If you have purchased comb honey from the Coromandel Peninsula since early January this year, please check with the supplier that the honey has been harvested in accordance with requirements.
If people are in any doubt about comb honey they have purchased that may have been harvested in the past three months (the high-risk period) they are advised to not consume it. This is the message from the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) today.
NZFSA is also advising people that if they feel they may have suffered illness associated with honey, to contact their local doctor and provide any information relating to recent consumption of honey from the risk area. They are requested to hold any samples of the suspect honey at home and contact the Public Health Unit at their local District Health Board who will advise on further action.
Toxic comb honey from the Coromandel appears to have been implicated in a number of cases of illness throughout the country over the past week. The honey was sold from three outlets in Whangamata: Quarry Orchard, Valley Orchards and Meat at the Beach.
The toxin causing the problems comes from the native tutu bush and is incorporated into honey when bees gather honeydew produced by the sap sucking vine hopper insect (Scolypopa sp) feeding on tutu plants. This year's hot dry conditions, with a shortage of food for bees, is thought to have led to increased honeydew consumption.
NZFSA will be testing the samples of suspect honey as soon as possible and is keen to gather further information about what is happening.
NZFSA is today writing to all beekeepers to remind them of their obligations in regard to selling honey. Previous audits of the system have indicated beekeepers in general are well informed about the requirements, but given the current concerns, they are being reminded of these.
Waikato District Health Board has activated a helpline and people seeking further information can contact them on 0800 276216.
For further information contact: Sandra Daly, NZFSA Deputy Chief Executive, 029 894 2503
For further comment contact: Jim Sim, Senior Programme Manager (Animal Products), 029 894 2609
For further health information, contact: Amy Thomsen, Media and Communications, Waikato District Health Board, 021 712 663
Notes for editors:
Toxic honey can be produced when bees feed on a native plant, the tutu (Coriaria arborea) bush. Certain areas in New Zealand have a history of bees feeding on this plant and producing toxic honey. The risk areas are the Coromandel Peninsula, Eastern Bay of Plenty or Marlborough Sounds. Bee keepers who sell comb honey from these areas must follow prescribed practices during harvesting.
The toxin cannot be degraded by any heating or processing of honey. The toxins are believed to be very stable and can last for several years in the honey.