Prevent Lead Contamination in Honey

Lead residues have been found in some honey products through recent laboratory tests. Exposure to lead is known to have adverse effects on human health, especially on the nervous system. Children are particularly vulnerable.

The primary source of lead contamination in honey is lead-bearing equipment. Honey is an acidic product and can react with surfaces containing lead, allowing lead to be absorbed by the honey. Lead-bearing equipment includes, but is not restricted to:

  • galvanized equipment (such as extractors and tanks)
  • soldered equipment (such as stainless steel extractors, tanks, packing units or any other equipment with lead containing soldered seams)
  • some bronze and brass fittings, equipment made of terneplate (a metal alloy found in some older equipment)

What You Can do to Avoid Lead Contamination

Inspect and Maintain Your Equipment:

  • New and used equipment must be made with food-grade materials. These include stainless steel, food- grade plastic, and fibreglass lined steel with welded or lead-free soldered seams. Repairs to any equipment must also be made with food-grade materials. Solder containing lead should not be used.
  • Do not used older equipment to store, or dispense honey unless you have verified that it is lead free. Increased exposure or residency time will increase the risk of lead contamination of the honey.
  • Do not leave honey in the bottom of the extractor between uses. If the extractor has a lead soldered seam, honey left in the bottom is exposed to lead and could contaminate your next lot.
  • Lead test kits are available and should be used to identify possible lead sources in your equipment. Kits may be purchased from many equipment suppliers.

Procedure to Check For Lead

Testing new and used equipment for lead is convenient and can be done quickly. Test kits contain a chemical that changes colour when it comes in contact with lead.

Follow these steps:

  • Prepare the surface following the procedures included with your test kit. The surface chosen to test should be an internal soldered seam with direct honey contact. Preparation usually involves removal of any honey or coatings/oxidation from the surface. This can be done by wiping the surface off with a paper towel or cloth, and roughing up the surface with a piece of sandpaper, knife or emery board (Fig. 1).
  • Activate the lead testing swab or wipe by following the instructions within the test kit package. Apply the reagent to the prepared surface. If the solution changes colour, as outlined in the test kit, then lead is present.

Photo of individual using a knife to  rough the surface  to preapre for swab.

Figure 1. Prepare the surface

Acceptable Material

If using food grade coatings, correct surface preparation and application is very important. If coatings (such as paint) are not applied correctly, they can flake off and could contaminate the honey. A database of accepted construction, packaging and coating materials can be found on the Canadian Food Inspection Agency website at: www.inspection.gc.ca/active/scripts/fssa/reference/reference.asp


For more information:
Toll Free: 1-877-424-1300
E-mail: FoodSafety@ontario.ca


Author: OMAFRA Staff
Creation Date: 13 February 2014
Last Reviewed: 17 June 2015