USDA Honey Grading

The USDA publishes a grading system for extracted honey that provides general standards for two types of honey;

  1. Filtered Honey: all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, or other materials normally found in suspension, have been removed.
  2. Strained Honey: strained to the extent that most of the particles, including comb, propolis, or other defects normally found in honey, have been removed. Grains of pollen, small air bubbles, and very fine particles would not normally be removed.

Characteristics covered by the USDA grading system for Honey: Moisture content, absence of defects, flavor & aroma and clarity (for filtered honey). Color is defined but not part of the calculation of grade. For imported honey that bears USDA grading information, the country of origin must be declared.

Characteristics Not covered by the USDA honey grading system:
It is important to note that this is a voluntary system. No enforcement or checking is performed. For that reason and because of the grading system is lacking in several key areas, this grading system should never be the only deciding factor in selecting honey, there are many important honey characteristics not covered by the USDA grading system. Two honeys could be legally graded as Grade A honey and be identically labeled as, “100% Organic Clover Honey from Arizona – USDA Grade A” yet be entirely different honeys. They could be a blend of honeys from all over the world, some heated to 180 degrees to make it easy to filter, contain antibiotics, chemicals and corn syrup, not made from Clover at all nor actually be from plants in Arizona!

Also note that from the USDA Rules and Regulations, “…honey does not require official inspection in order to carry official USDA grade marks and since there are no existing programs that require the official inspection and certification of honey,…”

Not covered: Purity or added ingredients (sugar or syrups), heating, contaminants, authenticity of labeling (natural, organic, raw, unheated), biological source (floral, honeydew), botanical source (Arcacia, Clover etc.), or regional source. Many of these factors are defined and followed for honeys from other countries (Europe, Australia, New Zealand) and supported via honey standards and labeling, but are not part of a grading system per se. For honey from the United States, the best policy for determining the level of quality is to purchase honey directly from the honey farmer or a trusted distributor or supplier who can vouch for the honey source and processing methods. It is important to note that some states are now considering enforcing standards for honey produced in their state. Florida is the first state to actually create and enforce a honey identity standard. Other states with honey standards: California – scroll to Division 13. Bee Management and Honey Production. Wisconsin and North Carolina are close to adopting a standard.

USDA Honey Grading Standard

U.S. Grade A is the quality of extracted honey that meets the applicable requirements of Table A and has a minimum total score of 90 points.

–  U.S. Grade B is the quality of extracted honey that meets the applicable requirements of Table A and has a minimum total score of 80 points.

–  U.S. Grade C is the quality of extracted honey that meets the applicable requirements of Table A and has a minimum total score of 70 points.

Table A

Rating FactorFilteredFiltered PointsStrainedStrained Points
Moisture ContentYGrade A – 18.6% max
Grade B – 18.6% max
Grade C – 20% max
YGrade A – 18.6% max
Grade B – 18.6% max
Grade C – 20% max
Absence of DefectsYA – 37 to 40 pts
B* – 34 to 36 pts
C* – 31 to 33 pts
YA – 37 to 40 pts
B* – 34 to 36 pts
C* – 31 to 33 pts
Flavor & AromaYA – 45 to 50 pts
B* – 40 to 44 pts
C* – 35 to 39 pts
YA – 45 to 50 pts
B* – 40 to 44 pts
C* – 35 to 39 pts
ClarityYA – 8 to 10 pts
B – 6 to 7 pts
C* – 4 to 5 pts
Color (see designations below)NN/ANN/A
TotalGrade A – Min 90 pts
Grade B – Min 80 pts
Grade C – Min 70 pts
Divide total by .9 then apply below
Grade A – Min 90 pts
Grade B – Min 80 pts
Grade C – Min 70 pts
*Limiting rule – sample units with score points that fall in this range shall not be graded above the respective grade regardless of the total score.
**Substandard grades not shown

† How to Interpret Table A:

