What Passes for Honey on U.S. Shelves

A beekeeper overheard me talking about a friend who had moved to Californiaís Bay Area and was suffering from allergies she had never experienced before. “Local honey,” the beekeeper prescribed. “It has pollen from plants her body may be reacting to. A teaspoon a day should help her.”

Over-the-counter allergy remedies were making my friend groggy, so I bought a jar of honey and passed on the suggestion to her. The worst I thought could happen is that she would enjoy the taste of local honey. (At the time, I was unaware that some people have allergic reactions to particular pollens in honey.) As it turned out, honey did the trick, much to my friendís relief.

Tests by Food Safety News Ring Alarm Bells

Anyone hoping for similar results will be disappointed with three-quarters of the honey found on U.S. grocery store shelves. Food Safety News bought more than 60 samples from 10 states and the District of Columbia. They sent the jars, jugs and plastic bears to Texas A&M University, where Vaughn Bryant, director of the Palynology Research Laboratory, analyzed them.

Bryant is a palynologist, someone who studies spores and pollen. He is also melissopalynologist. Thatís someone who studies honey pollen. No one is more skilled than Bryant, who spends half his professional life doing forensic pollen studies.

What he learned in testing for Food Safety News should make every honey consumer wary. His key results:

  • 76 percent of samples bought at groceries had all the pollen removed. These were stores like TOP Food, Safeway, Giant Eagle, QFC, Kroger, Metro Market, Harris Teeter, A&P, Stop & Shop and King Soopers.
  • 100 percent of the honey sampled from drugstores like Walgreens, Rite-Aid and CVS Pharmacy had no pollen.
  • 77 percent of the honey sampled from big box stores like Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Target and H-E-B had the pollen filtered out.
  • 100 percent of the honey packaged in the small individual service portions from Smucker, McDonald’s and KFC had the pollen removed.
  • Bryant found that every one of the samples Food Safety News bought at farmers markets, co-ops and “natural” stores like PCC and Trader Joe’s had the full, anticipated amount of pollen.

Why It Matters

Pollen-free honey may not sound like a problem, but without pollen it is not possible to trace the source. Food Safety News reported last August:

A third or more of all the honey consumed in the U.S. is likely to have been smuggled in from China and may be tainted with illegal antibiotics and heavy metals. A Food Safety News investigation has documented that millions of pounds of honey banned as unsafe in dozens of countries are being imported and sold here in record quantities.

No pollen, no traceability, no assurance of safety. Furthermore, when pollen is filtered from honey, so are many of the health benefits such as allergy relief and the nutritional value of vitamins, minerals and trace nutrients in bee pollen.

The Food Safety News test results come just as the EU has decided to order honey producers to test for the presence of unauthorized genetically modified pollen and to identify pollen as an ingredient rather than a natural component of honey.† Industry spokespeople fear the ruling will put many small-scale beekeepers and honey producers out of business.

The irony is that while Food Safety News is raising the red flag over the honey supply found on U.S. shelves, the EU may be making it impossible for its honey producers to keep the health benefits intact. For that, we have the vigilance of a German amateur beekeeper (who identified small amounts of GM pollen in his honey) and the steamroller spread of GM crops to thank.

For honey lovers who want nutrition, health and safety along with sweetness, farmers’ markets and organic honey producers offer the only reliable sources.

Related Care2 Stories

Honey Laundering May Mask Dangerous Contaminants

An Old Pesticide Causing New Problems

Are Pesticides the Reason So Many Bees Are Dying?

Photo from hotblack via morgueFile.com

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Renae Thompson
Past Member 2 years ago

I've heard this works for allergies too, but you need to get from local bee keepers. Not from the grocery store. And be sure to ask when they harvest the honey. If they harvest in the fall and the winter you are unfortunately adding to the decline of the honey bees. I read they need the honeycomb during these seasons to help them survive since there are usually not any flowers.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.2 years ago

Some types of glue also look like honey... :-)

Edvanir L.
Edvanir L.2 years ago

I've bought honey from a free market nearby, but I not sure if it's unfiltered. How can you recognize that? It should be good to have an article about it - if it's possible for us to recognize it.

Debbi Ryan
Deb Ryan2 years ago


Vicki P.
Victoria P.3 years ago

Thanks for this!

OmegaForPrez now
OmegaForPrez now3 years ago

Interesting, which is why the honey that is stated to be honey is not as tasty as the ones that say "natural bee honey" or something like that on the container. If you can't taste a flower in the honey, then there is likely no pollen in it.

Doranna Mcclendon

When I have the money I am going to buy raw honey at Sprouts or Sunflower Market here in Phoenix,Arizona. But the dollar stores has a nice honey there. And the darker the honey is the more,nutrients are in there,that is good for your health. Earlier this yr,I got a dark and big size honey at the dollar store. HOney is good for your health and it eases your stomach. And lets fight to save the Bees,as they are being exterminated,because without them we would not have honey,and the other food that we need and like to eat,as the bees pollinates to food and helps it to grow,& then we can pick and eat it.

Katherine B.
Katherine B.3 years ago

Thanks! I have always sought out raw honey, and go to the source and buy it as close to home as possible!
I see some companies defending themselves against this latest news about honey and CLAIMING their honey is RAW, and does not fall in line with what the media is saying. I can not stand how companies lie!

Sarah Fletcher
Sarah Fletcher3 years ago

Raw honey is best, because at the temperatures at which most store bought honey is routinely pasturized, a compound in the honey changes to phytic acid, a toxin to humans.

Sarah Fletcher
Sarah Fletcher3 years ago

Raw Honey is best, because to heat the honey above a certain teperature changes one of it's compounds into Phytic acid, which is toxic to most humans.