Health for humans, animals & plants

Honey composition

Final report of the priority action A-033-18

The aim of the focus action "Composition of Honey" was to obtain an overview of the contamination with pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) of the honeys offered on the Austrian market and of adulteration or authenticity.

50 samples from all over Austria were examined. 15 samples were rejected:

  • no sample had to be rejected due to contamination with pyrrolizidine alkaloids
  • three samples did not consist exclusively of honey
  • two samples were rejected due to misleading information regarding identity and composition respectively
  • in three samples the maximum value for hydroxymethylfurfurol (HMF) content was exceeded
  • a total of 14 samples showed incorrect labeling.

Pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PA) are secondary plant compounds produced by certain plant species to ward off predators. PAs have been detected in numerous plant species worldwide. Native plants, such as ragwort and viper's bugloss, can also produce PAs. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids can damage health, especially the liver. These substances can be introduced directly into honey by bees collecting pollen containing pyrrolizidine alkaloids. Such contaminated honey is one of the main sources through which consumers can ingest pyrrolizidine alkaloids.

In the course of the focus action, honey offered on the Austrian market was also examined for adulteration or its authenticity. Hydroxymethylfurfurol (HMF), for example, is formed when sugar or carbohydrates are heated. A high HMF level in honey indicates prolonged storage or heating that is not allowed. The HMF content in freshly extracted honey is very low. In the EU, a maximum limit of 40 mg/kg applies to honey produced under European conditions.

Due to feeding during the harvest and/or addition of sugars and syrups as well as false claims regarding the geographical or botanical origin, products are on the market that do not meet the legal requirements and thus deceive the consumer.

Last updated: 18.07.2022

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