Is my honey safe to eat?

Is it safe to eat honey from a hive with mites?

Is it safe to eat honey after my bees absconded?

Is the honey from a dead hive safe to eat?

A moth was on the honey comb. How can I sterilize it?

Is it safe to eat a jar of honey with comb inside?

Help! There’s a bug in my honey. Will I be sick??? Please get back to me right away!!!

Is it safe to eat honey from a hive that had mice?

Some variation of the “is it safe” query pops up every day. The questions often concern insects or mites, as if a stray wing may sicken us.

In my generous mood, I patiently explain. In my catty mood, I want to say it is entirely unfit for consumption, and if they’ll send it to me, I’ll take care of it. In my impatient mood, I want to know what they’re smoking.

Why are we so afraid of insects? Furthermore, why is food from a store or restaurant deemed perfectly safe while food directly from nature is suspect? People will eat mystery meat out of a can—or a shiny apple containing 37 different pesticides—without a thought. But those same people will panic at the idea of eating something a mite may have stepped on.

When I read these questions, I get the feeling that people don’t realize how many contaminants are in their food. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes a handy-dandy little guide called the “Defect Levels Handbook,” which lists the allowable number of insect parts and rodent hairs in all different types of food. For example:

  • Peanut butter may legally contain up to 30 insect parts per 100 grams. My jar of Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter says a serving size is 2 tablespoons or 32 g. So that’s 10 insect parts per serving. Yum. Furthermore, the reason for the restriction is listed as aesthetic. In other words, those parts won’t hurt you, they just look bad.
  • Broccoli is always interesting. Frozen broccoli may contain up to 60 aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams. That’s about 3/4 cup. Reason: aesthetic.
  • Canned mushrooms should not contain more than 20 maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained product, nor should they contain more than 75 mites per 100 grams of drained product. Reason: aesthetic.
  • Wheat flour should average less than 75 insect fragments per 50 grams. Reason: aesthetic. And you thought you were vegetarian? Think again.

When I was a kid my grandfather would ask, “What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?”

I would shrug, trying to imagine something worse.

Then he would laugh merrily and say, “Finding a half a worm!” He though that was hilarious; I thought it was gross.

One day, as he was loading bushel baskets of apples into the trunk of his car, I poked around, looking for one to eat. “These are all wormy,” I complained, tossing them back.

“Of course!” he said. “That’s why we’re pressing them for cider!”

Needless to say, cider didn’t pass my lips for many months. But people don’t get sick drinking cider or grape juice or cranberry juice, worms and all. It all goes back to the aesthetic: we dress up our food to make it look nice, but the harmless contaminants are still there. The trouble is, we do such a great job hiding the truth, that people believe their food is pure.

My point? Don’t worry. Honey is one of the safest foods around. If you don’t like insects on your toast, remove the ones you can see, then chill. There are things out there we should be worried about, but a bug in your honey doesn’t make the list.


What lurks within?



GREAT blog!!! AMEN!!!


I can handle a wing, even a leg in my honey, but I think I just lost my appetite for mushrooms!


Excellent piece, I am a little bugged by it though…:)


I agree with Rusty! Honey is so good for you.


Yes, I am glad to have grown out of being squeamish about maggots and and the like in food.

So, which of your moods wrote this blog?


I’m not telling.

Mark Luterra

I’m not sure I would eat honey from frames with mouse turds (hantavirus anyone?), but a few bees and mites don’t bother me…


Excellent point.


It’s with mixed emotion that I read this and the only thing I can think is…it reminds me just how horrible public education is. However I’m glad people are willing to ask the questions.

Living in rural south Georgia for my early years, I grew up around agriculture and hunters. We understood well where food came from, how it was handled, and the contaminants that it could most anybody from rural or agricuturally strong area would.

But due to technical progress and a horrible public education system in this country, we now have people that grow up in cities, never stepping foot on a farm, nor understanding how food gets onto the shelves of their grocery store hence why you get comments from high schoolers like “I don’t understand why farmers and hunters have to kill animals. Why can’t they just go to the store and buy their food like everybody else does.” It’s unfortunate that their ignorance, removal from agricuture, and lack of desire to know the truth leads to this belief that “If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” mentality. And even worse, many of these people vote. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy there are pig and cattle farmers out there so I can have bacon on my burger without dealing with the smell of raising pigs & cows. And I don’t think it is necessary that people that probably never will step foot on a farm need to understand the intracies of farming, but a passing familiarity with what farm life is, just to gain an appreciation for where their food comes from is not unreasonable.

Maybe if that happened more often, you wouldn’t get questions like these. Or maybe this is the price of progress? I don’t know. Anyway, sorry for the rant…


So was that your generous answer or the impatient one?


Why does everyone want to know? Let’s just say, it started out as an over-the-top rant. After I let it sit overnight, I seriously toned it down. The original was probably more fun to read, but not quite fair.

Frank Olson

Interesting topic. I grew up on a farm, so I am well aware of the “bug” problem.

My question is about honey from a hive that has died. The population plummeted during a cold spell and left only a few hundred bees. They soon died even with an infusion of new brood and bees from a strong hive. When I opened the hive I found about a hundred or so dead bees with their heads stuck down into the cells, like they were eating the honey to stay warm. I believe that the honey is fine to eat. My question is do I remove the wax from the brood frames and start over or is it okay to bring in a new nuc and start again with what is left?




