Botulism is a serious illness caused by a toxin produced by the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. Botulism can be contracted by eating food contaminated with this toxin, and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Symptoms of botulism include double vision, blurred vision, difficulty swallowing, dry mouth, slurred speech, muscle weakness, and trouble breathing.
Honey is a common food that may contain botulinum spores. Botulism from honey is rare, but in rare cases, the spores can germinate and produce toxins. Symptoms of botulism from honey include dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, and muscle weakness.
What is botulism and why should people be concerned about it?
Botulism is a potentially fatal illness caused by bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. This bacteria is found in the soil and typically produces a toxin that causes foodborne illness in people. Botulism can affect anyone at any age, but infants have higher mortality rates.
Botulism is commonly seen in food, especially honey. However, there are other foods that can carry the bacteria and cause very similar effects. Some of these foods include:
- Raw or undercooked meat
- Unpasteurized dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
- Vegetables and fruits that have not been carefully washed.
Symptoms of botulism
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Double or blurred vision
- Problems moving the eyes
- Difficulty breathing
How botulism can affect infants and young children?
Honey contains botulism spores. These spores are killed when honey is heated to 160°F or 71°C. The spores that cause botulism can typically be seen with a microscope, but only in the honey that has not been heated. Heating honey also destroys the bacteria, mold, and yeast that contaminate it.
Infants and young children are most likely to have botulism from eating honey. Botulism can cause muscle weakness and paralysis. The condition can be fatal, particularly among infants and young children who have not yet developed a good immune system.
When botulism affects an infant, the disease is typically fatal. In young children, botulism may go away on its own, but when it does, it may leave lasting effects such as muscle weakness.
How to safely store honey?
Honey is a sweet delicacy produced by bees from nectar. It has antibacterial properties that make it usable in cooking and as a home remedy. You can safely store honey, but it is important to follow the right procedures.
The following are some of the steps that you should follow when storing honey:
- Keep it airtight: Honey contains sugar, which attracts moisture from the air. Without an air-tight cover, the moisture can break down honey and cause it to spoil. Storing honey in an air-tight container, therefore, prevents moisture from seeping in, prolonging its freshness.
- Store it in a cool, dark place: Honey will naturally darken over time, but storing it in a cool, dark place will prevent this. The sugar in honey breaks down when it is exposed to oxygen – especially in warm environments. Keeping it in cool, dark places prevents this from happening.
- Keep it away from direct sunlight: Sunlight can damage honey and cause it to spoil. Honey will also darken when exposed to air, so storing it away from direct sunlight will keep it naturally white.
- Keep it refrigerated: If you opened your honey and used it, it is best that you refrigerate it. Refrigerating honey keeps it from spoiling and reduces its moisture content.
- Keep it sealed: Honey that is purchased from the shelf is often in sealed containers. Opened containers should be re-sealed with an airtight lid to prolong its shelf life.
- Keep stored away from other food: Honey is easily contaminated by bacteria. When it comes in contact with other foods, it can spoil faster. Storing it away from other foods will lengthen its shelf life.
What to look for when purchasing honey?
There are several different types of honey, each with different benefits and flavors. When you choose honey, you’ll want to make sure it’s of the highest quality so it’s as healthy as possible. Here are some things to consider when you’re buying honey.
Raw vs. filtered honey: Raw honey is unfiltered and retains all of its natural elements and nutrients. After being harvested, raw honey is left to “ripen” in the sun or in natural areas until it becomes completely liquid.
Filtered honey, on the other hand, is heated and filtered to remove excess moisture, pollen, or other impurities. Most honey sold in stores is filtered honey.
Flavored vs. unflavored: While raw honey is the most natural option, it can also be a bit bland or bitter. This is why many honeys on the market have been flavored with additives like fruit or herbs to make the taste more enjoyable.
If you don’t want your honey flavored, you can get unflavored honey. This type of honey contains no additives, and it simply tastes the way it naturally does.
How to pasteurize honey?
There are a few different ways to pasteurize honey.
Honey pasteurization can be achieved through pasteurization, evaporation, or a combination of both.
Pasteurization: Pasteurization involves heating honey to a high temperature for a short period, killing any bacteria and other microorganisms that could be present. The heat also evaporates some of the water in the honey, leaving behind a cleaner product.
Evaporation: Evaporation involves heating honey in an enclosed container. The heat causes the water in the honey to evaporate, leaving behind a thicker and more concentrated substance.
Combination: Many honey producers prefer a combination of pasteurization and evaporation for their honey. If you’re planning to make a large amount of honey and don’t have time to pasteurize it yourself, though, you may want to purchase pasteurized honey.
Honey contains botulinum spores, but honey is rarely contaminated with enough spores to cause botulism. The spores in honey will only germinate and produce toxins if conditions are right. Namely, the spores need a food source and a low-oxygen environment. Honey will typically not contain enough spores to cause a botulism toxin outbreak, but in very rare cases, honey can be a source of botulism toxin.