It is a requirement under current legislation that honey being traded (sold or bartered) is given a Best Before date.  Some beekeepers confuse ‘Best Before’ with ‘Use By’ and tell me that honey lasts indefinitely quoting the, probably apocryphal, story that honey from Tutankhamen’s tomb was still edible after 3000 years.

I recently brought in from my garage a jar of honey which gave me the chance to illustrate the problem with honey storage and labelling.

Let’s start by understanding what the ‘Best Before’ date means.

“Best before date is about quality and not safety. The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best. Its flavour and texture might not be as good. The best before dates appear on a wide range of frozen, dried, tinned and other foods. The best before date will only be accurate if the food is stored according to the instructions on the label.” Food Standards Agency.

The jar of honey below was given to me in 2014 by a beekeeping friend in Pembrokeshire.  It was perfectly good honey when I received it.  Now, as you can see the honey has separated with granules of glucose (probably), while the other sugars (fructose and sucrose) are still liquid.  Worse still there is a layer of liquid at the top with a lower sugar content and which will start to ferment.

As a consumer would you think this was still acceptable as a product and go back to the beekeeper for more?  Probably not.

BB_2020

OK, it is now four years since it was jarred, and I admit it was kept by me in an unheated garage for that whole time.  But, how long did it take to reach this stage? I don’t know is the answer by the way.

Honey produced by hobbyist beekeepers or bee-farmers varies with each year and harvest and predicting when honey will granulate is nigh impossible.

So, what as a beekeeper can you do?  Here are some ideas.

  • Allow two years for your best before date – even if granulation occurs in this time it can be managed.  I know that you’ll want to bulk by labels to save on delivery costs but this may be a false economy.
  • If you want to order labels in bulk, use the wording ‘For best before see base’ – this is allowed by legislation – and buy small labels printed with a date e.g. ‘BB 2020’ and apply this this to the base of the jar – for example a sheet of 96, 24 mm x 12 mm labels can be supplied for 55 pence.  Estimate your annual production and by enough sheets for each year all at the same time.
  • Ask for the the wording – ‘store at room temperature’ to be included on your labels or, better still, use a storage and granulation advice label on the rear of the jar a sheet of 36 labels of the style shown below costs 55 pence.

G2_CTO_45x30x36v2

Finally, if you wondered what durability information the beekeeper had put on the jar of granulated honey shown at the top of this post – it was ‘BB 2022’.

Happy beekeeping.

John