Stuck in the middle with you: Bullshit honey

Andréas Göransson of Food Supply writes (something may be lost in translation) that last week, an extensive false mark of imported honey has been discovered. Bluffen was revealed when buyer Lars Pettersson on LP’s beekeeping in Säffle made a so-called pollen analysis that showed that the party was from Asia and not as stated from Sweden. Several buyers have been fooled and among the beekeepers in Sweden, it is unclear that the fake will affect customers’ confidence in their products.



 

Food Safety Talk 74: Lait de Poo

Food Safety Talk, a bi-weekly podcast for food safety nerds, by food safety nerds. The podcast is hosted by Ben Chapman and barfblog contributor Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science and Professor at Rutgers University. Every two weeks or so, Ben and Don get together virtually and talk for about an hour.  They talk about what’s on their minds or in the news regarding food safety, and popular culture. They strive to be relevant, funny and informative — sometimes they succeed. You can download the audio recordings right from the website, or subscribe using iTunes.1428078406074

Don and Ben start the show by talking about the drastic weather in Raleigh, NC and Freehold, NJ. They quickly changed topics to beverage preferences, including Starbucks and eggnog. Ben notes he is not a fan of eggnog although his grandparents used to drink consistently. Ben also reminisces about other old-timey eating habits including pickled beets, and buttermilk. Don will stick with eggnog plus whiskey during the holiday season. Ben shared his excitement about a Sloan concert that he recently attended with his wife. Ben also mentioned a thoughtful gift that he received from his wife: a poet (Matthew) wrote a poem for Ben on the topic of barf and Ben was very thrilled. Don also shared his excitement as well as he recently celebrated his birthday, and Merlin gave him a shout out on his podcast.

Twenty minutes in, food safety talk officially began and Ben commented on a blog post where the interviewed the research chief of ABC Research laboratories. She was interviewed about raw honey and recommended honey pasteurization to prevent infant botulism. Ben disagreed with her statement, and noted that pasteurization does not destroy the spores present in honey. Don supported Ben and added that pasteurization is even less effective in low water activity foods like peanut butter or honey. According to this fact sheet, honey is pasteurized to reduce the likelihood of fermentation and crystallization over time.

Don turned the topic to Ebola in the US, and mentioned Peter Sandman’s post on The public health establishment and the quarantine debate. Sandman complained about how the US handled the Ebola issue. Ben agreed with some (not all) of the post and concluded that risk talk should always be frank.

From Ebola the topic turned to Hepatitis E as an emerging foodborne disease.  A UK article stated, 1 in 10 sausage carries the risk of Hepatitis E, which seems high to Ben and Don. Don thought that Hepatitis E in the UK might be a worker sanitation issue. Both guys were intrigued by the apparent low risk of Hepatitis E in the US. Peer reviewed research published in Epidemiology and Infection states that Hepatitis E is associated with unprocessed sausage, and 90% of British pigs have exposed to Hepatitis E and produce antibodies. Cooking suggestion including cooking for 20 min at 70 °C or better yet, using a thermometer.

Don mentioned a recent contact by a local company asking about safe practices for cooked brown rice preparation. Although the company had a detailed and meticulous workflow, additional information (like product time and temperature) would be needed to insure control of Bacillus cereus, according to Ben.

The show concluded with talk about the Month-Long Poop Cruise, the verdict in the Peanut Corporation of America case and the food safety mess in Pro Sports.

Infant botulism risks exist with all honey, pasteurized or not

Tragic stories around infant botulism have popped up over the past couple of years and, as a dad, reading them is like a gut-punch.

In 2011, infant Amanda Zakrzewski was diagnosed with infant botulism and had to undergo 9 days of antitoxin treatment in hospital. Amanda wouldn’t eat, her eyes glassed over and she wasn’t able to suckle due to the paralysis the botulinum outgrowth caused. The result was months of rehab.Unknown-18

Also in 2011, 16-week-old Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed from infant botulism. He fully recovered after six months, but at one point the illness was so severe that doctors had discussed turning off life support systems as the toxin was attacking his body.

