Operational procedure: Honey inspection procedures

Although the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) came into force on January 15, 2019, other requirements will be introduced in 2020 and 2021 based on food commodity, type of activity and business size. For more information, refer to the SFCR timelines.

On this page

1.0 Purpose

The purpose of this document is to provide Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspection staff with the procedure to verify that honey marketed and traded in Canada is safe, wholesome and meets the requirements of the Safe Food for Canadians Act and Regulations and the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations.

This document is intended to be used in conjunction with the Standard Inspection Procedures (SIP) and the Operational Guideline on General principles of sampling and the Operational Guideline on Net quantity verification.

The guidance outlined below may be used when verifying compliance of honey product, to support export certification of a honey product, to aid in the assessment of a Preventive Control Plan (PCP) related sub-element, as part of a food safety investigation or follow-up to a complaint.

2.0 Authorities

The inspection powers authorized by the above legislation are identified and explained in the Operational guideline – Food regulatory response guidelines.

3.0 Reference documents

4.0 Definitions

Unless specified below, definitions are located in either the:

5.0 Acronyms

Acronyms are spelled out the first time they are used in this document and are consolidated in the Food business line acronyms list.

6.0 Operational procedure

6.1 Sampling

The following are sampling techniques specific for various forms of honey containers:

Bulk honey

  1. Wipe the top of the bulk honey barrels/totes/pails before opening. Care should be taken when removing lids and/or plastic liners from bulk honey containers so as not to contaminate the product.
  2. Remove any debris (for example: foam, wax, bee parts) from the immediate sampling.
  3. Sample from below the surface and away from the side of the container to ensure the sampling tool (for example: trier) does not damage the container, and that the sample is representative. Take the sample about 15 cm (6 inches) from the side of the container and approximately 15 cm (6 inches) deep, when possible.
  4. Seal and label each sample unit with the lot code and the sample number.

Liquid honey

  1. Use a tool such as a long handled ladle for sampling.
  2. Scoop up an appropriate amount of honey, as indicated in the sampling plan, into the sampling container(s).
  3. Samples may also be taken directly from the honey storage tanks, in which case this should be indicated on the Sample Submission Form.

Granulated honey

  1. Remove foam and wax from the sampling surface.
  2. Use a sampling tool such as a trier to sample the product.
  3. Insert the trier into the honey at a slight angle with steady and firm pressure until it is submerged about half way.
  4. Remove and scrape the honey with a spoon or knife from the trier into the sampling container.

Prepackaged honey

  1. Ensure that the selected containers are sound and not leaking.
  2. Clearly and permanently mark each sample unit with the lot code and sample

6.2 Grading requirements

The Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey sets out the three grades for honey prepared or packed by a licenced operator: Canada No. 1, Canada No. 2 and Canada No. 3. However, if domestic honey does not meet the requirements of one of these grades, then "substandard" can be applied to the label providing the honey is sound, wholesome and fit for human consumption as set out in section 306 of the SFCR.

"Sub-standard" is not a grade name. It is merely the mark that may be applied to a domestic product when it fails to meet the lowest prescribed grade, but is still fit for human consumption.

Tables 1 and 2 of the Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey set out the colour classifications for consumer prepackaged honey; and prepackaged honey other than consumer prepackaged honey respectively.

A grade and colour must be declared on all imported honey. The requirements are the same as for domestic honey except that the word 'Canada' is replaced by "Grade"; such as Grade No. 1.

6.2.1 Procedure to verify Grade

1. Assemble the required equipment

In addition to the items found in the Inspector Toolkit:

  • Colour Comparator or Classifier
  • Refractometer
  • 60 and 80 Mesh Screens and collection pan (for mm measurements refer to Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey)
  • Non-scratch tissues
  • Weight Scale
  • Sample Containers
  • Glass Beakers
  • White or Light Blue Paper
  • Heating Source (microwave, hot water bath)
  • Light Source 540 lux (200 watt) or brighter
2. Determine the number of samples and sample size required
a) Number of samples

Refer to Appendix 1 to determine the number of samples based on the inspection lot size and the container size.

b) Sample Size

When sampling for grade and colour, refer to Operational Guideline – General principles of sampling and use Table 1 below to determine the size (amount) for each sample to be evaluated.

Table 1: Required sample size
Size of container Sample size
500 g or less the whole container
larger than 500 g but less than 15 kg 250 g from each container being sampled
more than 15 kg approx. 250 g from each container Table Note 1

Table Note

Table Note 1

In this case the site of sampling should be approximately 10 - 15 cm (4 - 6 inches) from the side of the container and extended into the honey to a depth of approximately 15 cm (6 inches).

Return to table note 1  referrer

3. Perform the grade verification inspection

The following table describes the type of honey and the order in which the evaluation steps should be performed:

Table 2: Order of the evaluation steps
Type of product Type of packaging Order of evaluation
Liquid honey All

Assess together:

  • fill level and net quantity, suspended particulate matter, and clarity.