  • Moisture Content: Percentage of water. Percentage of soluble solids =100% –  moisture content%
    • Grade A – Maximum Moisture Content: 18.6%; or Minimum Percent Soluble Solids: 81.4%
    • Grade B – Maximum Moisture Content: 18.6%; or Minimum Percent Soluble Solids: 81.4%
    • Grade C – Maximum Moisture Content: 20%; or Minimum Percent Soluble Solids: 80%
  • Absence of Defects: Means the degree of freedom from particles of comb, propolis, or other defects which may be in suspension or deposited as sediment in the honey.
    • Grade A – 37 to 40 points; Practically free – practically none that affect appearance or edibility
    • Grade B – 34 to 36 points; Reasonably free – do not materially affect the appearance or edibility
    • Grade C – 31 to 33 points; Fairly free – do not seriously affect the appearance or edibility
  • Flavor & Aroma: The degree of taste excellence and aroma for the predominant floral source
    • Grade A – 45 to 50 points; Good – free from caramelization, smoke, fermentation, chemicals, and other causes.
    • Grade B – 40 to 44 points; Reasonably good – practically free from caramelization; free from smoke, fermentation,chemicals, and other causes.
    • Grade C – 35 to 39 points; Fairly good – reasonably free from caramelization; free from smoke, fermentation, chemicals, and other causes.
  • Clarity: With respect to filtered style only, the apparent transparency or clearness of honey to the eye and to the degree of freedom from air bubbles, pollen grains, or other fine particles of any material suspended in the product
    • Grade A – 8 to 10 points: Clear – may contain air bubbles that do not materially affect the appearance; may contain a trace of pollen grains or other finely divided particles in suspension that do not affect appearance.
    • Grade B – 6 to 7 points: Reasonably clear – may contain air bubbles, pollen grains, or other finely divided particles in suspension that do not materially affect the appearance.
    • Grade C – 4 to 5 points: Fairly clear – may contain air bubbles, pollen grains, or other finely divided particles in suspension that do not seriously the affect the appearance.
  • Color designations (not used for grading): Typically the color indicates the strength of the flavor of the honey. Darker honey tends to be stronger than light. There are some exceptions. Linden or Basswood honey is light in color but has a strong flavor, while Tulip Tree honey is dark but has a milder flavor.
    • Water White: Honey that is Water White or lighter in color; Pfund Scale: 8 or less; Optical Density: 0.0945
    • Extra White: Honey that is darker than Water White; but not darker than Extra White in color.Pfund Scale: Over 8 to and including 17;Optical Density: 189
    • White: Honey that is darker than Extra White, but not darker than White in color; Pfund Scale: Over 17 to and including 34; Optical Density: .378
    • Extra Light Amber: Honey that is darker than White, but not darker than Extra light Amber in color; Pfund Scale: Over 34 to and including 50; Optical Density: 595
    • Light Amber: Honey that is darker than Extra Light Amber, but not darker than light Amber in color; Pfund Scale: Over 50 to and including 85; Optical Density: 1.389
    • Amber: Honey that is darker than light Amber, but not darker than Amber in color; Pfund Scale: Over 85 to and including 114; Optical Density: 3.008
    • Dark Amber: Honey that is darker than Amber in color; Pfund Scale: Over 114

Next: Raw Honey: From a consumer’s point of view—the best grade of honey.
Other Resources and Further Reading
United States Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey PDF
United States Standards for Grades of Comb Honey PDF
USDA Revises Standards to Include Country of Origin
Honey Labeling Regulations
Department of Agriculture Official Rules – Country of Origin Labeling of Packed Honey

24 comments to USDA Honey Grading

  • Stan Kanter

    REVISED COMMENT (delete previous comment)

    Please note that there is some country of origin labeling confusion that is the result of USDA only requiring country of origin on the label, if a USDA Grade is used.

    Many honey packers interpret that to mean that if you do not put a USDA Grade on the label, country of origin is not required.

    This is correct. However, it does not override U.S. Customs requirements that any imported product requires that the country of origin appear conspicuously to the end user.

    Only product of USA does not require a country of origin designation.

    It should also be noted that many years ago, Customs determined that blending and bottling imported honey does not change the state of the product. Therefore, country of origin is still required.

  • HT

    Hi Stan:

    Can you cite the actual document that refers to this requirement?

    Is this it?


  • Carol Richard

    In Grade A honey, is most of the pollen left ?

    Is Grade a honey filtered or strained?

    Is it correct to say that honey without pollen is not honey?

    Please respond to my email address.

    Thank you

  • The short answer is that the style of the extracted honey must be included along with the Grade to determine the likelihood of pollen. The styles are, filtered and strained, The definition of Grade A honey – filtered will likely not have pollen. Grade A honey – strained may have pollen.

    Here is the USA Honey Grading definition for Extracted Honey:

    Of course, comb honey contains all the pollen and is unprocessed!

    Here is the USA Honey Grading definition for Comb Honey:

    The legal definition of honey varies by country. Here in the USA, the legal definition of honey is basically non-existent. However the EU standard is the Codex Alimentarius for honey and does include pollen.

    My opinion is that honey should be labeled correctly. Honey without pollen is a type of processed honey. If it is so labeled as processed, filtered honey, then I accept that. If it was flavorful, I might use it for cooking.