Related to infant botulism, ABC Research Laboratories blog has an interview with Chief Scientific Officer Gillian Dagan about food safety choices she makes as a food scientist. While I agree with most of what she says, she loses me at honey:

We all have fond memories of our grandparents when we were younger. Dr. Dagan remembers when her grandfather kept bees. She was fascinated by the bee hives and loved it when he would lift one of the trays and break off a piece of fresh honeycomb for her to enjoy on the spot. Now she knows better. As much as she loved that as a kid, she probably wouldn’t do that for her daughter. When she was younger she didn’t know that raw honey is a food at risk for botulism and should be pasteurized much like milk. Pasteurized honey is safe honey.

Sort of.

Clostridium botulinum spores, the stuff I’m guessing she’s worried about are tough to address in honey because they are heat-stable. Once the spores get into the digestive system of an infant, which hasn’t fully developed and has a gastric pH higher than 4.6, they can germinate and outgrow. The result is a cell that multiplies and secretes a toxin as a byproduct. The rub, for the honey industry is that consumption is a factor in almost all infant botulism cases. There is also some evidence that infant botulism may be a risk factor for SIDS.

And pasteurized vs. unpasteurized honey is no different when it comes to Clostridium botulinum spores.

According to the National Honey Board, recommended pasteurization treatments include flash pasteurization (170 °F for a few seconds) or heating at 145°F for 30 minutes.

Neither will do much to inactivate the spores. There’s really nice risk profile that the former NZ Food Safety Authority put together in 2006. The authors explicitly say: “Normal cooking temperatures would destroy vegetative cells, although these would not be expected to be present in honey in the first instance (because of the low water activity -ben). Commercially available honey may be pasteurised but this process is not sufficient to destroy the spores.”

I’m not sure if Dr. Dagan was worried about Salmonella that the industry standard wouldn’t do much for the stressed vegetative cells either (there’s a pretty good literature around low water activity and heat resistance , especially with a dry heat).

Honey is pasteurized for other reasons, but it really doesn’t do anything to reduce the risk of infant botulism. That’s why the industry and health authorities suggest that infants not be fed any honey, pasteurized or not, until after their first birthday.

Food fraud: Ireland to crackdown on fake honey, fish scams

Fake honey and fish are set to come under the microscope as health authorities across Europe crack down on organized food fraud.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) is also carrying out a fresh round of DNA tests on beef as part of an EU-wide follow-up to last year’s horsemeat scandal.

the_godfather_luca_brasi_sleeps_with_the_fishes-tAnd FSAI chief executive Prof Alan Reilly told the Irish Independent that honey and fish would also be systematically surveyed in Ireland as part of new EU Food Fraud network attempts to tackle widespread organized crime in the European food chain.

Prof Reilly said food fraud was a huge issue as there was so much money to be made and so many ways to hoodwink consumers.

“There are endless possibilities for fraud and the way to tackle that is to combine intelligence with our European partners in this Food Fraud Network.”

Why babies shouldn’t suck on honey

Maybe this is why few read the Atlantic anymore: because they keep reinventing stuff as news when it’s not.

This time, it’s the risk of infant botulism, and why children under 1-years-old shouldn’t eat honey.

According to James Hamblin of The Atlanticaround 10 percent of honey in the U.S. contains spores from the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. That’s not really a honeyproblem for big humans because it’s just the spores, not the botulinum toxin. In infants (humans less than 13 months old), though, those spores can turn into botulinum toxin in their intestines.

Infant botulism can mean anything from subtle changes in muscle tone to so-called “floppy baby syndrome” to “sudden, unexpected death.” None of this is common, but it’s been repeatedly documented and established that infant botulism from honey does happen. It’s not common for kids to get eaten by alligators, either, but that doesn’t mean you let your baby live with an alligator family. Unless you do. (that would be the witty Atlantic version of grabbing the reader’s attention).

A study last week in the journal Pediatrics found that of 397 parents of infants in the Houston area, 11 percent reported using honey-pacifiers with their infants. That means buying pacifiers that contain honey, which are still sold. Some actually contain corn syrup instead of honey — even if they’re still sold as “honey pacifiers” but that too can contain botulinum spores.

