SDGs Live | Is honey really as pure as we are made to believe?

Akeeya Hafsa working with fungi found in honey in the laboratory

Joseph Nzeh et al. | Corresponding author email:

Unraveling the mystery and myths about honey. How healthy are our bees, and do beekeepers have access to modern technology and information on how to produce “pure” honey?

Honey remains a valued natural product and has been used by humans as an important food source, disease treatment, and a healthy sugar source since ancient times.

However, recent reports on the adulteration of honey and honey polluted with contaminants like pesticides, heavy metals, microorganisms as well as antibiotics have gained public attention. Thus, this study aimed to assess the quality and safety of imported and locally produced honey by specifically determining microbial and antibiotic contaminants as well as the beekeeping practices of honey producers within some locations of the Tamale metropolis.

Honey, like other foods, is susceptible to contamination and adulteration. Honey can be  environmentally contaminated by microbes and chemicals such as heavy metals,  pesticides, and antibiotics by those persons involved in all steps from honeycomb to retail market

Unlike many other global beekeepers, most Ghanaian beekeepers have little or no knowledge of the treatment of bees with antibiotics. This is because Apis, the  predominant genera of bees in Africa, displays resistance to the varroa mite and as such  does not suffer from colony collapse disorder

A semi-structured questionnaire was designed to gather information on the sources of honey, knowledge of diseases affecting bees, knowledge of contamination of honey, and knowledge of antibiotics use in honey production from honey producers in the study area.

The procedures outlined by the Codex Alimentarius Commission were followed to ascertain the microbial quality of the honey samples. Also, the Premi® test kit was used to determine the presence of antibiotics residue in the honey samples. Only eight honey producers were identified in the study area; they all had knowledge on contamination of honey.

Microbial and antibiotic contaminants found in the honey sampled in the study area support the hypothesis that honey may not be as pure as might be perceived and this might be a public health concern.

Again, since there is no available record on the screening or antibiotic residue in honey found on the  Ghanaian market, this research is timely and necessary to provide the basis for intervention policies on the minimum limits of antibiotic residues present in honey. 

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