Unless there are obvious signs of a disease such as AFB, I would reuse the brood frames. I usually stop using them when they or four or five years old, but until then, they are fine to use and they get your new colony building up faster.

Frank Olson

Thanks. There was no evidence of any disease. I think it was just a weak hive all along. It is/was only less than a year old.


People don’t want bugs in their food, so we have bug spray. People don’t want weeds in their yards or gardens, so we have weed spray. People don’t want bacteria in their house or on their hands, so we have bacterial sprays. More and more research is showing that dirt and germs help your body fight disease and sickness. Besides, some cultures have dirty hands and eat weeds and bugs.



There’s also a theory that food allergies and some of the auto-immune type diseases are on the rise because we live in environments that are too sterile for our own good. It seems that people who are exposed to more “bad stuff” at an early age can handle it much better than those who were never exposed. And not surprisingly, all the pesticides and anti-bacterial chemicals are causing other problems.


could not have put it better myself !!
The world today is so false, maggots & insects are all good protein, far better for you than chemicals.
if an apple has a bug “tis good “


“If you don’t like insects on your toast, remove the ones you can see, then chill.” Best line in the whole post. I loved it!!


I produce (so far) only a moderate amount of honey.

When people ask if it’s processed, I tell them I only filter it and only use good, clean pantyhose to do it. They generally shut right up.

I, like Frank, have a question about dead hives. We thought that a hive that had died was robbed, but then found out that there was someone fogging the stream bed nearby and that the hive we thought initiated the robbing had succumbed as well. So please check, you don’t know what some idiot might be doing.

(We decided to trash all the comb, which was heartbreaking but we couldn’t take the chance.)

Linda Rivers

Great information as usual! I was told that I had to heat my honey to 140 degrees for 30 minutes before I could sell it at the farmer’s market or give it to neighbors. I am gathering from your article that the information I was given is incorrect. I like raw honey which is filtered but not heated. Am I on the right track?



First of all, there are no laws about giving things away. You can give anything you want to anyone. As for selling in farmer’s markets, there may be a local law of some sort regarding pasteurization, but I’ve never heard of one. Basically, you are selling raw honey. Raw means nothing is done to it, especially not heating. I don’t know where you live, but to be absolutely sure, I would check your state/province regulations.

Linda Rivers

Thanks, Rusty. I will check the regulations with the State of Georgia.


RIGHT ON! This is one of my biggest peeves in the kitchen, second only to slavish obedience to “sell by” dates instead of just sniffing the darn milk. I woulda posted the rant- your patience amazes me.



“Sell by” dates, “pull” dates, “best by” dates raise my blood pressure right off the charts. I could write day by day on that subject alone. In December, I pulled some organic canned vegetables out of my pantry and donated them to a food drive for the homeless shelter. They were rejected and returned. I was shocked. Turned out they had reached their “best by” date. So I went to the store, purchased new stuff for the food drive, and we ate the antiquated organic vegetables. By the way, we are still alive to tell about it.

Paul Kreider

As a winemaker, I’d hesitate to tell anyone mow many earwigs, aphids, fruit flies, etc. are processed along with grapes to make that bottle of wine you love so dearly. And we hand picked our grapes, commercial automated picking is less careful: dead birds, rabbits, snakes and snails. Thanks for a real post.


I sent this exact question and then found you had already answered it with this terrific blog!
I couldn’t agree more. Still remember those days of climbing a tree, plucking fruit, wiping it on your shorts and eating it. Picking berries off the ground where they had fallen, wiping them in a handkerchief and munching on them. Nothing happened, nothing will. But I’m sure all this processed food is going to be the death of me! :)
ok…now I’m going to eat a spoonful of the honey I just got out of a hive…


… and I still want to read your rant version!


What if my hive died from a probable pesticide exposure? I’m guessing the honey is still ok (especially since they put it up before they died) but is there anything along those lines that ruins honey?

(Love this post, by the way. I work with kids and one of my unofficial goals is to get them as dirty as possible. Some of my students’ families called my program Dirt Camp. Sometimes we ate ants. They taste like cinnamon red hots.)



Bees exposed to pesticide usually know they are ill and go outside the hive to die. In any case, I’ve never heard of pesticide landing in the honey, probably because the bees are too sick to store it.

Dirt Camp sounds good.


I really have the same question and just want some consensus maybe from others. My very healthy and productive hive died this summer and almost all the bees were outside the hive in a huge pile on the ground. No sign of disease. A couple of queen cells which makes me think she died first and they were trying to produce a new one when the whole hive died off.

I had MANY full, mostly capped frames of honey that I was about to harvest. Now I am afraid that it might be tainted by whatever pesticide they brought back to the hive and afraid to use it….even to feed my adjacent hive (which suffered no damage BTW.

Is this honey safe to consume? I wanted to have it tested, but not knowing what particular pesticide to test for means it would cost somewhere upwards of $500.

Would really like to hear people’s comments on this! Thanks!



Poisoned bees are in no condition to process nectar into honey. In many, many tests that have been done over the years, pesticides are virtually never found in honey. This is because nearly all pesticides are formulated to dissolve in fats and oils, not water. Since nectar and honey are water-based, they do not accumulate pesticides. Furthermore, bees die very soon after exposure to pesticide, so all that capped honey would have not been exposed. There are many things to worry about in our pesticide-centric world, but this isn’t one of them.


Thank you, Rusty…you have just saved me from dumping a WHOLE LOT of honey!


Yes, thank you!