Food Safety for Beekeepers: Book Review.

I find our UK honey regulations tricky with so much confusing conversation and advice about around what could be a straight forward process of labelling a jar. I discovered this new book during a week when there were lots of comments on Twitter about labelling and whether it is legal to have the producer’s name and picture/logo on the front of the jar with the statutory details such as address, weight, lot number etc. on the back. It makes for a nice uncluttered view but is it legal?

Andy Pedley (private email) says it is fine to have the statutory details on the back of the jar, at least that’s how he interpretes the legislation. The name of the food and quantity must be in the same field of view though, but it can be on the back of the jar. Field of view refers to all surfaces that can be read from a single viewing point. As Andy says, only the courts can interprete the law, and a minor transgression is unlikely to end in prosecution.

FSA Guidance – Final draft 16 Dec 2014 (food.gov.uk)

Copyright The British Beekeepers Association.

The British Beekeepers Association (BBKA) produced a leaflet on regulations and labelling and the above picture is meant to show the perfect label. However, if you look closely you will see that they have made a mistake; oops! They have left a space between 454 and g which is incorrect; there should be no space. Don’t panic if you followed this example as I don’t think that anyone will go to prison for this.

UK Regulations.

We have rules and regulations that pertain to honey in the countries within the UK. Scotland has its own regulations but there is no difference between it and the one below, https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2015/1348/made/data.pdf . For most of us the subject is a minefield with incorrect information often circulating via social media, and a lack of updating as new legislation comes into place. Hobby beekeepers who get it wrong don’t usually deliberately flaunt the rules but rather they are misguided, or act out of ignorance rather than malice.

I found a jar of honey, purporting to be heather honey, for sale and commanding a higher price, but I was curious because it didn’t look like typical heather honey full of air bubbles due to its thixotropic properties. I bought a jar and it was delicious, but was in fact 50% heather and 50% Himalayan balsam as tested by a knowledgeble beekeeping microscopist with all the kit for the job. So, it was not predominantly heather honey and shouldn’t have been labelled and sold as such.

I came across an inexperienced beekeeper who produced and sold liquid “heather” honey with no air bubbles and was convinced that it was pure heather because the bees had been taken to the heather moors. He didn’t know about the finer details of preparing bees for the heather, or bee behaviour. Taking bees to the heather and obtaining a crop requires different knowledge and skills from managing honey bees for other crops.

A few years ago, a good friend prepared his bees carefully for the heather and carted them up into the moors which were blazing with purple heather. However, there was a great crop of clover down the valley and the colonies made a bee line for it as soon as Tony went back down the hill!

Book Review.

Food Safety for Beekeepers: Advice on legal requirements and practical actions by Andy Pedley MCIEH

Published 2022 by Northern Bee Books

ISBN: 978-914934-37-7

Paperback. 104 pages including content, endnotes and index

Cost: £17

Available: Northern Bee Books and other bookshops

Food Safety for Beekeepers: Advice on legal requirements and practical actions by Andy Pedley is a detailed account of food safety from hive to honey jar with advice and guidance for beekeepers, helping them remain within the UK law. The author is an experienced beekeeper with a professional background in Environmental Health.

The book is divided into sections and set out in a logical order starting with the law.  Pedley makes it clear that only the courts can interpret the law and that the beekeeper must take responsibility for deciding how the legislation relates to their own operation. He covers the Honey (England) Regulations 2015, thoroughly and explains the different legal terms and requirements making things much clearer for people. The reader is guided through the controversial process of labelling which is often done incorrectly for several reasons including misinterpretation of the UK regulations.

Pedley writes with clarity and authority and makes good use of photographs, tables, and diagrams to demonstrate equipment and explain concepts. Anyone who was not sure how to incorporate Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point into their honey handling operation will be able to set themselves up with a robust system after reading this book. Indeed, this book covers everything any hobbyist or commercial beekeeper needs to know about preparing and selling honey and it is essential reading for all.

There are surprises and thought- provoking snippets of information such as the use of sulphur dioxide gas for killing wax moths not being legal because it is not licensed in the UK for this purpose. These sulphur strips are widely available from beekeeping suppliers which will undoubtedly confuse and mislead beekeepers.

We learn that we should be recording the batch numbers of bee feeds and using only plastics that are food grade as identified by cup and fork symbols. Greater care needs to be taken when harvesting from boxes with top bee space because the combs are more exposed to floor dirt. Microwaves adversely affect enzyme activity.

This is the book that I have been needing and wanting for a long time; it pulls together all the necessary information and presents it in a lucid way in one volume. With honey authentication being a key issue in a time of increased food fraud, this is a very timely publication.

Autumn in the Apiary.

The last day of September, also the last official day of summer, threw a tremendous tantrum and the toys blew everywhere. 60mph hour equinoctial gales raged for several hours ripping up a gigantic birch tree on Cawdor village green. You could almost see Australia through the chasm in the over- mown lawn.

Here in the side apiary, where I’d stacked empty hives too close to a colony, I was rewarded for my lack of good planning by finding a pile of hive parts with stunned bees looking out of a super. I’d noticed that the rachet device on the strap, holding together the hive parts, was faulty but hadn’t got round to changing it before the storm came. Like a game of dominoes the hives toppled over towards the bee shed breaking the leg of the hive stand that supported the stunned colony.

I’d watched the storm arrive at breakfast and was checking the apiary before running Linton to the airport for his journey to Stockholm. With 10 minutes to spare, we were able to jump into bee suits, light the smoker, and lift the colony back onto a new stand. However, it was really heavy with winter stores and tricky to handle. Fortunately the brood box hadn’t been exposed because the boxes were firmly glued together by propolis since they hadn’t been opened since early August. The bees were quiet and no harm appears to have been done. It was a mild day. However, it has been a good lesson.

Overwintering 2 queens in one unit.

A couple of years ago while visiting Megan and Jorik in the Hudson Valley NY, I saw how they used the Mike Palmer method of overwintering nucs together for increased warmth and have been meaning to try it myself. This year I’ve experimented and the nuc on top is rather vulnerable because it is small with a late-mated queen. When I last inspected the small nuc, I noticed a couple of supersedure cells so I had to take that into account when arranging the nucs so that this one would have a separate entrance at the back to allow a new queen to leave for mating and return safely without encountering the established queen on the bottom floor. The latter was a good 2021 queen from a swarm I’d collected a few miles away.

Both units have masses of stores. On the bottom are 2 brood boxes with 5 brood frames in each. On top of them is a super with 5 full frames of stores. Then there is a queen excluder and on top of that is the brood box with a super of stores on the very top. Linton drilled the tiny entrance hole and the bees are using it though they have access to the front entrance too since I united the units using the newspaper method. At the moment they are still flying down to the river for Himalayan balsam and the ivy has just come into flower.

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