Most of the parents (81 percent) at the clinic where this study took place were Hispanic, most indigent and of Mexican descent. The parents said they use the honey pacifiers either out of tradition, because the infants seem to prefer them, and/or because they felt there were health benefits (e.g., “helps with constipation or colic”).

Honey is a risky food for infants

I didn’t know much about infant botulism until a call came into the toll-free line that was run out of our Guelph lab. The inquirer wanted to know what the risk of a less-than-one year old kid acquiring botulism from cereal like honey nut cheerios was. After having two kids I now know that Cheerios are often one of the first introduced solid foods – but this was back in my grad school days when babies were an unknown to me.

I was sitting close to Sarah Wilson, then infocenter manager extrordinare, when the call came in and we chatted about cereal processing and whether the baking process would inactivate C. botulinum spores. Spores, a dormant-but-protected state that some bacterial cells resort to when stressed, are tough to address because they are pretty heat-stable. 1x1_breakfast_for_sixOnce the spores get into the digestive system of an infant, which hasn’t fully developed and has a gastric pH higher than 4.6, they can germinate and outgrow. The result is a cell that multiplies and secretes a toxin as a byproduct. The rub, for the honey industry is that consumption is a factor in almost all infant botulism cases. There is also some evidence that infant botulism may be a risk factor for SIDS.

The literature wasn’t much help on the cereal question – we knew that 240-250F was necessary to inactivate the spores but didn’t know what the honey processing/cereal baking situation was. We called a couple of processors’ customer service folks and the response we got was that the incoming honey could be contaminated and that the processing likely wouldn’t reduce the risk. Who knows whether this is evidence-based or not. If the cereal companies are addressing this risk somehow they should share that info.

Public health folks like the CDC in the U.S. and recently Health Canada suggest that honey is an avoidable source of C. botulinum spores and have warned against honey and honey-product consumption for infants. The honey industry’s best practices include labeling warning parents about risks.

Tragic stories around infant botulism still have popped up over the past couple of years.
In Philadelphia Infant Amanda Zakrzewski was diagnosed with infant botulism and had to undergo 9 days of antitoxin treatment in hospital. Amanda wouldn’t eat, her eyes glassed over and she wasn’t able to suckle due to the paralysis the botulinum outgrowth caused. The result was months of rehab.

In 2011, 16-week-old Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed from infant botulism. He fully recovered after six months, but at one point the illness was so severe that doctors had discussed turning off life support systems as the toxin was attacking his body. His mother revealed following the incident that she had fed Logan honey.

I can’t imagine what the parents of a 5-month old in Colorado are going through right now. According to the San Francisco Chronicle,

Keona Hinkel has been on a breathing machine at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children for two weeks, but she’s improving.Doctors think indirect honey exposure or contaminated soil from a home under renovation may have sickened Keona.
She wasn’t fed honey but mother Kari Hinkel said that she cooked with honey. It’s possible she touched her daughter with it or it got on her pacifier.

No honey for kids under 1; preventing botulism in infants

Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed as the botulism he contracted at 16-weeks-old ravaged his body.

Six months after his parents, Theresa Fitzpatrick and Alex Douglas, were faced with the decision of whether to turn off his life support as baffled medics feared the worst, Logan is doing great (right, photo from The Sun).

When a limp and ill Logan was first taken to physicians, he was admitted to hospital and, after a battery of tests, a Glasgow-based doctor ordered a test for infantile botulism for Logan.

Devastated Theresa has revealed she still blamed herself after feeding her baby honey. 
She wasn’t aware that the food wasn’t suitable for children so young.

Health Canada is advising parents and caregivers not to feed honey to infants less than one year of age. Honey is the only food in Canada to which infant botulism has been linked. Healthy children over one year of age can safely eat honey because they have a very low risk of developing infant botulism.

Infant botulism is caused by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum, which commonly exist in nature. Although the bacteria are unable to grow and produce toxins in honey, they may grow and produce toxins in the baby’s body should an infant consume honey and could cause paralysis.

