Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

Honey Laundering: Food Fraud That’s Not So Sweet

By Paul Dewsbury
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Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

I love the term honey laundering, and in this continually growing food fraud scandal wouldn’t it be wonderful, almost romantic, if it were actually the bees that were perpetrating the crime and making all the money? I took some time to look into the background of honey adulteration, literature and analytical methods, specifically an isotope ratio mass spectrometry; (IRMS) method which I know is used routinely for product authentication in the food safety testing market.

ThermoFisherpodcastAs a result of my research, I found two fantastic resources describing the background of food fraud, the first is an excellent 3-minute podcast on our website, titled, Food Fraud by Dr. Jennifer McEntire, who at the time was VP and Chief Science Officer at The Acheson Group and is now the newly appointed VP of Science Operations at the GMA. Dr. McEntire succinctly gets to the crux of the reasons pertaining to food fraud and it is well worth a listen.

The second is a 3-minute slide deck narrated by renowned food safety expert Professor Chris Elliot, Director of the Institute of Global Food Safety at Queens University Belfast. Professor Elliot highlights the impact of various food frauds including melamine adulteration in milk, spices, meat and he specifically expands on the topic of honey laundering.

There are too many honey adulteration frauds to list here and while some have resulted in huge fines and criminal charges, there is one that will not go away is the mislabeling of Manuka honey. This premium product (and premium price) is a rare honey from New Zealand produced by bees that pollinate the manuka bush and has numerous claimed medicinal properties that can be extremely profitable for the fraudsters through substitution with a basic product. As food fraud is an international issue, various organizations likeInterpol and Europol have food fraud units and here in the UK the government has committed to, and is setting up a dedicated Food Crime Unit.

Moving into the science, one of the best literature resources I would like to share is the Food Fraud Resources website which has some highly cited articles including reviews, thought leadership and analytical methods that are available for download. There are various techniques for honey analysis in the journals and I want to briefly focus on one of the most powerful for authentication, the use of isotope analysis. In our Application Note 30177, Detection of Honey Adulteration with FlashEA Elemental Analyzer and DELTA V Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer, we describe a fully automated system for the detection of honey adulteration with C4-syrups according to the AOAC 998.12 guidelines and is routinely used in many laboratories.

Is honey analysis or food fraud of interest to your laboratory? If so, share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. 

Check out Thermo Fisher’s Food Community page for more resources, on-demand webinars, videos, and application notes.


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Paul Dewsbury, B.Sc.

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