentation in the honey, leading to alterations of the organoleptic properties in the honey.

External contaminants: Contaminations by pathogenic bacteria, especially by spores of Clostridium botulinum, can occur during the collecting and packing of honey. This bacteria is a spore-forming bacteria able to survive in high-sugar-concentrated media and produce a hazardous toxin (6).

In addition, unhygienic handling can cause contamination by Salmonella species that are antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

How to correctly store honey?

To correctly store honey, it is essential to protect honey from moisture, heat and light, especially sunlight (1, 2). In addition, good hygienic practices in handling and using honey are essential to reduce the risks of microbial contamination of the product.

  • Glass jars and stainless steel containers with a tight seal should be used to store honey, thus protecting from the environmental humidity and preventing moisture increase
  • Refrigerating honey will make it crystallize faster, however, low temperatures of storage may favour the longer shelf life, as it reduces the rate of chemical reactions that cause the degradation of honey. In this case, it is necessary to prevent the increase of moisture during storage in the refrigerator
  • Use clean utensils to use and serve honey to avoid external contaminations

Other FAQs about Honey that you may be interested in.

Can you get sick from eating expired honey?

Does honey cause cavities?

When causes the loss of quality in honey?

Many factors can cause the loss of quality in honey. Although honey is a relatively safe product with a long shelf life, due to its intrinsic properties, external factors can drastically reduce the quality of honey and lead to the development of undesirable characteristics in the honey.

These factors are discussed in the following sections of this article:

Occurrence of microbial contamination

Microorganisms are suppressed by the antimicrobial and antibiotic properties of the honey, however, honey can be contaminated during processing or by improper handling, leading to possible food outbreaks (6).

The presence of toxic compounds

During the storage of honey, chemical reactions occur, leading to the production of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), especially when honey is stored at high temperatures. This compound can be toxic when ingested in large quantities. It causes the darkening of honey (1). 

Crystallisation due to improved moisture

Honey can naturally crystallise due to an factors, including the high amount of fructose in the composition and the increase in moisture. Although it does not necessarily cause a change in the chemical compostition and the nutritional properties of the honey, it can be an indication of improved moisture, thus a sign of spoilage (7).

However, crystallisation caused by the storage at low temperatures is not harmful to the product (5). 


In this article, we answered the question “How long can you keep honey?” and discussed the factors that affect the shelf life of honey, how to store honey and what causes the loss of quality in honey.

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