Is my honey safe to eat?
Is it safe to eat honey from a hive with mites?
Can I safely eat the 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. But in my impatient mood, I want to know what they’re smoking.
Insects are part of a normal diet
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.
Worm juice in your apple juice
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 we’re 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.
Honey is a very safe food
My point? Don’t worry. Honey is one of the safest foods around as long as you, the beekeeper, followed the recommended protocols for any treatments you used in the hive.
If you don’t like insects on your toast, remove the ones you can see, then relax. There are things out there we should be worried about, but a bug in your honey doesn’t make the cut.