Is my honey safe to eat?

Is it safe to eat honey from a hive with mites?

Is it safe to eat honey after my bees absconded?

Is the honey from a dead hive safe to eat?

A moth was on the honey comb. How can I sterilize it?

Is it safe to eat a jar of honey with comb inside?

Help! There’s a bug in my honey. Will I be sick??? Please get back to me right away!!!

Is it safe to eat honey from a hive that had mice?

Some variation of the “is it safe” query pops up every day. The questions often concern insects or mites, as if a stray wing may sicken us.

In my generous mood, I patiently explain. In my catty mood, I want to say it is entirely unfit for consumption, and if they’ll send it to me, I’ll take care of it. In my impatient mood, I want to know what they’re smoking.

Why are we so afraid of insects? Furthermore, why is food from a store or restaurant deemed perfectly safe while food directly from nature is suspect? People will eat mystery meat out of a can—or a shiny apple containing 37 different pesticides—without a thought. But those same people will panic at the idea of eating something a mite may have stepped on.

When I read these questions, I get the feeling that people don’t realize how many contaminants are in their food. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) publishes a handy-dandy little guide called the “Defect Levels Handbook,” which lists the allowable number of insect parts and rodent hairs in all different types of food. For example:

  • Peanut butter may legally contain up to 30 insect parts per 100 grams. My jar of Organic Crunchy Peanut Butter says a serving size is 2 tablespoons or 32 g. So that’s 10 insect parts per serving. Yum. Furthermore, the reason for the restriction is listed as aesthetic. In other words, those parts won’t hurt you, they just look bad.
  • Broccoli is always interesting. Frozen broccoli may contain up to 60 aphids and/or thrips and/or mites per 100 grams. That’s about 3/4 cup. Reason: aesthetic.
  • Canned mushrooms should not contain more than 20 maggots of any size per 100 grams of drained product, nor should they contain more than 75 mites per 100 grams of drained product. Reason: aesthetic.
  • Wheat flour should average less than 75 insect fragments per 50 grams. Reason: aesthetic. And you thought you were vegetarian? Think again.

When I was a kid my grandfather would ask, “What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple?”

I would shrug, trying to imagine something worse.

Then he would laugh merrily and say, “Finding a half a worm!” He though that was hilarious; I thought it was gross.

One day, as he was loading bushel baskets of apples into the trunk of his car, I poked around, looking for one to eat. “These are all wormy,” I complained, tossing them back.

“Of course!” he said. “That’s why were pressing them for cider!”

Needless to say, cider didn’t pass my lips for many months. But people don’t get sick drinking cider or grape juice or cranberry juice, worms and all. It all goes back to the aesthetic: we dress up our food to make it look nice, but the harmless contaminants are still there. The trouble is, we do such a great job hiding the truth, that people believe their food is pure.

My point? Don’t worry. Honey is one of the safest foods around. If you don’t like insects on your toast, remove the ones you can see, then chill. There are things out there we should be worried about, but a bug in your honey doesn’t make the list.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

honey-5732_640
What lurks within?

Comments

RB
Reply

GREAT blog!!! AMEN!!!

Terry
Reply

I can handle a wing, even a leg in my honey, but I think I just lost my appetite for mushrooms!

John
Reply

Excellent piece, I am a little bugged by it though…:)

Melissa
Reply

I agree with Rusty! Honey is so good for you.

Dana
Reply

Yes, I am glad to have grown out of being squeamish about maggots and and the like in food.

So, which of your moods wrote this blog?

Rusty
Reply

I’m not telling.

Mark Luterra
Reply

I’m not sure I would eat honey from frames with mouse turds (hantavirus anyone?), but a few bees and mites don’t bother me…

Rusty
Reply

Excellent point.

Cgrey8
Reply

It’s with mixed emotion that I read this and the only thing I can think is…it reminds me just how horrible public education is. However I’m glad people are willing to ask the questions.

Living in rural south Georgia for my early years, I grew up around agriculture and hunters. We understood well where food came from, how it was handled, and the contaminants that it could have..as most anybody from rural or agricuturally strong area would.

But due to technical progress and a horrible public education system in this country, we now have people that grow up in cities, never stepping foot on a farm, nor understanding how food gets onto the shelves of their grocery store hence why you get comments from high schoolers like “I don’t understand why farmers and hunters have to kill animals. Why can’t they just go to the store and buy their food like everybody else does.” It’s unfortunate that their ignorance, removal from agricuture, and lack of desire to know the truth leads to this belief that “If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist” mentality. And even worse, many of these people vote. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite happy there are pig and cattle farmers out there so I can have bacon on my burger without dealing with the smell of raising pigs & cows. And I don’t think it is necessary that people that probably never will step foot on a farm need to understand the intracies of farming, but a passing familiarity with what farm life is, just to gain an appreciation for where their food comes from is not unreasonable.