    Raw, unprocessed, unheated honey strained to remove large visible foreign substances but allowing very low concentrations of unnatural substances (less than a few parts per million), is what I would accept to be the definition of honey. This is what I would prefer to eat.


  • Hi Scott,

    Can you tell me anything about Signature Clover Honey (US Grade A Pure)? To get nutritional facts on it, you have to write to them (snail mail). After reading your little article “USDA Honey Grading”, I thought this might be an attempt to dodge some aspects of this honey’s content. (Who writes letters any more?)

    As a teacher, I’m interested in educating students as consumers, even(especially?)if it means questioning the choices of the dining service we recently hired.

    Thanks, Dave Arnold

  • Hi Dave:

    That’s a great question! I applaud your desire to vet your food supply choices for school dining. Looking carefully at the label and questioning what we are eating is an important part of being a responsible member of society, not to mention our own health and well-being. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me!”

    The drive toward low cost food and availability is at the center of the food quality issue. The government’s first responsibility is food safety. The need for safe food is obvious, yet we must be able to trust what we read on the label if we are to have a viable food market, especially when we are buying through distribution (the middle men between suppliers and retailers) and not from the farmers themselves. Food grading laws and guidelines could be the answer to that.

    As I have mentioned before, the current USDA honey grading system and enforcement is not up to the task. It IS fairly adequate if you want a generic honey flavored sugar replacement that looks and tastes like “honey”. But it is woefully inadequate when honey is purchased for its intrinsic healthful properties and flavor. The current honey grading system doesn’t cover:

    • – Varietals (type of plant/flower)
    • – Nectar sources (both geographically and type of plants)
    • – Contamination from invisible, non-lethal, yet questionable contaminants (antibiotics, pesticides, etc)
    • – Processing techniques (heating, filtration, processing, blending)

    Additionally, it doesn’t come close to addressing questions of organic production, but that is another issue.

    If you are looking for more than a generic, honey-flavored sugar replacement, the only way to be sure of the honey you buy is to obtain it directly from a trusted bee-keeper who can credibly respond to the requirements above. Period.

    Now to answer your question. If you are referring to Costco Kirkland Signature™ Honey, then let’s start with the following article produced by Costco itself Cosco Connection, Page 66, Sept. 2012. It seems like a nice response to consumer’s concerns about tainted “foreign honey”. It is beautifully written and I can find little wrong with anything it says… if you accept the fitness of the current (inadequate) USDA honey standard. The information about ultra-filtration has inaccuracies. Ultra filtration is not at the molecular level, but it does remove pollen—which is currently the best way to determine the source of the honey. It doesn’t strip out other dissolved sweeteners and contaminates or flavor necessarily (heating to facilitate the process does though). Pollen identification can help determine if the plant actually exists in the country where the honey was apparently produced and confirm the country source. (For more, see Common Processing – Filtered Honey)

    The good news is that Costco Signature honey is based upon the “True Source Standards.” Yet while this standard addresses the country source of the honey, it does not address the other honey attributes mentioned above. Nevertheless, it is a good beginning towards improving the trustworthiness of labeling. There are still problems with the True Source Standards in my opinion. For instance, it categorizes specific countries as low and high risk, but omits countries that have much better overall honey standards and enforcement than the USA (and many of the listed low risk countries). Omitting the European Union (France, Germany etc) with some of the finest varietal honeys in the world seems like a protectionist tactic rather than a safety issue.

    Philosophically-speaking, we need to work towards raising our honey standards and enforcement to those currently enjoyed by the wine production market in the USA. Some states are leading in this area (Senators Urge FDA to Adopt Honey Standards). And we can learn much from the European Union, the masters of agricultural marketing.

    While I see nothing wrong with the Signature Clover honey produced by Costco when compared to other mass produced, blended honey products, I would encourage your school to purchase honey from local producers. Why not support your local farmers? Honey is easy to store and lasts for years. There is no food safety or freshness reason not to. Please consider making it part of your overall food services philosophy to purchase all locally-produced food possible and the rest through your usual sources.

    Finally, here is an interesting thread on this very topic by US beekeepers (Costco Honey).


  • Maria

    Hi Scott,
    I recently bought Kirkland Clover Honey (Grade A) from Costco which is “a product of USA & Argentina”. Can you please tell me what that means? Is the honey from Argentina and bottled in the US? Is it a mix of honey from both countries? Etc. Just curious… Thank you!

