Is my honey safe to eat?

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

Can I safely eat the 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. But in my impatient mood, I want to know what they’re smoking.

Insects are part of a normal diet

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.

Worm juice in your apple juice

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.

Honey is a very safe food

My point? Don’t worry. Honey is one of the safest foods around as long as you, the beekeeper, followed the recommended protocols for any treatments you used in the hive.

If you don’t like insects on your toast, remove the ones you can see, then relax. There are things out there we should be worried about, but a bug in your honey doesn’t make the cut.


Extracted honey in jars. Is this honey safe to eat?

Extracted honey in jars. What lurks within? Pixabay photo.


  • 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?

  • 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 have..as 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…

    • 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.

  • 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?


    • Frank,

      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.

      • Rusty,
        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.

    • Greg,

      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 “

  • 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.)

  • 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?

    • Linda,

      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.

  • 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.

    • Joanna,

      “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.

  • 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…

  • 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.)

    • Becca,

      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!

        • Louise,

          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.

  • Rusty,

    I have had what I assume is a hive failed because of CCD. ALL of my bees were gone in the spring with little to no bodies. And my hive had a considerable amount of honey still there.

    I bought a new hive months ago and have installed them. This have has not taken off well at all. The original queen died before she came out of her cage. The replacement queen didn’t lay for almost a month. And my numbers dwindled severely. I have been feeding them with sugar water and deep frames of honey from the leftover from last year. My new queen is staring to lay. But they are not grow as fast as they should. And they have used up a lot of the honey deeps that I gave them earlier. I was about to give them more of the full deep honey frames but I am concerned if that has been part of the problem. Do you think that the honey from the failed hive could be baffled for them????

    Thank you

    • Bruce,

      What you describe sounds like a classic case of death by Varroa mite. In any case, the honey will be fine to give to your bees. I would feed it without a second thought. I don’t know what is causing the slow growth rate, but it’s not the honey.

  • Great information. I did get a little itchy reading about the amount of critters I consume daily. I sought the post out because I just pulled my first/only frame of honey in the 4 years of having bees. The queen had laid 7-10 eggs in the center. I could have left the frame in, but the entire remainder of the frame was capped honey. I carefully carved out the brood and an extra inch around them to be safe and discarded it. I was sitting here looking at my beautiful honey and worrying if it could be contaminated because of it. I feel better after reading this. Thank you. If I’m missing anything, I’m open to hearing from you. Thanks.

    • Jennifer,

      I’ve been reading a lot lately about bee brood as a food source. It is quite popular in many parts of the world. In other words, don’t worry. Your honey is fine.

  • Just lost 2 hive to hive beetles. I had 2 honey supers on each that were full. When I spin them I found a lot of larva that I filter out. So I think the honey is fine. But what can I do save the brood frames?

    • Chet,

      You can eat anything you want, but the trick will be finding it. Wasps, including bald-faced hornets, do not make honey.

  • Rusty,

    Each month I put together a short newsletter for our bee association in Kentucky (Paradise Beekeepers Association). After reading your article “Is My Honey Safe To Eat” I thought it would be very beneficial for those who get the newsletter. I wanted to see if it would be OK to use your article in the newsletter. I would give you credit for the article and I would also attach your website address.


  • Rusty,

    I had a super at the end of the season with 4 frames capped and 3 partially capped. My mentor told me to take the honey as we were setting up the 2 brood boxes for overwintering. I decided to try cutting comb and bottling it. I crush and strained the 3 partial frames but have not yet topped up the jars with comb. I’m concerned that the partial frames would have had nectar cells, and this would contaminate the jars. Am I right, or should I continue?

    • Kathy,

      You need to check the moisture content with a refractometer. Normally, if you turn the frames upside down and shake them really hard, the wet honey will fly out and you are left with honey that is pretty much cured. If you didn’t do that, there’s no telling how much water is in those uncapped cells without measuring. The rule of thumb is you shouldn’t extract more than about 10% uncapped cells, otherwise the honey may ferment. (In other words, you want to extract capped cells along with a maximum of about 10% uncapped). You can use liquidy honey to feed the bees in spring, but in the mean time, you may want to freeze it.

  • So my hive seems to have maggots. The comb is black or dark. There was a lot of capped comb which is kinda nasty looking. The hive smells a little like a brewery, I suppose. The maggots rubbed honey residue over the entire box. I removed all of the comb and placed it in trash bags just a min ago. Just a couple of weeks ago the boxes were all clean. Bummer. We have a Warre hive. So I guess I can just mash it up and see how much honey? There are a lot of maggots but I didn’t see any a couple of weeks ago. Hive is 15 months old. How do I clean boxes?

