Irradiated Honey

Peel’s prides itself in only selling pure, non-irradiated South African honey. But what does “non-irradiated” actually mean?

What is food irradiation? And are irradiated foods safe to eat? Food irradiation exposes foods to radiant energy (such as gamma rays) to kill insects, bacteria, and other food-borne pathogens. Because gamma rays do not create radioactive particles and the food itself never contacts the source of the radiant energy, irradiated foods are not made radioactive and are therefore safe to eat.

However, while the process of irradiation kills harmful bacteria, it may also destroy ‘friendly’ enzymes and affect honey composition (incl. Vitamin E and moisture levels), thus affecting its wholesomeness.

Most honey on South African retailers’ shelves is imported:

  • Over the past two decades, South Africa’s honey imports have grown to roughly 70% of total available honey in South Africa.
  • In 2017, South Africa imported 4,206 tons of honey, 85% of which came from China.

In 2009 and 2015, South Africa experienced outbreaks of American Foul Brood (AFB) disease, which threatened the country’s food security by wiping out thousands of bee colonies across the Western Cape. The disease was probably introduced into South Africa via imported honey and is an existential threat to beekeeping in South Africa.

To avoid this from happening again, importers must “irradiate” imported honey by law to kill any bacteria and pathogens. This measure protects South African bees.

The Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act of 1972 sets out labelling requirements on food products that are subjected to irradiation. The objective is to ensure that consumers know what they are buying. Our legislation stipulates that labels on honey products must disclose the origin of the honey and explicitly state whether or not the honey has been irradiated.

Despite this, many products do not adhere to these labelling requirements. This leaves consumers unsure of whether they are buying local, imported, or a blend of local and imported honey.

Make sure to check the label of your honey before you buy if you want to consume only non-irradiated local honey. Sometimes honey that appears to be ‘bottled’ in South Africa does not contain South African honey, or could even be blends of imported honeys.

Buy honey from old, established brands or small local craft beekeepers – that gives you the best security that you are buying pure, non-irradiated local honey!

The question whether honey is irradiated is separate to whether honey is fake (or “adulterated”). Whilst in some countries in the world have a reputation for supplying much of the world’s adulterated honey, even those countries supply some excellent honeys. Local products aren’t immune, either – the press has reported on numerous cases of local honey adulteration.

Read our page on how to spot adulteration and ensure that you buy only pure honey!