U.S – The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has discovered 10% of imported honey samples to be contaminated after conducting a sampling and testing assignment.

In 2021 and 2022, the FDA collected and tested imported honey for economically motivated adulteration (EMA), commonly referred to as “food fraud” when it involves food products.

In terms of food, the FDA defines EMA as “intentionally leaving out, taking out, or substituting a valuable ingredient or part of a food… or adding a substance to a food to make it appear better or of greater value.”

The FDA sampling and testing assignment’s explicit goal was to find products that include undeclared added sweeteners (when the product is labeled solely as “honey” rather than a “blend”) and stop them from entering the U.S. market.

Some honey producers engage in food fraud to lower production costs by adding undeclared, inexpensive sweeteners to the product, such as syrups derived from cane, corn, rice, or sugar beets.

According to studies cited by the FDA, EMA of honey is rather common, with rates as high as 13% in Canada and 14% in the EU in recent years.

In addition, imported honey makes up more than 70% of the honey consumed in the United States.

FDA undertook the current assignment in order to better understand the degree of EMA among imported honey and to spot fraudulent products and stop their distribution on the U.S. market.

The regulator collected and examined 144 samples of imported honey between January 2021 and March 2022 to check for undeclared added sugars.

Each sample consisted of three subsamples, each of which included honey in amounts of at least 240 milliliters (mL).

All of the samples were obtained by FDA field workers from retail packaged or bulk shipments that were marked “honey.”

Retail packaged samples consisted of individual jars or other containers intended for sale. 

Bulk shipment samples were often taken from barrels or drums using aseptic techniques and sterile equipment.

The assignment required the evaluation of honey that was imported from 32 nations.

India and Vietnam, the top two countries from which honey was imported by the United States in four of the previous five years, accounted for around 40% of the samples.

FDA gathered all the samples while the products were in import status, which is the term used to describe goods that were gathered at ports of entry or other holding areas before being made available on the American market.

It used Stable Carbon Isotope Ratio Analysis (SCIRA) to examine each honey’s organic makeup and determine whether it complied with FDA rules.

The related sample was labeled as non-compliant after the agency discovered a subsample to have carbon isotope values that were uncharacteristic of those of genuine honey.

FDA to keep testing imported honey for EMA

FDA discovered 14 (10%) of the 144 import samples it gathered and analyzed to be non-compliant. The remaining samples met the requirements.

Of the 144 import samples, 69 were taken from retail shipments and 75 from bulk shipments.

Based on the data that was available, there was no discernible difference between the adulteration rates of the bulk shipment samples and the ones from retail shipments.

Due to the small sample numbers and the fact that the FDA did not design the assignment for such purposes, the agency advises against drawing any conclusions or comparisons based on the data on the countries of origin for non-compliant honey.

However, the majority of adulterated honey was imported from Yemen (4 of 4 samples), followed by Vietnam (3 of 28 samples), the Dominican Republic (2 of 2 samples), Thailand (1 of 1 sample), Lebanon (1 of 1 sample), Greece (1 of 4 samples), Italy (1 of 4 samples), and India (1 of 29 samples).

FDA placed the linked company and product on Import Alert (IA) 36-01 and refused entry of non-compliant shipments into the United States based on the results of its tests.

Products that are listed on the IA may be held without a physical examination.

To overcome the impression of a violation and have those items permitted into the United States, the corporation must present FDA with proof, such as test results from a third-party laboratory confirming the absence of added sweeteners.

According to FDA, the assignment’s findings confirm the requirement for the organization to keep testing imported honey for EMA as part of its risk-based import entry screening program.

Additionally, FDA will keep working with foreign partners to identify and eliminate EMA linked to imported goods, including imported honey.

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