  • Hi Maria:

    I am going to make an educated guess and say that it is likely a blend of Argentina and USA honey. Argentina is a very large producer of honey and recent changes in honey labeling ‘laws’ (not enforced) requires bottlers/distributors to show the country of origin. Large bottlers /distributors commonly blend honeys from a variety of sources to meet demand. Nothing wrong with Argentinian honey in my opinion!

    How was it?


  • Glenn

    What a stupid grading system…!!!

    The best, most health giving, beneficial, honey is raw honey. This is unheated, unprocessed, unfiltered, unstrained honey which has all of the enzymes, vitamins, minerals, pollen, and propolis that the bees created it with. It tends to be cloudy, and you can see pollen and bits of propolis and comb floating around in it.

    Refined honey has been heated and strained, which destroys all of the beneficial enzymes, removes the nutrition, and essentially leaves the honey nothing more than honey flavored sugar with none of the health benefits that people take honey for to begin with. The reason for the heating and destroying of the health benefits is simply to make the honey look appealing. refined honey is crystal clear with nothing floating in it. This is thought to be more appealing to consumers and believed to sell better because of its visual appeal, though it is closer to being toxic than healthful in this refined form.

    The grading system tells no one anything about whether honey is nutritious, raw, or processed in any way at all.

    You can have strained raw honey, which is clear with nothing floating in it, and still retains all the enzymes, vitamins and minderals, and nutritional and health giving benefits.

    The grading system does not let anyone know whether honey is raw strained honey, with life giving benefits, or whether it’s refined and devoid of any health giving benefits at all.

    This grading system tells the consumer NOTHING about the quality of the honey. It tells the consumer NOTHING about the nutritional value of the honey. It tells the consumer NOTHING about whether there are any life giving enzymes present at all or not.

    The only thing the grading system does is grades visual and aromatic quality of the honey, regardless of any nutritional value, and regardless of any health giving, or health robbing qualities at all.

    The grading system for honey is essentially useless to the consumer, and provides no nutritional or health giving quality evaluation at all.

    Leave it to the government to come up with a system that is useless to the consumer and actually deceiving, as the lower the grade, the higher the quality in reality since, unfiltered, unheated, unprocessed raw honey has pollen, propolis, and bits of comb floating in it giving it a lower grade though it has the highest nutricnal, and health giving benefits of all.

  • Hi Glenn:

    The most important aspect that is not included in the USDA grading system is a test for heating. This is normally done (in other parts of the world) by testing the levels of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), a substance created by heating (and by age) of honey.

    If this was added to the grading system, and one chose the strained style of USDA rated honey (to ensure we get the non-soluble honey components such as pollen), then we would have a better chance of using the USDA grade as a factor for determining a healthy honey product.

    For now, in the absence of any other grading factors (or buying it directly from the beekeeper), then choose a USDA Grade A, strained honey for the best chance of getting a good product. And of course, the best way in absence of any other information is to buy honey in the comb, produced within the last 2 years. This is never heated and never filtered. Honey the way the bees made it.


  • Anna

    Hi Scott,

    Is Honey considered a food or sweetener by USDA standards?
    And where would honey stand used in a beverage on the sugar tax bill?


  • John

    Is there such a thing as U.S. Choice honey? Thanks.

  • Pat

    I was told by a local beekeeper that Costco honey is imported from China and packaged in Brazil. I checked a current bottle and sure enough it says Product of Brazil. Any thoughts?

  • Hi Pat:

    While this type of sleight of hand is often used to get around trade sanctions, duties, taxes etc, I would expect this to be the exception not the rule. Argentina produces prodigious amounts of honey on their own. Honey can be tested for origin unless it is microfiltered to remove pollen.

    Nevertheless, large distributors of honey like Costco usually blend together honey from many different sources to create a consistent, and in my opinion, bland version of honey. I recommend everyone buy from local beekeepers that produce unprocessed, unheated honey and get truly delicious honey from someone you can trust.


  • Steve

    Pat, this is not true at my Costc. I just purchased honey at Costco yesterday and it clearly states on the front of each bottle it is a product of the USA and Argentina.

