Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

National Honey Board: Honey is Made from Nectar, Not Pollen

In the last several months various stories have resulted in misunderstanding and confusion about honey and honey filtration, leading some readers to believe that any honey without pollen is not real honey.

honey-spoon-350.jpg

This is not true. Honey without pollen is still honey nutritionally and in flavor, and that is why the U.S. Department of Agriculture identifies it as such.  This misunderstanding has also led to several class action lawsuits regarding purchases of honey without pollen.

  

The truth is that honey is made by honey bees from nectar of flowers and plants, not pollen.  Pollen grains may end up in the exposed honey in the hive through any number of incidental or accidental ways, but it is not used by honey bees to make honey. 

  

Consumers have varying opinions about their choice of honey type, flavor and origin.  There are many different kinds of honey available in the U.S. market, such as honey in the comb, liquid honey that is considered “raw”, creamed honey, as well as organic honey.   The majority of honey sold at retail in the U.S. every year, and preferred by most consumers, is the clear, golden liquid honey that has been strained or filtered to remove undesirable particles that make honey cloudy.  All honey crystallizes eventually; suspended particles (including pollen) and fine air bubbles in honey contribute to faster crystallization.  Filtering pollen and other particles out helps delay crystallization, allowing the honey to remain liquid for a much longer period than honey that has not been filtered.

   

According to the United States Standards, honey can be filtered to remove fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles and other materials found suspended in the honey1.  In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) gives higher grades for honey that has good clarity.  Importantly, honey that has been filtered to meet USDA’s grading standards may not have pollen, but it is still honey.

  

News stories have reported on  illegal activities such as circumvention of tariffs on imported honey, and there are claims that some dishonest foreign suppliers may be “ultrafiltering” their honey to clean it up or remove the small amounts of pollen grains, often used as a marker to identify the country of origin.  Ultrafiltering is not the same as filtering honey. Somewhere during the telling and retelling of these news stories, the term “ultrafiltered” became misused and confused with more traditional filtration methods used in the U.S. honey industry to produce clear, golden honey. 

 

Ultrafiltration, a totally different process, is a specific filtration method used in the food industry for pretreatment and purification.   It can filter particles smaller than 1/10 of a micron (a spider web is about 2 microns in diameter).    Pollen grains vary in size from about 5 to 200 microns, large enough to be filtered with more common filtration methods.

     

In contrast to the filtration methods used by many U.S. honey packers to meet USDA grading standards, ultrafiltration is a more complex process that results in a sweetener product.  The FDA has said this product should not be labeled as honey, and the National Honey Board supports this position.  Some have confused filtration and ultrafiltration, incorrectly applying FDA’s position on ultrafiltered honey to any honey without pollen.

  

The fact is, honey that has been filtered may not have pollen, but it is still honey by national standards and is preferred by many consumers.  

 

For more information on honey, I invite readers to visit the National Honey Board’s website at www.honey.com.

1 For decades, many U.S. honey packers have been filtering raw honey prior to bottling in accordance with USDA’s United States Standards for Grades of Extracted Honey (May 23, 1985).  According to section 52-1393 of the Standards , Filtered honey is honey of any type defined in these standards that has been filtered to the extent that all or most of the fine particles, pollen grains, air bubbles, or other materials normally found in suspension, have been removed.  Section 52.1394 of the Standards also says that Pollen grains in suspension contribute to the lack of clarity in filtered style.  

Bruce Boynton is CEO of the National Honey Board, a federal research and promotion board under USDA oversight that conducts research, marketing and promotion programs to help maintain and expand markets for honey and honey products.  The National Honey Board is not a regulatory agency nor does it have powers of enforcement.  The 10-member board, appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, represents producers (beekeepers), packers, importers and a marketing cooperative.

© Food Safety News
  • Frenchie

    Finally, some common sense! Andrew Schneider’s asinine FSN filtered honey flap, with its deliberate misinterpretation and trumped-up emotional hyperbole would make a fine textbook example of foodie wingnut activism. This is how LFTbeef got railroaded. Foodies bitch about “ag-gag” and “veggie libel” laws but they obviously need that sort of adult supervision to temper their habitual exaggerations and encourage them to play nice with others. I, for one, am sick of hateful foodie scaremongering. Thank you, Bruce, for bringing a little science and sanity to the fanatic food-bashing party!

  • laturb

    Forget pollen, what you ought to mention is the amount of water added to honey that’s made in the USA. 18.6% is the ‘legal’ amount that can be added (except in Florida, where it is against the recent 2009 law), but hey, who’s checking?

