Yes, you can! Raw honey is at least as safe as pasteurized honey. Unlike raw dairy, raw meat or raw vegetables, you can’t get infections or food poisoning from raw honey.
- Pasteurization of honey was never intended to make it safer.
- Raw honey is at least as safe pasteurized honey.
- All raw honey is strongly anti-bacterial: bacteria that cause food-borne diseases cannot grow in raw honey
- Neither fetuses nor mothers are at any risk of getting infant botulism from honey.
- You cannot get food-borne botulism (the “normal” botulism) from honey.
- Honey is a carbohydrate and can affect your blood sugars if you have diabetes
Gourmet raw white honey from Canada makes a great gift
Raw honey and pasteurization
Louis Pasteur developed a method for heating wine that prevented the wine from “souring” while it fermented in 1864. Afterwards it was discovered that applying Pasteur’s modified wine heat treatment to milk could reduce the transmission of food-borne illnesses common in milk and other dairy products. Countless deaths have been prevented globally by pasteurization of milk and diary products. Given the public health importance of pasteurized dairy products, it’s not surprising that pasteurization has become synonymous with food safety.
Milk isn’t the only raw food associated with outbreaks of serious bacterial illnesses. Raw meat, especially if processed or stored under unhygienic conditions, can grow bacteria that cause serious bacterial infections. Eating raw vegetables, especially hard to clean ones, like lettuce can also result in bacterial infections if the vegetables are contaminated with soil containing pathogenic bacteria.
Pasteurization of honey has never been about food safety
Raw honey is healthier and at least as safe as pasteurized honey
There’s a good reason you never hear about raw honey leading to disease outbreaks. The reason is that raw honey never leads to outbreaks. Raw honey is likely the safest natural food out there. All raw honeys (not only manuka honey) have remarkable antibiotic properties that kill virtually all disease-causing bacteria. Here is what the world-renown Mayo Clinic has to say on the risk of eating raw honey1:
“’Pasteurization’ of honey actually has no technical meaning, and heating honey doesn’t provide any food safety advantage. Producers may heat honey to keep it from crystallizing but there is nothing safer about honey calling itself ‘pasteurized’ honey versus ‘raw’ honey.
Therefore, you will not find any research or government advice indicating the need for immune compromised patients to use ‘pasteurized’ honey. Food-borne pathogens actually do not survive in honey, so there is no additional risk in consuming it raw. [emphasis is mine]”2
It’s well-known that raw honey is healthier for you than processed, pasteurized honey since raw honey has more healthy enzymes, vitamins and minerals. In addition to this, raw honey is probably safer to eat than processed honey3. The antibiotic properties of most honeys are greatly diminished by the pasteurization process, so, while bacteria can’t grow in raw honey, they are more likely to be able to grow in pasteurized honey. It’s also more difficult to detect adulteration with sugar syrups or illegally imported honey that may be contaminated with antibiotics or environmental pollutants in processed honey than in raw honey.
Neither adults nor fetuses can get infant botulism from honey
But what about botulism in children? Isn’t that a food-borne bacterial illness? Yes, infants under one year of age are at risk of developing infant botulism if they eat honey.
Infants’ intestines are not yet fully colonized by normal gut microbiota so there is a small risk that if an infant consumes honey that contains C. botulinum spores, the spores may activate and grow in the infant’s intestines, slowly releasing their toxin. Unlike infants, adults’ intestines have been colonized by bacteria since before their first birthday and therefore adults cannot develop infant botulism (hence the “infant” in the name). Raw honey is increasingly considered a “pre-biotic” that is conducive to nourishing healthy bacteria in the gut.
Food-borne botulism that adults can get is a different beast. Food-borne botulism is a serious and potentially fatal condition that develops after consuming rotten food that is contaminated with large doses of botulin toxin. C. botulinum can thrive in some improperly prepared, stored or packaged foods, releasing large amounts of toxic botulin toxins (this is the same toxin used in botox injections). Honey cannot give you food-borne botulism because Clostridium botulinum cannot grow in or produce any toxins at all while in the honey.
Pasteurizing honey does not kill the hardy C. botulinum spores that may be present in raw honey so infants younger than a year should not eat any honey.
If you do eat honey (at any time), why not eat honey you can trust?
Diabetes and honey
Diabetes is one condition where people should pay attention to how eating honey affects their individual blood sugars. The hormonal changes in pregnancy can cause some normally-healthy women to develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Like other forms of diabetes, the body does not regulate blood sugar levels appropriately in gestational diabetes (also called “diabetes of pregnancy”). Prolonged high blood sugars can have adverse effects on the developing fetus, so pregnant women with any form of diabetes should monitor their blood sugars in consultation with their physician. Like any carbohydrate, honey can affect blood glucose levels in people any form of diabetes.
Honey is not “just another sugar”
While honey is a carbohydrate and eating honey can impact blood sugar levels in people with any form of diabetes, eating honey does not increase your chance of developing diabetes. On the contrary, there is strong evidence that eating honey (especially if honey replaces processed sugars in the diet) reduces the chance of developing diabetes.
Honey has a lower glycemic index than processed sugars and does not cause the same insulin or blood sugar spikes that eating processed sugars does.
- The Mayo Clinic was referring to immune compromised individuals who are at higher risk of developing infections here, refuting the idea that immune compromised individuals should avoid raw honey. However, the point that food-borne pathogens do not survive in honey is relevant to pregnant women. Immune compromised individuals are at greater risk from food-borne pathogens that those of us with normally-functioning immune systems. There seems to be new evidence emerging that eating raw honey may in fact boost the immune system.
- The assertion that food-borne pathogens cannot survive in honey seems to contradict the well-known fact that honey may contain Clostridium botulinum I think the two statements can be reconciled when one considers that spores are not metabolically active. They only become a pathogen when they emerge out of the inert spore state in an infant’s intestine. The C. botulinum bacteria form spores in honey precisely because they (the active bacteria) cannot survive in raw honey.
- Subtle but important distinction: “healthy” refers to food having components that contribute to good health, while “safe” refers to an absence of substances that may harm your health. The enzymes, polyphenols and aromatic compounds that give honey it’s pro-digestive, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and other health benefits are what makes honey health. The antibiotic properties of honey that prevent toxic bacteria from growing in it make it safe.
[…] of honey is done only to extend the shelf life and prevent fermentation: it adds nothing to safety. Here’s a detailed explanation of raw honey’s safety in pregnancy, which agrees with the world-renown Mayo Clinic’s assessment of raw honey’s […]
[…] The good news is that there's no reason to give up raw honey in a normal pregnancy. This common idea appears to be a misunderstanding. […]
[…] Producers may heat honey to keep it from crystallizing but there is nothing safer about honey calling itself ‘pasteurized’ honey versus ‘raw’ honey. Therefore, you will not find any research or government advice indicating the need for immune compromised patients to use ‘pasteurized’ honey. Unlike raw honey, raw salad poses a non-zero risk of infection View complete answer […]
Thanks for the lesson learnt
Thank you for the comment, Faith. I’m happy that you find the information useful. Of course, each individual must decide what she is comfortable eating during pregnancy, but I have noticed a lot of misunderstanding on this topic on the internet. All the best!