Then,

  • aroma/odour followed by the other assessment criteria.
Creamed/granulated honey Clear container

First assess:

  • fill level and net quantity and suspended particulate matter.

Then,

  • aroma/odour followed by
  • inspection of surface for foreign material

Then,

  • separation of the sample for foreign material screening, and separate samples for texture , flavour , colour, and moisture.
Creamed/granulated honey Opaque container

Open container and evaluate:

  • aroma/odour,
  • fill level, and
  • surface foreign material.

Then,

  • all other assessment criteria.
a) Determining container fill level and net quantity screening

The container should be a standard container size with honey filled at or near the top of the container.

The fill level of the honey is evaluated, by holding the honey upright and looking at the level of fill in the container to determine if the honey is at or near the top of the container. If the container appears not to hold the required quantity, a net weight screening can be conducted.

Net weight screening involves taking the gross (for example: product and container including the label) and tare weights (for example: weight of the container and label) and then determining the net weight. Determine the net weight for each selected sample and refer to Appendix 1 to determine if the lot is in compliance. If the results from the screening net weight show the lot is potentially non-compliant, use Operational procedure: Net quantity verification to verify the declared net quantity of the entire lot.

b) Evaluate particulate matter (Visual examination)

To evaluate the presence of suspended particulate matter, hold the container of honey upright against a bright light source, equivalent to at least 540 lux (200 watt) or brighter.

Place the light source behind the honey to observe if the honey contains any particulate matter in the form of black flakes that may be suspended within the honey. To view the whole container, rotate the container and look for particles.

c) Determining clarity (Liquid honey only)

The clarity of liquid honey is evaluated in conjunction with a) determining container fill and b) evaluating particulate matter. Clarity of liquid honey is the transparency and clearness of the honey.

Examine the honey using a bright light source, equivalent to at least 540 lux (200 watt) or brighter, behind the container to observe the presence of crystals or foreign material that may be present. This procedure is also referred to as candling of the product. The honey should be free from air bubbles, pollen grains, crystals and other fine particulate matter. It should look bright and clear.

This clarity evaluation is separate from the colour determined by colour classification (see g) determining colour.

Photograph of liquid honey.

Canada No. 1: clear bright, uniform in colour and free from visible crystals

Canada No. 2: clarity may be dull and cloudy or turbid or slightly uneven and show not more than slight signs of crystallization in the form of a light suspension or minor sedimentation of crystals

d) Evaluate aroma/odour

The evaluation of aroma and odour is best done when the container is first opened.

Open the container and raise it to the nose. The smell should be sweet and characteristic of honey. Different floral sources may have different aromas and odours but they are characteristic for the honey that is derived from those plants. A burnt or smoky, a chemical or even a fermented smell this is not characteristic of honey indicates an off-odour.

e) Evaluate flavour

To evaluate the flavour of honey, take a 5 - 10 gram sample (1 - 2 teaspoons) and place it in your mouth. The taste should be characteristic of honey which will vary depending on the floral source. It should be free of objectionable flavours, for example burnt taste (caused by caramelizing), fermented, smoky, chemical or other off-flavours.

As a general rule the lighter the honey the milder the flavour. Clover honey is white and mild while buckwheat honey is dark and stronger flavoured. However, honey may be a blend of several flavours. Fermented flavours are considered a grade defect. The presence of any fermented flavours would cause the honey to be marked "substandard".

f) Evaluate texture (Creamed/granulated honey only)

Only honey that is marked "creamed" or otherwise marked to indicate that the contents are granulated is inspected for this grade factor.

The texture of creamed/granulated honey can be evaluated by taking and placing a spoonful of honey (approximately 5 - 10 grams or 1 - 2 teaspoons) in your mouth.

Creamed honey should have a smooth and fine texture, with complete uniform granulation. This means there should be no grittiness or sandy mouth feel. If the texture of the honey is medium course or gritty, and the granulation is complete and fairly uniform. However, if the texture is extremely course or gritty this would indicate that the granulation is complete but not uniform.

Terminology used to describe texture:

  • Smooth fine texture means that the honey melts readily when placed on the tongue and does not feel gritty when rubbed against the roof of the mouth.
  • Complete and uniform granulation means that there is no visible separation of liquid from the crystals and the honey is sufficiently well set so that the honey will not pour from the container.
  • Medium course or gritty means that some grittiness may be felt or observed, but not extremely coarse or gritty.
  • Complete and fairly uniform granulation means that there may be slight signs of separation at the surface and the set may be soft to allow the honey to move in the container but it should not be freely fluid.
Photograph creamed/granulated honey.

Canada No. 1: contents are granulated, have a smooth fine texture and complete and uniform granulation

Canada No. 2: contents are granulated, have a texture that may be medium coarse or gritty, but not extremely coarse or gritty, and have a complete and fairly uniform granulation

g) Determine colour

Colour is determined while the honey is in the liquid form. To liquefy granulated or creamed honey, melt a part of the sample in a suitable container using a hot water bath over low heat or in the microwave. Heating should be stopped as soon as the melting is complete as high temperatures or prolonged heating will darken the honey leading to an inaccurate colour determination.

