Honey Quality

In The Honey Regulations 2003, honey is defined as “the natural sweet substance produced by Apis mellifera bees from the nectar of plants or from secretions of living parts of plants or excretions of plant-sucking insects on the living parts of plants which the bees collect, transform by combining with specific substances of their own, deposit, dehydrate, store and leave in honeycombs to ripen and mature”

The Regulations state that:

  • Honey must be free from mould, insects, insect debris, brood and any other substances

foreign to the composition of honey.

  • It must not have any other food or substance added to it if it to be described as honey, which

is a reserved description.

  • The moisture content must not exceed 20% except for Heather or Baker’s Honey when it must

not exceed 23% or, 25% if Baker’s Honey from Heather (Calluna).  It must be labelled as such.

  • The maximum sucrose content permitted is 5% except for honeydew honey and blends of

blossom honey, acacia, and Banksia menziesii honeys where the maximum is 10% or

lavender or borage where it is 15%.

  • The amount of water insoluble solids must not exceed 0.1% except for pressed honeys

where the maximum is 0.5%.

  • The ash content shall not exceed 0.6% except for honeydew honey and its blends with

blossom honey when the maximum is 1.0%.

  • Electrical conductivity must not exceed 0.8 mS/cm except for heather (calluna) honey
  • Acidity must not exceed 50 milli-equivalents acid per kg, nor be changed artificially.
  • Honey must not have a foreign taste or odour, nor have begun to ferment or effervesce.
  • It shall not have been heated to an extent that has destroyed or inactivated its natural

enzymes, and its diastase level shall not be less than 8 except for citrus or other honey with

a naturally low enzyme content when it shall be not more than 15.

  • The hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) content (an index of heating or prolonged storage) shall

not exceed 40 mg per kg.

The description ‘organic’ applied to honey is controlled by the general provisions of the Food Safety Act 1990 and the Trade Descriptions Acts 1968. It is virtually impossible for UK beekeepers to define their product as ‘organic honey’ as UKROFS standards require that bees should forage only on organic crops that have not been treated with manufactured chemicals.

Processing Honey

The Food Safety Act 1990 and regulations made under it require that all premises where open food is handled have to conform to very high standards of hygiene. Generally food premises must be registered, but most beekeepers will be exempt in practice though they may register voluntarily if they wish. Any premises used can be inspected by an Environmental Health Officer.

Those exempt from registration (see The Food Premises (Registration) Regulations 1991) include:

1.  Premises used for less than 5 days in any 5 consecutive weeks.

2.  Places where honey is harvested.

3.  Domestic premises used for the extraction of honey or preparation, storage, bottling or sale (whether wholesale or retail) of honey.

4.  Tents and marquees, awnings or similar structures.

Packaging and Labelling Labelling has to comply with the requirements of The Honey (England) Regulations 2003, The Food Safety Act 1990 and The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 as well as the Food Labelling Regulations 1996 and the Food (Lot Marking) Regulations 1996.

Labels should state that the contents are: honey, comb honey, chunk or ‘Baker’s’ or ‘Industrial’ Honey. If there is a reference to blossom or plant source, the honey must be derived wholly or mainly from that blossom or plant. If there is a reference to the regional or territorial origin the honey must originate wholly from there.  For example Bucks Honey must be harvested by bees in Buckinghamshire. Country of origin within the EC must be stated, i.e. UK not England, as this could be in North America. Pollen analysis has been used in court to prove the likely geographical origin of honey.

The container must be labelled with the name and address of the producer, the packer or a seller established within the EU. It must also state the quantity in metric measure. Imperial measure may also be shown, but it must be secondary and less bold than the metric quantity.

Packing Weights

Honey when packed in quantities exceeding 50g (roughly 2oz) may only be packed in prescribed quantities of 57g(2oz), 113g(4oz) 227g(8oz), 340g(12oz), 454g(1lb) or multiples of 454g(1lb).

The minimum height of figures on the label must be:- on packs not exceeding 50g 2mm;  50 to 200g, 3mm;  200g to 1kg, 4mm;  exceeding 1kg, 6mm.  Under 50g the package can contain any weight, and below 5g need not state the weight.

The label of comb honey or chunk honey must include the word ‘comb’ or ‘chunk’ preceding the word ‘honey’. The weight must still be marked but there are no set quantities for comb honey or chunk honey.

Containers must be of materials that do not affect its quality in any way.  The honey should be packed to the highest standard and offered for sale in a clean, pure and stable condition (i.e. not liable to ferment).  It should be fully clear and liquid, naturally crystallized, or soft set.

The container label must either state “use by” date(ddmmyyyy) giving the date up to which it is safe to use, OR, say “best before” end” date (yyyy) for foods which are good to keep longer than 18 months. In this second case, a lot number is compulsory.

There must also be an indication of the storage conditions necessary to retain quality for the storage period, e.g.  ‘Store in cool, dry place away from sunlight’.

Beekeepers packaging large quantities of honey or selling through retail outlets are advised to include both Lot and Date markings.

NOTE- These paragraphs on the law only give an indication of the provisions of the law and are not a substitute for professional advice.  The local Trading Standards Department or Environmental Health Department can provide fuller details of the requirements.  Any new Honey Directive from the E.C. may change the requirements.