Most honey sold in U.S. grocery stores not worthy of its name
November 9th, 2011
07:00 PM ET
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Most of the honey sold in chain stores across the country doesn't meet international quality standards for the sweet stuff, according to a Food Safety News analysis released this week.

One of the nation's leading melissopalynologists analyzed more than 60 jugs, jars and plastic bears of honey in 10 states and the District of Columbia for pollen content, Food Safety News said. He found that pollen was frequently filtered out of products labeled "honey."

"The removal of these microscopic particles from deep within a flower would make the nectar flunk the quality standards set by most of the world's food safety agencies," the report says. "Without pollen there is no way to determine whether the honey came from legitimate and safe sources."

Among the findings:

• No pollen was found in 76 percent of samples from grocery stores including TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.

• No pollen was found in 100 percent of samples from drugstores including Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy.

• The anticipated amount of pollen was found in samples bought at farmers markets, co-ops and stores like PCC and Trader Joe's.

Why does it matter where your honey comes from? An earlier Food Safety News investigation found that at least a third of all the honey consumed in the United States was likely smuggled from China and could be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals.

Foreign honey also puts a squeeze on American beekeepers, who have been lobbying for years for an enforceable national standard to prevent foreign honey from flooding the market.

The Food and Drug Administration does not have a standard of identity for honey like it does for milk or other products, a spokesman said.

The lack of regulation is what enables potentially unsafe honey to make its way into the country, Andrew Schneider, author of the Food and Safety News report.

"Where there's no pollen, there's no way for authorities to confirm where the honey came from, so it's easy to smuggle illicit honey into the country," he said.

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Filed under: Beekeeping • Bees • Food Politics

soundoff (993 Responses)
  1. readysetgo

    Pollen has very little to do with honey.
    Honey is made from NECTAR, not pollen. Bees store these two things separately. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that honey has very little pollen.
    That isn't to say that most the honey you find in stores is legit. It's not. Most of it is made by feeding the bees corn syrup or sugar water. However, it has nothing to do with pollen.

    October 13, 2014 at 12:33 am |
  2. David Jeane

    Very interesting and informative

    March 10, 2014 at 9:20 am |
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  6. taniko

    I have friends who have hives. That's where I get my honey. If I really needed more (I don't use that much to begin with), I'd hit up my local farmer's market.

    April 22, 2013 at 6:08 pm |
  7. bags longchamp

    This product is truly amazing, fits your face nicely, comfortable, it doesn't having a headache because it squeezes your face too small. bags longchamp

    April 15, 2013 at 7:01 am |
  8. Roch

    If you want good quality honey I recommend Argentinean honey, take a look at while you are at it.

    November 30, 2011 at 6:08 pm |
  9. BradiKal

    Once again, China comes through with heavy metals in food. Hopefully they wipe themselves out before they wipe us and our economy out.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  10. Myto Senseworth

    The FDA would just set standards for allowable levels of filth and Poisson making it easier to import. Buy local products.

    November 28, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Jay

      "Poisson" = French for "fish."

      November 30, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
      • The Eternal Satyr

        Oui! Allowable levels of filthy French fish!

        January 23, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
  11. Jack Black

    The article never gets around to saying exactly what harm honey without pollen might bring. Will someone risk infection? Rashes? Impotence? Stupidity? What? Before we get all excited about impure honey, just tell me what it might do to me. Then I can decide if it's worth searching out.

    November 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • captain underpants

      They can't really say anything about what it might do on a major news site like CNN, because that would be bad news for all the american distributors of this crap. But... this will raise your risk of (pretty much give you) heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and whatever unique chronic poisoning symptoms are present for each chemical contaminant. Organ damage may be permanent. This is more toxic crap from China. Our food here is also garbage, don't be fooled.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Robert

      Dummy, read again. The article states that, without pollen, you can not determine it's origin. Thus, pollenless honey could very well be from unsafe sources like China (polluted with heavy metals, etc). Removing the pollen masks the origin of the honey, thus masking it's origin. Obviously, with pollen they can determine what type of flowers it was gathered from by the bees. Knowing which flowers will let them know where it is produced.

      November 26, 2011 at 11:22 am |
      • momzna

        I guess without pollen you can't even tell whether the honey was made from flowers or from a bucket of corn syrup.

        January 23, 2013 at 10:42 pm |
    • andy

      If you are using honey as a sugar substitute then there is no difference. If you understand the functions of the pollens in controlling allergies, and the sleep inducing effects of those elements of honey that are distilled away. (Sleep inducing properties used for thousands of years, among others)

      November 30, 2011 at 5:59 pm |
      • Camille

        I use raw orange blossom honey to manage bad asthma attacks. It is amazing! It helps relax the airways and makes coughs more productive. Not to mention that it is very soothing after the whole scary asthma attack in a nice cup of lemon zinger tea... Pure, raw honey has such amazing helpful properties!!!!

        April 22, 2013 at 5:59 pm |
  12. Oi

    So, the question really is: Why the he// does the FDA allow this to happen, and when are we going to clear out that practically useless government agency and put people in there that actually feel like doing a job?

