Some honey products lining store shelves may have less than sweet origins, according to a Food Safety News analysis. Though the products still consist of honey, differences in how they're processed can affect quality and safety.
So what makes the honey in question different?
The amount of pollen in the product definitely matters, mostly because without it, it's difficult to trace the origins of the stuff. Ultra-filtering honey to remove pollen limits producers from being held accountable for products that might not meet quality standards.
In the analysis, 75 percent of grocery store samples lacked pollen to identify the honey's source. The percent of products lacking pollen for bigger stores, drug stores and fast-food restaurants was equal, if not higher in some cases. A list of stores involved can be found in the same article.
The report focuses on honey that may have been sourced from China, where producers have been known to heavily filter honey to remove pollen. These actions not only strip away the nutritional value and unique taste of the honey, but they also make it near impossible to track where the honey came from, making it easier for companies to get away with letting unwanted substances such as antibiotics slip into honey supplies.
Food Safety News' most recent testing didn't look into potential contaminants in the honey, but an earlier one did, citing the presence of antibiotics and metals. Antibiotics may be used to control diseases in beehives.
Food Safety News looked at 60 jars of honey from 10 states and Washington, D.C., giving the samples to Vaughn Bryant, an expert in determining pollen levels in the products. It's not clear how representative the samples were, but honey collected from co-ops, farmers' markets and other stores with a more local focus often had pollen intact.
Still, more work needs to be done to confirm the suggestion that honey without pollen has a higher chance of carrying antibiotics or metals.
It's also important to note, as did the report, that the analysis didn't include other forms of honey used to sweeten foods and drinks.
In the United States, companies filter honey to get rid of debris and make the product look more appetizing to consumers, but the substance isn't ultra-filtered to remove the pollen.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has caught on to potentially unsafe honey imports more than once, but critics don't think the agency checks the quality of honey entering the country enough. In Europe, there seems to be tighter regulation for honey.
Tracking the syrup-like substance through pollen may have limitations, too. Beekeepers can only estimate where their insects wander off to for the day and might not be able to help it if their honeybees end up pollinating their neighbors' crops instead of their own.
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