Maybe if that happened more often, you wouldn’t get questions like these. Or maybe this is the price of progress? I don’t know. Anyway, sorry for the rant…

Gene
Reply

So was that your generous answer or the impatient one?

Rusty
Reply

Why does everyone want to know? Let’s just say, it started out as an over-the-top rant. After I let it sit overnight, I seriously toned it down. The original was probably more fun to read, but not quite fair.

Frank Olson
Reply

Interesting topic. I grew up on a farm, so I am well aware of the “bug” problem.

My question is about honey from a hive that has died. The population plummeted during a cold spell and left only a few hundred bees. They soon died even with an infusion of new brood and bees from a strong hive. When I opened the hive I found about a hundred or so dead bees with their heads stuck down into the cells, like they were eating the honey to stay warm. I believe that the honey is fine to eat. My question is do I remove the wax from the brood frames and start over or is it okay to bring in a new nuc and start again with what is left?

Frank

Rusty
Reply

Frank,

Unless there are obvious signs of a disease such as AFB, I would reuse the brood frames. I usually stop using them when they or four or five years old, but until then, they are fine to use and they get your new colony building up faster.

Frank Olson
Reply

Rusty,
Thanks. There was no evidence of any disease. I think it was just a weak hive all along. It is/was only less than a year old.

Greg
Reply

People don’t want bugs in their food, so we have bug spray. People don’t want weeds in their yards or gardens, so we have weed spray. People don’t want bacteria in their house or on their hands, so we have bacterial sprays. More and more research is showing that dirt and germs help your body fight disease and sickness. Besides, some cultures have dirty hands and eat weeds and bugs.

Rusty
Reply

Greg,

There’s also a theory that food allergies and some of the auto-immune type diseases are on the rise because we live in environments that are too sterile for our own good. It seems that people who are exposed to more “bad stuff” at an early age can handle it much better than those who were never exposed. And not surprisingly, all the pesticides and anti-bacterial chemicals are causing other problems.

Jerry
Reply

could not have put it better myself !!
The world today is so false, maggots & insects are all good protein, far better for you than chemicals.
if an apple has a bug “tis good “

Chris
Reply

“If you don’t like insects on your toast, remove the ones you can see, then chill.” Best line in the whole post. I loved it!!

Mariana
Reply

I produce (so far) only a moderate amount of honey.

When people ask if it’s processed, I tell them I only filter it and only use good, clean pantyhose to do it. They generally shut right up.

I, like Frank, have a question about dead hives. We thought that a hive that had died was robbed, but then found out that there was someone fogging the stream bed nearby and that the hive we thought initiated the robbing had succumbed as well. So please check, you don’t know what some idiot might be doing.

(We decided to trash all the comb, which was heartbreaking but we couldn’t take the chance.)

Linda Rivers
Reply

Great information as usual! I was told that I had to heat my honey to 140 degrees for 30 minutes before I could sell it at the farmer’s market or give it to neighbors. I am gathering from your article that the information I was given is incorrect. I like raw honey which is filtered but not heated. Am I on the right track?

Rusty
Reply

Linda,

First of all, there are no laws about giving things away. You can give anything you want to anyone. As for selling in farmer’s markets, there may be a local law of some sort regarding pasteurization, but I’ve never heard of one. Basically, you are selling raw honey. Raw means nothing is done to it, especially not heating. I don’t know where you live, but to be absolutely sure, I would check your state/province regulations.

Linda Rivers
Reply

Thanks, Rusty. I will check the regulations with the State of Georgia.

Joanna
Reply

RIGHT ON! This is one of my biggest peeves in the kitchen, second only to slavish obedience to “sell by” dates instead of just sniffing the darn milk. I woulda posted the rant- your patience amazes me.

Rusty
Reply

Joanna,

“Sell by” dates, “pull” dates, “best by” dates raise my blood pressure right off the charts. I could write day by day on that subject alone. In December, I pulled some organic canned vegetables out of my pantry and donated them to a food drive for the homeless shelter. They were rejected and returned. I was shocked. Turned out they had reached their “best by” date. So I went to the store, purchased new stuff for the food drive, and we ate the antiquated organic vegetables. By the way, we are still alive to tell about it.

Paul Kreider
Reply

As a winemaker, I’d hesitate to tell anyone mow many earwigs, aphids, fruit flies, etc. are processed along with grapes to make that bottle of wine you love so dearly. And we hand picked our grapes, commercial automated picking is less careful: dead birds, rabbits, snakes and snails. Thanks for a real post.

Sunil
Reply

I sent this exact question and then found you had already answered it with this terrific blog!
I couldn’t agree more. Still remember those days of climbing a tree, plucking fruit, wiping it on your shorts and eating it. Picking berries off the ground where they had fallen, wiping them in a handkerchief and munching on them. Nothing happened, nothing will. But I’m sure all this processed food is going to be the death of me! :)
ok…now I’m going to eat a spoonful of the honey I just got out of a hive…

Sunil
Reply

… and I still want to read your rant version!

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