    November 25, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  13. Frances

    I fell in love with Australian honey when I purchased a jar from a local specialty store. When I returned they didn't carry it anymore I don't understand all the hoopla about honey/ I've never tasted anything like Australian honey. Do you know of an shops in the US that sells approved Australian honey? If sao, please let me know.



    November 21, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Hey

    I pee in my honey... and Im not talking about the food

    November 16, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Liqmaticus

      Dude. Just wrong. Wow. LOL. Why am I laughing. I must stop. You evil poster. You!

      November 23, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
  15. stuinmt

    I am a bee hobbiest – one hive.
    Raw honey tends to crystalize around the niduses in the honey, pollen and crystals. Not acceptable to the public.
    A more knowlegable hobbiest informed me that the commercial honeys are microfiltered to remove the pollen and heated to 150 degrees to emulsify the crystals.
    All this to satisfy the needs of the buying public. not true when i was a child and we expected the honey to crystalize – and reversed it by heating the honey in a waterbath.

    November 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Simon

      thats a really useful thing to know, I have half a dozen jars of honey at the back of my kitchen cupboard that have crystallization and I was about to throw them out as being "off", now I know they aren't and how to reverse it they wont go to waste :)

      November 15, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
      • wow

        you're not very bright, are you?

        November 16, 2011 at 7:34 am |
      • @wow


        November 16, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
      • Leo

        That's funny, and sadly ignorant of you. I'm not trying to mock you, but seriously, you didn't know that? Real, pure honey NEVER goes "off" unless it gets horrifically contaminated. There was honey found in the Egyptian pyramids that was still edible. Honey has no water in it and also has natural antimicrobial properties, thereby preserving it perfectly. Crystalizing is normal. Really, how could you not know that? I mean, did you live under a rock?

        Anyway, I'm glad you won't be wasting good honey anymore.

        November 16, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
      • sockpuppet

        If you thought the jars of honey were bad, why would you keep 6 jars of it hanging around your cabinets?

        November 16, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
      • Nick

        I actually didn't know that either. I hope that doesn't spawn more insults. I mean, seriously people?

        November 16, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
      • FishFaceSpeaks

        I didn't know that either, and I moved out from that rock years ago. Hmmm.

        November 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
      • Snow

        Heh.. people just need a miniscule reason to start flinging insults at others.. Shows that some Humans, at least, have not evolved much from their ansestoral monkeys who fling their p oo to state their standpoint.

        Learn to direct your frustrations on their sources people..

        November 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
      • Steve

        Leo, you might want to back off on calling people ignorant, because you're a bit misinformed yourself. Honey doesn't contain "no water" - it's typically around 17% water.

        November 22, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • John T

      I buy only local honey, that is the only way to be sure. And I NEVER buy any food that originated in China. There have been too many instances of contamination.

      November 14, 2011 at 10:51 pm |
  16. PushingBack

    Buy local and buy raw!

    November 14, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
  17. trycucuzzahoney

    I buy from a cucuzza farm in Louisiana, its sweet and smooth... Never been a fan of large chain honey. Farmers Markets always sell the best.

    November 13, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  18. Sunshine Daydream

    Great debate (for the most part...). Always buy regional honey from a small farm, why wouldn't you? Here's my favorite, from NC:

    November 13, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  19. SWJ

    When will people learn that China is NOT our friend? Chinese producers of a vast array of items do not care about anything other than the almighty profit. They poison our pets, children and themselves without a care in the world. Do all of us a favor: buy locally. Local honey also has the added benefit of helping your immune system against local allergens.

    November 13, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Oi

      @MarineVet: Boy, aren't YOU a Pollyana...! China is not our friend, nor are they a friend to their own people as it relates to human rights.

      November 25, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • MarineVet

      China isn't our enemy either. Stop being so paranoid; we're all part of the family of humanity.

      November 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
      • @MarineVet

        Can't we all... just get along?

        November 16, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
      • AirForceVet


        Actually, China is our Economic and Military enemy. Not only that, they are a major aggressor towards many countries in the Asian Pacific area. Contrary to your President's statements, the rise of China is NOT in our (USA) best interest.

        November 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
      • oy

        They have lower safety testing standards than the US. That doesn't make them our "enemy", but it certainly doesn't mean I want to buy anything from them! Unless you like lead in your paint?

        January 18, 2014 at 10:53 am |
    • Jackieanne

      If the deregulation folks have their way, our food will be just as bad.

      November 24, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  20. Scott

    Big governemt commies! The market will take care of this! Because, you know, it's ALWAYS in companies' best interest to do what's best for the consumer! Hey, the people that die from the unknown causes won't buy their product anymore, right??

    November 13, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
  21. Exalted Cyclops

    We need to go to war against China.

    We need to demand a trade embargo against China now!

    November 13, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Limeygirl

      You can't afford to, they own your banks and underwrite your stock market.

      November 15, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
      • @Limeygirl

        11-12% of US Debt is owned by China. It's a myth that China owns the US.