  • Christiaan

    Does this mean that the in-depth expose by Food Safety News showing that most “honey” cannot be legally called honey, was bunk? Should FSN retract that story?

  • http://www,ScoringAg.com William Kanitz Pres.

    With a realtime traceback database as in ScoringAg with date/time plus location of every handler,type of crop, like clover honey, wild or domestic, with the data of volume and weight with commingling or mixing information, there would always be trueful data on the retail container. If water was added, where did it come from and if there were ag chemicals used in any part of production. If any other sugars were used to enhanced, the data would be available.

  • http://www.foodsafetynews.com/contributors/mary-rothschild/ mrothschild

    Andrew Schneider’s stories did not say that honey is made from pollen, rather than nectar.
    Schneider reported that pollen is key to determining whether what is labeled as honey originated from safe and legitimate sources. He questioned whether some “honey” products meet a honey standard of identity.
    He reported that one third of all the honey consumed in the U.S. may have been smuggled in from China.
    He reported that tests of 29 brands of U.S. honey showed no traces whatsoever of pollen, but that the lab testing showed that 70 percent of honey labeled as organic did contain pollen.
    He reported that it is not necessary to remove all traces of pollen when filtering or straining honey for clarity.
    From his stories:
    Richard Adee of the American Honey Producers Association: “It’s no secret that the honey smuggling is being driven by money, the desire to save a couple of pennies a pound. These big packers are still using imported honey of uncertain safety that they know is illegal because they know their chances of getting caught are slim.”
    Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Schneider it “makes no sense” to remove all pollen from honey.
    Richard Adee again: “It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China.”
    Eric Wenger, director of quality services for Golden Heritage Foods, the nation’s third largest packer, said, “We are well aware of the tricks being used by some brokers to sell honey that originated in China and laundering it in a second country by filtering out the pollen and other adulterants … The brokers know that if there’s an absence of all pollen in the raw honey we won’t buy it, we won’t touch it, because without pollen we have no way to verify its origin.”
    Major food safety standard-setting organizations such as the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius, the European Union and the European Food Safety Authority say the intentional removal of pollen is dangerous because it eliminates the ability of consumers and law enforcement to determine the actual origin of the honey.
    “The removal of pollen will make the determination of botanical and geographic origin of honey impossible and circumvents the ability to trace and identify the actual source of the honey,” says the European Union Directive on Honey.
    The Codex commission’s Standard for Honey, which sets principles for the international trade in food, has ruled that “No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign matter. . .” It even suggested what size mesh to use (not smaller than 0.2mm or 200 micron) to filter out unwanted debris — bits of wax and wood from the frames, and parts of bees — but retain 95 percent of all the pollen.

  • B. Chure

    Oh — I see…. here we have the National Honey (PROMOTION) Board — “that conducts research, marketing and promotion programs to help maintain and expand markets for honey and honey products” telling consumers not to worry our pretty little heads — THEY”RE the ones who will define what honey REALLY is — Got IT??
    Of course, the way they define “HONEY” makes things purposely confusing when it comes to shopping for a bonafide product in the supermarket. And it’s so entwined with MONEY that their definition is a loophole big enough to drive a Container Ship of watered down, adulterated product through….
    Nice game — buy up the cheap processed stuff on the international market, bottle it with a cutsy brand logo and sucker consumers who think they’re buying the healthful Real Thing.
    That’s because honey that has gone through filtration processing (which they say is good) and honey that has gone through an ultra-filtration process (bad) are indistinguishable on the supermarket shelf because they’ve BOTH had the pollen removed…
    FSN has it right, all right, all along.
    Here’s part of a report on April 4th: “Lawsuit Claims some store honey brands are deceptive”
    “Ultra-filtration is a special process by which honey is heated and then forced through tiny filters that don’t let pollen through. This process is different from traditional honey filtration, which uses bigger filters and is designed only to weed out visible contaminants such as bee parts, wax and debris.
    In removing the pollen from honey, ultra-filtration essentially removes its footprint. The resulting product cannot be traced back to its source to determine whether it came from a legitimate supplier or one with a reputation for adulterated products.
    When Food Safety News investigated ultra-filtration last year, it found that over 3/4 of honey sold in U.S. grocery stores lacks pollen.
    Florida is one of a handful of states that has set a honey standard dictating what qualities a product needs in order to be called honey. Anything labeled as “honey” must contain pollen, says the standard. This rule gives legal clout to those who want to see pollen-free honey labeled as something other than honey.
    The same clout does not exist at the federal level, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has yet to issue a set of standards for honey, despite demands from both industry and Congress that it do so. ”
    One of the prerogatives of The Foxes Guarding the Henhouses is they get to make the definitions which go (or don’t go) on the labels.
    Thankfully, for those looking for the Real Thing — we can always search out a local beekeeper at the Farmers Market or find their products in local specialty stores — and receive the HEALTHY values of pollen honey….

