How common is foul brood in honey?
Beekeepers are frequently warned not to feed honey from untrusted sources to their colonies because it can carry the spores of American Foul Brood (AFB). Furthermore, we know the spores of AFB are not affected by standard pasteurization methods because they are highly resistant to heat. Pressure cooking at 250° F (121° C) for three minutes will kill the spores, as will other combinations of temperature, pressure, and time.
However, as “saving the bees” has become a popular activity for many people, non-beekeepers frequently write to me and explain how they are doing their part to save the bees by feeding them honey. For any number of reasons, these individuals cannot become—or do not want to become—beekeepers, yet they want to do something to help the honey bees.
When they write to me, I always take the time to explain the hazards of feeding honey, but of course I don’t know if they heed the warning or not. But more problematic are all the folks who don’t write, don’t ask, don’t know, and just assume they are doing the best thing for the bees. For every person who writes into a blog, there are thousands who don’t. And since I get a lot of e-mails about this, I assume the number of people feeding bees is staggering.
I have a picture in my mind of a scrupulous beekeeper, carefully tending his bees, taking precautions against the worst diseases, and doing everything by the book, while a neighbor down the road blithely buys imported honey from the grocery stores and fills a dozen feeders. It’s an uncomfortable thought.
So I began to wonder how often contaminated honey actually transmits AFB. We hear the warnings all the time, but I’ve never actually heard of a case where contaminated honey was thought to be the cause. So how common is American foul brood in honey? Come to think of it, how common is American foul brood in honey bee colonies?
The only time I ever saw AFB was in the hive of a friend, and that was many years ago. I seldom get mail asking about it. I’ve heard of a few recent cases of European foul brood, but not AFB. Nearly all the mail I get is about Varroa mites, deformed wing virus, nosema, CCD, chalkbrood, tracheal mites, and hive beetles, but nary a word about AFB.
So how common is AFB? How big of a problem are AFB spores in honey? Should we worry about scores of people feeding grocery store honey to any honey bee that wanders by? Or is foul brood in honey not a worry?
I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Honey Bee Suite