Managing tutin contamination in honey

If you're a beekeeper or if you pack honey for sale or export, you must comply with a standard under the Food Act to show that your honey does not contain toxic levels of tutin.

Causes of contamination

Tutin contamination, which causes toxicity in honey, is often found in late-season honey in some parts of New Zealand. It occurs when bees collect honeydew from passion-vine hoppers that have been feeding on tutu (Coriaria arborea), a poisonous New Zealand shrub.

Maximum allowable levels of tutin

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code has been amended to set a new maximum level for tutin in both honey and honey comb. The maximum level of tutin allowed is now 0.7 mg/kg. This came into effect in New Zealand law on 12 March 2015.

There is a limited stock-in-trade provision that applies to product that was already packed for retail sale before 12 March 2015. Such product may be deemed compliant if it meets the previous tutin limits of 2 mg/kg for extracted honey and 0.1 mg/kg for comb honey.

Who must comply

It is a legal requirement that all honey for sale or export must comply with the limits set out in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code. Beekeepers and packers of honey must ensure that they take appropriate measures to meet these limits.

Hobbyist beekeepers

If you are a beekeeper who only produces honey for your own use, MPI recommends that you also follow the Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2016. Part 1 of the Standard outlines your options. Donating or bartering honey is a form of trade. If you do either, you must comply with this standard.

Food standards for tutin

Honey produced after 29 February 2016

The Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2016 came into effect on 29 February 2016. This standard replaced the Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2010 and its 2011 amendment. Beekeepers need to ensure that their honey is produced in accordance with the provisions of the current standard.

Key changes to the previous standard include

  • changes to Option 5, which provides for harvesting from areas that have indicated low risk for 3 consecutive years at the new lower tutin limit
  • removal of the reporting requirement for tutin test results, and
  • increased flexibility to produce box section comb honey.

Beekeepers demonstrate that their honey is not contaminated with tutin by complying with the Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2016. You must hold records which demonstrate that honey you have produced or processed does not exceed acceptable levels of tutin.

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