Sunday, March 23, 2014

Honey May Contain Significant Levels of Antibiotics


Honey gets its sweetness from the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, and has approximately the same relative sweetness as granulated sugar. It has attractive chemical properties for baking and a distinctive flavor that leads some people to prefer it over sugar and other sweeteners.  Most microorganisms do not grow in honey because of its low water activity of 0.6. However, honey sometimes contains dormant endospores of the bacterium Clostridium botulinum, which can be dangerous to infants, as the endospores can transform into toxin-producing bacteria in infants' immature intestinal tracts, leading to illness and even death. 

Honey has an image as a natural, pure, unprocessed food. That’s largely true, but recently beekeepers around the world have been using antibiotics heavily to protect their bees from diseases such as European foul brood. Foul brood disease is so devastating – wiping out whole colonies – that the temptation for beekeepers to use antibiotics is all too obvious. The problem is that residues of the antibiotics inevitably find their way into the honey. Worried that people might be unwittingly consuming antibiotics by eating honey, the European Union (EU) now bans many for use in beekeeping. That doesn’t stop them being used in non-EU countries, however. Between 2002 and 2004, the European Union banned imports of honey from China, one of the world’s largest honey producers, because it contained chloramphenicol. Using chloramphenicol for food-producing animals is illegal in the EU because in rare cases it can cause aplastic anaemia. 

The ban on Chinese honey was lifted in 2004, but it seems likely that anti-biotics are used for bees around the world. A survey by the Consumers’ Association in 2006 found traces of the antibiotic tylosin in many samples of imported honey bought in the United Kingdom. Tylosin is licensed in the EU for treating livestock, but not bees. These residues may not do you any harm, but they shouldn’t be there.

How to Tell If Honey is of Good Quality?

1) High-quality honey can be distinguished by fragrance, taste, and consistency

2) Ripe, freshly collected, high-quality honey at 20 °C (68 °F) should flow from a knife in a straight stream, without breaking into separate drops. After falling down, the honey should form a bead. 

3) The honey, when poured, should form small, temporary layers that disappear fairly quickly, indicating high viscosity. If not, it indicates excessive water content (over 20%)of the product. Honey with excessive water content is not suitable for long-term preservation. 

4) In jars, fresh honey should appear as a pure, consistent fluid, and should not set in layers. Within a few weeks to a few months of extraction, many varieties of honey crystallize into a cream-colored solid. Some varieties of honey, including tupelo, acacia, and sage, crystallize less regularly. Honey may be heated during bottling at temperatures of 40–49°C (104–120°F) to delay or inhibit crystallization.

5) Overheating is indicated by change in enzyme levels, for instance, diastase activity, which can be determined with the Schade or the Phadebas methods. A fluffy film on the surface of the honey (like a white foam), or marble-colored or white-spotted crystallization on a containers sides, is formed by air bubbles trapped during the bottling process.

6) A 2008 Italian study determined nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy can be used to distinguish between different honey types, and can be used to pinpoint the area where it was produced. Researchers were able to identify differences in acacia and polyfloral honeys by the differing proportions of fructose and sucrose, as well as differing levels of aromatic amino acids phenylalanine and tyrosine. This ability allows greater ease of selecting compatible stocks. 

Learn other Food Facts that matters to you and your family at... Healthy Food Facts.

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