  • http://www,ScoringAg.com William Kanitz Pres.

    With a realtime traceback database as in ScoringAg with date/time plus location of every handler,type of crop, like clover honey, wild or domestic, with the data of volume and weight with commingling or mixing information, there would always be trueful data on the retail container. If water was added, where did it come from and if there were ag chemicals used in any part of production. If any other sugars were used to enhanced, the data would be available.

  • http://www,ScoringAg.com William Kanitz Pres.

    With a realtime traceback database as in ScoringAg with date/time plus location of every handler,type of crop, like clover honey, wild or domestic, with the data of volume and weight with commingling or mixing information, there would always be trueful data on the retail container. If water was added, where did it come from and if there were ag chemicals used in any part of production. If any other sugars were used to enhanced, the data would be available.

  • http://www.foodsafetynews.com/contributors/mary-rothschild/ Mary Rothschild

    Andrew Schneider’s stories did not say that honey is made from pollen, rather than nectar.
    Schneider reported that pollen is key to determining whether what is labeled as honey originated from safe and legitimate sources. He questioned whether some “honey” products meet a honey standard of identity.
    He reported that one third of all the honey consumed in the U.S. may have been smuggled in from China.
    He reported that tests of 29 brands of U.S. honey showed no traces whatsoever of pollen, but that the lab testing showed that 70 percent of honey labeled as organic did contain pollen.
    He reported that it is not necessary to remove all traces of pollen when filtering or straining honey for clarity.
    From his stories:
    Richard Adee of the American Honey Producers Association: “It’s no secret that the honey smuggling is being driven by money, the desire to save a couple of pennies a pound. These big packers are still using imported honey of uncertain safety that they know is illegal because they know their chances of getting caught are slim.”
    Mark Jensen, president of the American Honey Producers Association, told Schneider it “makes no sense” to remove all pollen from honey.
    Richard Adee again: “It’s no secret to anyone in the business that the only reason all the pollen is filtered out is to hide where it initially came from and the fact is that in almost all cases, that is China.”
    Eric Wenger, director of quality services for Golden Heritage Foods, the nation’s third largest packer, said, “We are well aware of the tricks being used by some brokers to sell honey that originated in China and laundering it in a second country by filtering out the pollen and other adulterants … The brokers know that if there’s an absence of all pollen in the raw honey we won’t buy it, we won’t touch it, because without pollen we have no way to verify its origin.”
    Major food safety standard-setting organizations such as the United Nations’ Codex Alimentarius, the European Union and the European Food Safety Authority say the intentional removal of pollen is dangerous because it eliminates the ability of consumers and law enforcement to determine the actual origin of the honey.
    “The removal of pollen will make the determination of botanical and geographic origin of honey impossible and circumvents the ability to trace and identify the actual source of the honey,” says the European Union Directive on Honey.
    The Codex commission’s Standard for Honey, which sets principles for the international trade in food, has ruled that “No pollen or constituent particular to honey may be removed except where this is unavoidable in the removal of foreign matter. . .” It even suggested what size mesh to use (not smaller than 0.2mm or 200 micron) to filter out unwanted debris — bits of wax and wood from the frames, and parts of bees — but retain 95 percent of all the pollen.

  • Milt447

    Whew! Glad the Honey Board finally cleared that up…Honey without pollen is ok and honey ultrafiltered without pollen is not ok…I was worried, but now i can sleep well knowing they are looking out for me…

  • Ben Mark

    Mr. Kanitz,
    it’s great to read that there is a system as described by you. With all the cheating going on in the honey industry (and food industry)are you sure, the system will be used? How many thruthful producers would use your system? It would be great for us consumers to know more about the food we eat.