Since the first reported case in 1979, there have been 42 reported cases of infant botulism in Canada. Parents and caregivers can prevent infant botulism by never feeding honey to infants less than one year of age. This includes never adding honey to baby food and never using honey on a soother.

Most honey produced in Canada is not contaminated with the bacteria that cause infant botulism, however you are better off playing it safe.

The bacteria that cause botulism are microscopic and do not change the colour, odour or taste of food. The bacteria are not destroyed by cooking or pasteurization.

Honey board to provide info about infant botulism and safe use of honey

Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed as the botulism he contracted at 16-weeks-old ravaged his body.

Six months after his parents, Theresa Fitzpatrick and Alex Douglas, were faced with the decision of whether to turn off his life support as baffled medics feared the worst, Logan is doing great (right, photo from The Sun).

When a limp and ill Logan was first taken to physicians, he was admitted to hospital and, after a battery of tests, a Glasgow-based doctor ordered a test for infantile botulism for Logan.

Devastated Theresa has revealed she still blamed herself after feeding her baby honey.
She wasn’t aware that the food wasn’t suitable for children so young – and unwittingly placed his health in danger.

There are too many cases like Logan. So the U.S. National Honey Board (NHB) is announcing a new partnership with the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP). Together, the organizations will develop a honey education program, based on recent research findings that uncovered widespread confusion surrounding the age when honey can be introduced to young children. Focused on health professionals who deal directly with parents of young children, education efforts will dispel honey misconceptions, explain the benefits of honey and remind parents that honey can be given to children older than one year of age.

“It’s widely known that honey shouldn’t be fed to infants, but most people don’t know why or at what age it can be introduced,” said Cheri Barber, DNP, RN, CRNP, President of NAPNAP. “The truth is that honey can be introduced to a child at one year of age. It’s important that health care professionals and families with young children understand the facts about honey.” Barber added that honey has been used for centuries to help soothe coughs, and with the recommended removal of over-the-counter cough medicines containing dextromethorphan (DM), parents are turning to effective natural remedies like honey.

Because infants’ gastrointestinal systems are immature and thus susceptible to contracting infant botulism if spores are present, the Centers for Disease Control, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Department of Public Health and other health associations recommend that certain foods not be fed to infants under one year of age, including honey. After 12 months of age, honey may be introduced to a child’s diet. Botulinum spores occur in nature, but honey is one of the potential dietary sources for infant botulism.

Honey laundering: sweet and sickly

Honey’s in everything. Check out any bakery product, sauce, processed food. A little dab of nectar makes anything smoother.

Toronto’s Globe and Mail ran a great feature a few days ago about the international honey cartel – so realistic it could be based in Jersey. Excerpts below:

As crime sagas go, a scheme rigged by a sophisticated cartel of global traders has all the right blockbuster elements: clandestine movements of illegal substances through a network of co-operatives in Asia, a German conglomerate, jet-setting executives, doctored laboratory reports, high-profile takedowns and fearful turncoats.

What makes this worldwide drama unusual, other than being regarded as part of the largest food fraud in U.S. history, is the fact that honey, nature’s benign golden sweetener, is the lucrative contraband.

Honey has become a staple in the North American diet. Those that do not consume it straight from bear-shaped squeeze bottles eat it regularly whether they know it or not – honey is baked into everything from breakfast cereals to cookies and mixed into sauces and cough drops. Produced by bees from the nectar of flowers and then strained for clarity, honey’s all-natural origin has garnered lofty status among health-conscious consumers who prefer products without refined sweeteners (think white sugar and processed corn syrup). About 1.2 million metric tons of honey is produced worldwide each year.

What consumers don’t know is that honey doesn’t usually come straight – or pure – from the hive. Giant steel drums of honey bound for grocery store shelves and the food processors that crank out your cereal are in constant flow through the global market. Most honey comes from China, where beekeepers are notorious for keeping their bees healthy with antibiotics banned in North America because they seep into honey and contaminate it; packers there learn to mask the acrid notes of poor quality product by mixing in sugar or corn-based syrups to fake good taste.