  • Mike

    It’s funny that I never hear of anyone testing for agricultural chemicals in US produced honey… I read of a study by the University of Maryland where they tested bee’s wax from honey combs & found a multitude of agricultural chemicals, however no one wants to address if these chemicals ( which if found in the comb, would seem to make sense that they would also be in the honey ) are in fact, in the honey…

    I’ve also been in discussions about “organics” it would seem honey should all be organic, however if we look at what is the source, it would seem difficult to source only organic flower sources, since the bees fly right over fence lines & don’t seem to be able to tell the difference between organic flowers & those that may have been exposed to agricultural chemicals…

    I’d suspect there are some locals that would not provide the best or safest honey to consume, & some areas of the country where there is not a lot of agriculture where the honey may be more pure ( less levels of agricultural chemicals )… but suspect that since a big part of domestic honey production, has to do with pollination of agricultural products from oranges & avocados, to soy beans, we are all consuming more chemicals in honey, than anyone cares to admit…

  • Hi Mike:

    You are absolutey correct Mike. If organic is defined as free of all chemicals and man-made contaminants, then there is little truly organic honey in the world. When chemicals are found in the wax then it is in the honey. Bees can travel up to 4 miles to collect nectar; this equates to 50 square miles. Finding this sized spot on the planet with nectariferious plants free from all chemicals and contaminants is almost impossible. Insecticides are a common chemical used in agricultural environments, but this usually just kills the bees, so it is ironically not usually found in honey.

    There are some spots in world that probably get close. New Zealand it one of them. And honeys from remote areas with no agriculture nor industrial waste should also get close. I would guess that Heather honey from the high moors of Scotland and perhaps honey from Finland and ironically, given the bad press, from undeveloped areas of China. There are probably more even in the USA, but few and far between.

    Another source is the type and usage of chemicals used in beekeeping itself. These can be controlled and if so, help to improve the purity of the honey.

    I would think that honey that was tested for chemical impurities and labeled correspondingly would be a sought-after item. But we have barely got to the point of enforcing labels that guarantee no food additives such as corn syrup.


  • Mary Colebeck

    Hi Scott,
    Am I understanding this correctly? That almost all honey produced in the world today is not totally organic because of the chemicals in the wax or honey and procedures preformed on the honey! How about honey labeled 100% pure buckwheat or avocado, ect.? I am a bee keeper and we only filter our honey to get the big chunks of wax out. We use no pesticides on our bees or antibiotics either,only essential oils to control verroa mites and trachea mites. As I see it, there are NO 100% anything when it comes to bees. Who is out there tracking their flight patterns when they gather pollen or water for that matter.Transporting bees is big business for pollinating crops. USDA is run by Government, Need I say More! These Natural food stores sure are making a killing on unsuspecting good intentioned folks that should do their research before buying into this whole NATURAL craze!!! Thanks for letting me rant and rave a bit. Mary

  • Hi Mary:

    It sounds like you are doing the best you can given the state of our environment by not adding any chemicals nor removing any beneficial pollen during the processing of your honey.

    As you say, bees can travel quite a distance to collect nectar, so it is close to impossible to be sure they don’t end up with nectar that has some sort of contaminant. This is the same argument against the veracity of honey labeled 100% pure avocado or buckwheat. It is a highly suspicious claim. But even if true, it is a pointless claim in my mind. Most countries that set standards for specifying a specific source plant of honey require at least 50% of the nectar from the specific varietal in the overall content of the honey. Why? Because this is usually enough to provide the unique sensory characteristics of a particular plant. In my mind, this is somewhat arbitrary, because a strongly flavored honey of a particular type of flower may not require 50%. Dandelion honey is a good example. It is so strong, that even 30% is usually enough to provide the Dandelion aroma and taste. Whereas a plant that produces a mild honey, such as Acacia, may need 80% or even 90% content to be true to its characteristics.

    My advice to anyone suspicious of honey labeling is to buy from a local bee keeper who doesn’t fine filter or heat the honey above 95 degrees F. And of course, no antibiotics or dangerous chemicals (to people) should be used.


  • BUGZ


    I purchased bulk Canadian light honey to blend in my domestic Light and clover honeys to produce a three way blended product.

    Due to it having Canadian imported honey in the mix, can I still grade and label that the product is USDA Grade #1/A?

    Thank you,

  • Hi Scott, we are a honey company in Israel and a customer of ours in the US has asked if we can test our honey to find out if it meets with grade A standards of the US, my question is if there is a facility in the US that would test our honey and grade it for us? Normally we do all out testing at Intertek in Germany but I’m not sure if they would know to grade our honey by USA standards. Any help is greatly appreciated. all the best, Madeleine.

  • Beach Boui

    My first thought is, Germany’s standards for beer the highest in the world. My guess is that Germany’s standards for honey would exceed those of the USA. Whether or not the USA would recognize Germany’s higher standards is a good question? It’s time for my honey sweetened tea…

  • Ken Butcher

    I found a can of Beemaid brand honey in the garage. It was bought from Thrifty drug store and is marked “U.S. Grade A fancy” how can I tell how old it is?

  • Hi Ken:
    If there is no expiry date, then it is impossible to know the age. Honey seldom goes bad unless it is harvested to soon. So try it and see if you like it

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