  • BB

    The following is from Vaughn M. Bryant, Professor and Director, Palynology Laboratory
    Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University in response to the BUZZ sent out yesterday from Food Safety News regarding honey and pollen. He sees The Rest Of The Story when it comes to the honey filter question. There’s less than we imagined, and he offers the following….
    I look at about 150 honey samples a year for importers, exporters, and local beekeepers. What is said in the Food Safety News Release you put out yesterday in your BUZZ notice is true.
    However, what is also true is that once the pollen is removed, and all honey does have pollen unless it is a pure honeydew, it is not possible to determine either the nectar source or the geographical origin of the honey. There have been some attempts to do this by using the isotopic signatures of honey, but thus far this has not proven effective or reliable.
    Once honey is filtered, and we suspect the illegal Chinese honey that is still entering the US market is being highly filtered (but not Ultrafiltered), then it can no longer be traced to its geographical origin. Also, when any highly filtered honey is mixed with honey from another region, such as the local honey in a SE Asian country, then the only pollen that will appear in the honey is the pollen from the SE Asian country. However, by examining the pollen concentration values of those honey samples we can still determine that they are a blend of both filtered and unfiltered honey, but cannot determine the origin of the filtered portion.
    Yes, the USDA does encourage honey to be highly filtered so it will appear crystal clear of any impurities, but that is the problem. Once any honey is highly filtered we can no longer determine where it comes from….whether from domestic sources or from foreign or illegal sources. (Consumers, be careful what you wish for. Ed.).
    Another problem is that the majority of honey I have examined, which is currently being sold in supermarkets nationwide, contains no pollen. Jars of honey I have examined claim to be sage or thyme honey, orange blossom or tupelo honey, buckwheat or sourwood honey, and yet with no pollen present in those jars we cannot be certain of the true nectar contents. As such anyone can remove all the pollen and then call clover or rapeseed honey anything they might want to call it. With no pollen as proof, clover honey could be labeled orange blossom, sourwood, tupelo, or sage honey because there are no USDA or FDA rules that demand truth-in labeling in terms of the type of honey that is sold in the USA.
    In my many years of experience I have found that locally-produced honey is usually full of pollen and is most often authentic in terms of what it claims to be.
    Vaughn M. Bryant
    Professor and Director
    Palynology Laboratory
    Department of Anthropology
    Texas A&M University

  • jeff

    Mr. Shcneider should apologize for his misleading articles and untra-goundless claims against filtered honey. Such articles only create scare and misunderstanding among consumers, favorable only to certain interest groups, such as attorneys for class action lawsuits and ….

  • jeff

    DO NOT mix filtering with untra-filtering ! That is completely different technique and processing. Filtering is to use filters to remove suspending praticles, while untra-filtering is to use hi-tech membrane exchange technique to filter away all the color, flavor, pollent micro-particles, and make a pure seewtener with no color, no flavor.
    People confusing consumers by equalizing filtering with untrafiltering are either ignorant or delibrately writing to serve interest groups.
    Please remember domestic honey supply only meet less than 40% of our nation’s demand, and the price of domestic honey doubles in the past 10 years while output reduced by 10% or more.
    And people are still attack imported honey !

  • ecofoodologist

    The above article is confusing, and I am familiar with the subject. So if we are serious about this, let’s put the market to work for us. Charge real cost for analysis to importers for origin determination and a high tariff for honey of unknown origin. That’s not a complete fix to counter obfuscation by big-ag propaganda tools (like some on this page), but it comes closer to leveling the field for an honest producer to profit from an honest product. Know your farmer! ef

  • USA-er

    Re:Jeff: You say “Please remember domestic honey supply only meet less than 40% of our nation’s demand, and the price of domestic honey doubles in the past 10 years while output reduced by 10% or more. And people are still attack imported honey !”
    – BUT Please remember that in their quest for greater profits the Big Food corporations that serve the industrialized food system (sourced to a supermarket near you) have very intentionally scoured the world over to import the cheapest (and sometimes adulterated) product they can find — and have put many quality domestic producers out of business by pricing them out of the market. And we’re supposed to Like this, Buy this, Eat this??
    And it’s Not just in honey, of course…

  • G. Lane

    “jeff” is obviously a shill for Big Food, Monsanto, special interests, lobbies, and those with an ax to grind in favor of cheating the U.S. consumer. As a beekeeper, I do my best to educate those who care to know that what they purchase from big package stores is morally and nutritionally deficient. The FDA and USDA no longer have any meaning as their decks are stacked with “jeffs”.

  • Miranda Nichole Tolson

    I don’t care what they say I don’t want their crap “honey” I will ONLY buy RAW ORGANIC honey!!! I’ve been using it for years and my two year old has also eaten it and he’s fine….