National Food Agency of Finland
Press release 4/26.2.2001
No honey for children under one year of age
The presence of Clostridium botulinum bacteria in honey on sale in shops in Finland has been determined in a study commissioned by the National Food Administration and carried out by the Department of Food and Environmental Hygiene in the University of Helsinki's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. The results of this study indicated that C.botulinum spores were present in an appreciable proportion of honey samples.
A total of 190 samples were studied, 114 of them from Finnish honey and 76 from honey originating abroad. Among the Finnish honey samples, C.botulinum spores were detected in 9 (8%) of the samples, and among the foreign ones 11 (14%) of the samples.
Cases of a serious type of food poisoning, termed infant botulism, caused by the botulinus toxin produced by C.botulinum are known among children under one year of age. Honey, as the only food, has been shown to be the source of infection in cases of infant botulism. On the basis of the present study it can be assumed that the feeding of both Finnish and foreign honey to under one year-old children carries a risk of the child suffering from infant botulism.
Honey is completely safe for adults. C. botulinum spores do not cause any harm to them. On th contrary, children aged less than one year are sensitive for an infection that is caused by ingestion of botulinal spores.
In the Nordic countries, five incidences of infant botulism were recorded in 1997-1999, once in Denmark and four times in Norway. In all these cases, honey contaminated with C.botulinum spores was the source of the botulism.
Although prenatal and child welfare clinics distribute information to parents on the risk of botulism associated with honey, the National Food Administration considers that, due to the serious nature of infant botulism, more information on this matter ought to be communicated to the public. The National Food Administration is currently considering possible steps to be taken, for example warnings in honey packages. The botulism risk associated with honey is also receiving attention in the EU scientific committee.
Source: The occurrence of Clostridium botulinum in honey on sale in Finnish shops. National Food Administration, Report 9/2000. (in Finnish)
Senior Food Control Officer Maija Hatakka, National Food Administration,
tel. +358 9 7726 7615
Researcher Mari Nevas, University of Helsinki, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine,
tel. +358 9 1914 9744 (carrying out of study)