27 Jun 2023

An expert view from an Intertek honey authenticity scientist

In March 2023 the EU released findings from their honey authenticity research conducted between October 2021 to February 2022. The report provided valuable insights into the current state of the honey market and raised serious concerns regarding the authenticity of honey imported into Europe.

Honey should be a non-processed natural product with no added ingredients, so this report has, understandably, attracted a lot of attention. Importantly, it has once again highlighted the necessity of a thorough technical understanding of honey authenticity testing to effectively monitor the market and protect consumers.

To help shed light on this report we spoke to one of our honey experts, Ulrike Burmester - Senior Lab Supervisor for Authenticity, to hear her top five takeaways.

  1. Analytical techniques matter when comparing data. The report found a 14% increase in suspicious honey since 2015, however, the available authenticity methods for honey analysis have improved significantly since 2015. Therefore, it is unsurprising that current methods such as Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) or High Resolution Mass Spectrometry (LC-HRMS) have increased the likelihood of identifying samples as suspicious. This makes it difficult to truly know if there has been a rise in honey adulteration or if we are simply better equipped to identify it now.

  2. Terminology is key. It’s important to note that the honey samples of concern in the report were considered ‘suspicious’. This doesn’t conclusively define them as adulterated and further investigations would be needed to conclude if a honey supply has been adulterated or belongs to a rare and little represented variety.

  3. Anomalies can come from the environment. There are many reasons other than the deliberate addition of foreign sugars that may result in a honey sample being flagged as suspicious or cause it to fail authenticity tests. This includes missing or incorrect origin information or plants growing near the hive. These factors can have notable effects on the sugar profile, pollen types, and carbon isotope ratios found in the honey.

  4. Honey testing is complex. Unfortunately, there isn’t a single test that will prove the authenticity, quality, and safety of a honey sample. However, the country of origin provides a good indication of which tests would be most appropriate. Our team of technical experts is on hand to provide guidance for your test plan.

  5. Stricter limits on analysis are vital. We see in the report that the limits used in their testing are tighter than in some commercial laboratories. This emphasises the importance of understanding what is the appropriate minimum or maximum levels for each test being performed to have confidence in the results. Additionally, this helps those in the industry to make a judgement on whether a laboratory is conducting the appropriate level of testing to protect both brands and their consumers.

At Intertek, we are committed to supporting the honey industry to supply safe and authentic honey. Our honey centre of excellence is home to established global experts, who understand the unique requirements of honey and hive products. From honey to royal jelly, bee pollen, propolis and beeswax we can provide advice, precise analysis and reliable results delivered quickly and reliably throughout the world. Find out more on our Honey Solutions page.

 

Ulrike Burmester Intertek headshot

Ulrike Burmester,
Senior Lab Supervisor for Authenticity, Food Services

Ulrike joined Intertek in 2017 as the Senior Lab Supervisor in the Authenticity Testing department and specialises in Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). Prior to joining Intertek, Ulrike worked in pharmaceutical research for 22 years and in the application laboratory for a global analytical instrument company. Ulrike has studied Chemical Engineering with a focus on Biotechnology and has also achieved a Level D IPMA certificate in project management.