        November 16, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
      • SixDegrees

        Correct, Limeygirl. Not only that – a plunge in the value of bonds that would be cause by China dumping what they own would cost China a great deal of money. They can't sell into the market fast enough to avoid crippling their own worth.

        FWIW, the largest holder of US debt in the form of bonds is the US.

        November 23, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  22. sharon

    this personally doesn't bother me because honey isn't a particularly healthy sweetener anyway. as someone with a penchant for sweet tastes, i've learned a lot about sweeteners from nutritionfacts. org (particularly

    i encourage everyone to check out this awesome site!!

    November 13, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Karyn

      We don't eat honey because we want to sweeten something. We eat honey because we like honey.

      November 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
      • SixDegrees

        Quite correct. Honey has a unique – and strong – taste that pairs exceptionally well with some foods, not so well with others. Baklava wouldn't be baklava without honey, but honey with coffee...not so much.

        November 23, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • wow

      everything in moderation. no sweetener is healthy in excess. that being said, locally sourced quality honey has all sorts of good stuff in it.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  23. Teri

    The Seattle PI ran a 5 month investigation into Honey laundering in the US.

    You can find more information on the seattlepi site. Andrew Schneider is the reporter.

    China ran into a problem in 1997 – a bacterial infection was wiping out their hives.

    They chose to treat the problem with a cheap, but dangerous antibiotic. Quoting from one PI article:

    "That was a mistake, said Michael Burgett, a professor emeritus at Oregon State University and an internationally known authority on bees and honey.

    'You hear about people shooting themselves in the foot? Well, the Chinese honey-sellers shot themselves in the head,' he said.

    The Chinese opted to use chloramphenicol, an inexpensive, broad-spectrum antibiotic that's so toxic it's used to treat only life-threatening infections in humans - and then only when other alternatives have been exhausted.
    'That's on the big no-no list,' Burgett said. 'In the U.S., Canada and the European Union, chloramphenicol is on everyone's zero-tolerance list.'

    Now, 11 years later, some of the honey buyers who take the trouble to test for it still find the banned antibiotic in some of their imported honey."

    Other articles talk about the ease with which China is able to ship honey to countries like India or Malaysia. The labels on the barrels are changed or the barrels are repainted – and the manifests are changed. That allows them to get around the US tariffs on Chinese honey – as well as avoid the increased scrutiny because of the antibiotics.

    2/3 of US honey is imported – and China is responsible for half of that.

    November 13, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
  24. Yogi

    Great. Now I have to double check what I take from those pic-a-nic baskets.

    November 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  25. one of the 99%

    Harvest your own, buy local, be well!

    November 13, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  26. OrangeW3dge

    Yeah but you guys don't want any Government regulation, remember?
    Perry (and Paul) says get rid of the FDA and DOE (both of them)...
    I believe they would simply get rid of the entire Government if given the chance. Now, isn't that Anarchy?

    November 13, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • A. Lloyd Flanagan

      Don't use logic, you'll just confuse them.

      November 13, 2011 at 8:37 am |
    • 10010101

      you jump from FDA & DOE to anarchy, nice one. even without a federal government (which libertarians don't advocate) state and local governments are more than capable of maintaining order.

      FDA and other agencies are corrupt to the core and serve only large corporations. Their interference in the market prevents small companies from competing with large ones. The same can be said for the FCC. We don't have free markets in the US, the most profitable markets are tightly regulated in the favor of large corporations. That's why they need to go.

      November 16, 2011 at 7:43 am |
      • heliocracy

        Media consolidation started when the FCC stopped regulating ownership by order (law) of the U.S. Congress (run at the time by Republicans). If left to their previous regulatory scheme, there wouldn't have been a takeover by a small number of huge corporations like Clear Channel Communications. If you don't regulate markets, the players with the most capital simply buy out competitors and create virtual monopolies, and no state can effectively regulate national or international corporations. This is the thing that Libertarians don't seem to understand.

        January 25, 2013 at 12:02 am |
  27. Rob

    The greed of companys for a quick buck is short-sighted. They believe the american customer is stupid and could be tricked into a cheaper, unhealthy, unsafe, dangerous, product. And we the customers let them get away with it. Just like we rolled over as the banks took our homes, just like we let CEO's get the million dollar golden parachutes when they took our future life savings. We didn't notice were no longer a democracy but a just a two-party (Dem's/Rep's) government. We the people have been in denial for a long time and need to open our eyes to the real world around us.

    November 12, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
  28. Dan Geer

    I am a beekeeper of many decades. You want honey from within a 30 mile radius of your home if you want the anti-allergenic effect. You want your honey to be raw, which is to say unheated and unfiltered, if you want it to be maximally healthful. If you do buy local raw honey, do *not* expect it to remain liquid as it will crystallize (there are a few odd exceptions, e.g., Tupelo).

    If you are seeking varietal honey, e.g., orange, you will be dealing with itinerant beekeepers who are providing agricultural pollination services from which honey is a marketable byproduct. There is nothing wrong with that, and it does mean it is likely to be domestic but highly unlikely to be raw.

    Find a local beekeepers association and get to a source with their help. If wanting to know the state of the domestic market, see The National Honey Report at

    November 12, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
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