None of this is on the label. Rarely will a jar of honey say “Made in China.” Instead, Chinese honey sold in North America is more likely to be stamped as Indonesian, Malaysian or Taiwanese, due to a growing multimillion dollar laundering system designed to keep the endless supply of cheap and often contaminated Chinese honey moving into the U.S., where tariffs have been implemented to staunch the flow and protect its own struggling industry.

Savvy honey handlers use a network of Asian countries to “wash” Chinese-origin product – with new packaging and false documents – before shipping it to the U.S. for consumption in various forms.

Fifteen people and six companies spanning from Asia to Germany and the U.S. were recently indicted in Chicago and Seattle for their roles in an $80-million gambit still playing out in the courts. That case has been billed as the largest food fraud in U.S. history. But American beekeepers, already suffering from a bee death epidemic that is killing off a third of their colonies a year, say the flow of suspect imports has not let up.

In the honey world, there are two types of countries: producers and consumers. The United States is one of the largest of the latter, consuming about 400 million pounds of honey a year. Its beekeepers can produce only half that amount leaving exporters to fill the rest. Canada produces about 65 million pounds of honey a year and ships its surplus, 20 to 30 million pounds, south of the border.

China, the world’s largest producer of honey, would seem a natural candidate to fill the gap. But Chinese honey is notorious for containing the banned antibiotic chloramphenicol, used by farmers to keep bees from falling ill. The European Union outlawed Chinese honey imports because of it.

Dilution is another issue. According to Grace Pundyk, author of The Honey Trail, Chinese manufacturers will inject a type of honey with litres of water, heat it, pass it through an ultrafine ceramic or carbon filter, and then distill it into syrup. While it eradicates impurities such as antibiotics, it also denies honey of its essence.

Ten years ago, the U.S. Department of Commerce accused the Chinese honey industry of dumping cheap product into the American market at prices well below the cost of production. Canadians also detected surprisingly low-priced product crossing its own borders.

Australian investigators uncovered the roots of a global conspiracy when they intercepted a large consignment of “Singapore” honey bound for the U.S. in 2002.
At the time, Singapore didn’t produce honey. The shipment was traced back to China, opening the first window into a worldwide scheme in early bloom: The industry had figured out they could launder Chinese honey through neutral countries able to ship into the U.S. without paying tariffs.

 

Mum says ‘I didn’t know;’ UK infant recovers from botulism

Logan Douglas was temporarily blinded and paralyzed as the botulism he contracted at 16-weeks-old ravaged his body.

Six months after his parents, Theresa Fitzpatrick and Alex Douglas, were faced with the decision of whether to turn off his life support as baffled medics feared the worst, Logan is doing great (right, photo from The Sun).

When a limp and ill Logan was first taken to physicians, he was admitted to hospital and, after a battery of tests, a Glasgow-based doctor ordered a test for infantile botulism for Logan.

Devastated Theresa has revealed she still blamed herself after feeding her baby honey.

She wasn’t aware that the food wasn’t suitable for children so young – and unwittingly placed his health in danger.

"Logan’s big sister, Taylor, loves honey on toast and one day I was spreading some honey for her and Logan was a bit grizzly. So I just dipped his dummy in the honey and he loved it. He got some every now and again. None of the baby books I had mentioned infantile botulism or said honey was dangerous for babies under a year old. I’d been at my auntie’s house with Taylor and she said to take a pot of honey she had home with me for Taylor. I wish I hadn’t now. Taylor hasn’t ever asked for honey again and it’s banned from the house now. It was just an ordinary supermarket’s own-brand honey bought off the shelf. The environmental health people tested the actual pot and it was confirmed as the source."

Kudos to Thersa, Logan’s mum, for admitting she didn’t know about the potential risks. I, and other food safety types, hear everyday, “I didn’t know” about E. coli, or Salmonella, or botulism or whatever. That’s OK. It underscored the need to be creative and compelling when talking about … anything.

Clostridium botulinum can cause sickness in very young children, and infants under the age of 1 years old are most at risk. Honey may contain Clostridium botulinum spores which can grow in the digestive tract of children less than one-year-old because their digestive system is less acidic. The bacteria produces toxin in the body and can cause severe illness. Even pasteurized honey can contain botulism spores and should be not be given to children under the age of 12 months.