    • Sam,

      This description sounds like small hive beetles. That it “smells like a brewery” and has “honey residue” (slime?) smeared around sounds very beetle/yeast-like. Do you live in an SHB area?

  • Sorry for your loss. I agree with Rusty, definitely sounds like SHB. The beetles lay a huge amount of eggs (unlike varroa mites) which is why you didn’t see them one time, but were overrun the next. A strong colony can usually cope with them. I’ve read that keeping hives in a sunny location helps, as the beetles don’t like heat and the bees work harder in it. You’ve thrown away the frames, now scrub down the boxes with washing soda and when they are dry, scorch the surfaces with a blow torch, making sure you cover the corners and crevices at the joins. I hope this helps.

  • Thank you for this article! I am usually pretty confident in my own judgement whether something is safe to eat or not but this one really did baffle/freak me out a little. And so far this is the only article that’s come close to answering my question.

    In my recently opened jar of honey I found what appears to be a grape. I suspect one of my daughters is to blame despite my instructions not to let any moisture, or condensation get in the jar. (I am not a fan of peanut butter in the jelly jar either) But, back to the subject at hand, I realize the ability of honey to “keep” but wasn’t sure how it would work in this situation. I really didn’t want to throw away a large amount of honey, but for whatever reason the foreign object which is likely produce which I wouldn’t expect to keep on its own. But I also know the reputation it has for preserving itself. Now in the morning I will try to confirm my theory that it is indeed a grape!

  • Hi, Rusty. It’s looking like spring is finally coming here to North Central Kentucky. A few days after attending the Bluegrass Beekeeping School last week the weather was in the 70’s and I had a chance to inspect and manage some of my hives. One had a couple old frames in the brood box that I wanted to replace. These frames had some honey left over, but only a tiny amount of brood/larva in them. Taking the opportunity to try out my new homemade honey extractor stand, I cut the caps off the honey cells and spun them out, collecting two and a half pints of honey. Since I used Apivar strips last September, will there be any residual chemical contamination concerns keeping me from eating the honey? Could (or should) I feed it to the bees?

  • So I am seeing a lot about the bug pieces. We are fairly new at beekeeping. I am curious on a different side.

    So we just did an extraction of two hives in some old walls. They had been there a while. We found some hive beetles in the first, a lot in the second. The first, we saved the honey, filtered it to virtually no floaters. I found only one beetle I filtered out. The second hive had no beetles during the filter process, but it is much cloudier. I’ve never removed honey from a hive as this is only our second year, plus never dealt with beetles. We were reading the beetles will soil the honey and cause it to ferment. Anyone familiar with this and how to tell if your honey is ruined?

  • Hi! We are in our second year and had a terrible discovery yesterday that all of the bees were dead! We are in Michigan and it’s been a very mild December (30F a lot of the days). About 1 week before they died we flipped over the spacer box on top of the frames and put a container of sugar sitting right on the frames, along with a pillow case with hamster bedding in it to help absorb moisture. Those 2 things were in the hive before, but there was a board across top of the frames with a hole in it so they could access the sugar. They suddenly had a lot more air space in their hive when I flipped the empty spacer box and I wonder why they all died. (I saw on videos to put the sugar tray on the frames).

    There were a lot baby bees in the cells and plenty of honey.

    Any ideas?? thanks!

    • Betsy,

      I’m not convinced that flipping the spacer had anything to do with colony death. Did you do your mite treatments on time?

  • After my favorite apiary folks retired, I headed to the farmers’ market to buy a 5 lb. jar from another vendor. As I was pouring it into smaller jars, I smelled yeast. I figured it was just me since I’m losing my sense of smell and some things smell weird, because how could honey smell like yeast? A small amount of honey was left in the big jar, so I capped it to deal with another day. When I next looked, there were 2 1″ long white crawly bugs in the honey. Yuck! When I googled it, your site came up, and I must admit, I read the entire blog. Thanks for all the info! I still think I’ll look for a different honey vendor next time…

  • Hello,

    I recently bought 5 gal buckets from a beekeeper but when I brought them home, I found dead roaches and other bugs in one bucket and a dead lizard in the other. I have been trying to figure out if it is safe to eat. I don’t know how long the dead things have been in the honey. Do you have any advice for me? Thank you.

    • Yesi,

      Microorganisms cannot live in fully cured honey, which is why it is used for burns and abrasions. So although it may seem gross, it is probably safe to remove the dead things and use the honey as normal. What I would do is carefully scoop out a bowl of honey around the lizard, just to be cautious. And take big spoonsful of honey out around the insects.

      But you need to decide for yourself as you are the one taking the risk. I can make no guarantees. For more info on how honey fights microbes, see Honey’s Magical Power.

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