There are a number of colour comparators which can be used to determine the colour of honey. Refer to the manufacturer manuals for instructions on using these instruments.

Tables 1 and 2 of the Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey sets out the colour classifications for prepackaged honey.

h) Determine moisture content

The moisture content of honey (or conversely the soluble solids content) is determined by measuring the refractive index of honey using a refractometer. The refractometer measures the amount of refraction (or distortion) as light passes through a honey sample. The amount of refraction shows how much solid and fluid is present. It is important to note that the refractive index of honey is different from that of a sucrose solution at the same concentration, therefore the refractometer reading needs to be converted to percent moisture using a moisture chart. Newer electronic instruments can provide a direct reading of the moisture content without having to do any further conversions. Refer to the manufacturer instructions.

The Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey prescribes maximum moisture content for the three grades of honey.

Follow these procedures to determine the moisture content of honey:

  1. Make sure that refractometer is properly calibrated. Refer to the instructions provided with your instrument.
  2. Bring the sample to room temperature (20°C). If the sample is not at 20°C, make the necessary temperature corrections using the correction factors provided at the bottom of the Table in Appendix If the honey is too hot, a sharp line for reading will not be visible.
  3. If the honey is creamed or granulated, melt a portion of the sample. Do not heat the complete sample as texture is determined when honey is in the granulated state.
  4. Stir the sample well before placing it on the refractometer prism.
  5. Place a small amount (e.g., a drop or two) of the sample onto the prism.
  6. Wait 30 seconds before taking the reading.
  7. If using a refractometer that does not read the % moisture directly, use the conversion information in the Table in Appendix 2 to determine the per cent moisture.
i) Evaluate foreign material

The presence of foreign material in honey is determined both by visual examination of the honey and by using the appropriate mesh screens. Refer to Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey for the grade requirements as they pertain to foreign materials:

Canada No. 1: free from any foreign material that would be retained on a screen having a sieve opening of 0.1778 mm and made of wire having a diameter of 0.09mm (US NIST standard 80-mesh screen)

Canada No. 2: free from any foreign material that would be retained on a screen having a sieve opening of 0.2489 mm and made of wire having a diameter of 0.125 mm (US NIST standard 60- mesh screen)

Follow the steps below to check for the presence of foreign material:

  1. Select a 25 to 50 g sample of honey, preferably from the top of the container.
  2. Dilute the sample with 250 to 500 ml of clean warm water in a clean beaker. The addition of the water is done to facilitate the passing of the honey through the screens. If the tap water contains particles of corrosion it may be necessary to strain the water. To avoid melting any particles of wax, the water should not be over 46°C (115°F).
  3. Filter the honey by gently pouring it first through the 60-mesh screen and then through the 80-mesh. These screens can be stacked one on top of the other with a collection pan.
  4. Hold the screen to the light and visually look for any foreign material that may have been captured.
  5. Rub a finger gently across the screen to assess for the presence of wax particles. Wax is light in colour and is not easily seen. Alternatively, invert and gently tap the screen over white or blue paper and examine the paper for the presence of particles.
j) Evaluate water insoluble solids

Wax is a major source of water insoluble solids. The Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey describes the allowances for water insoluble solids for Canada No. 1, Canada No. 2 and Canada No. 3 grade honey.

If wax appears to be a problem, collect the samples and contact the Inspection Supervisor or Area further instructions for submitting a sample to the lab.

6.3 Determine Lot Compliance

To determine whether the lot passes or fails the inspection the acceptance number at the bottom of Table in Appendix 1 is used. For example, if three samples are graded each sample must meet all of the requirements of the grade declared in order for the "lot" to pass. Or if six samples are required to represent the "lot", one sample may be out of grade (one or more factors) and "lot" will still pass.

If the product does not meet the colour or grade classification as declared on the package, control or enforcement action may be required. Refer to the Standard Regulatory Response Process and the Guidelines on categorization and timeframes for correction of food labelling and advertising non compliances (internal access only – RDIMS 9912657).

7.0 Appendixes

For general inquiries related to this Operational Guidance Document, please follow established communication channels, including submitting an electronic Request for Action Form (e-RAF).

Appendix 1: Single sampling plan and acceptance numbers for honey grade and colour classification

Container size Inspection lot size (Number of containers)
Any type of container of 250g or less 5,400 or less 5,401 to 21,600 21,601 to 62,400 62,401 to 112,000 112,001 to 174,000 174,001 to 240,000 240,001 to 360,000 360,001 to 480,000 over 480,000
Any type of container over 250g but not over 1.0 kg 3,600 or less 3,601 to 14,400 14,401 to 48,000 48,001 to 96,000 96,001 to 156,000 156,001 to 228,000 228,001 to 300,000 300,001 to 420,000 over 420,000
Any type of container over 1.0 kg but not over 5.0 kg 1,800 or less 1,801 to 8,400 8,401 to 18,000 18,001 to 36,000 36,001 to 60,000 60,001 to 96,000 96,001 to 132,000 132,001 to 168,000 over 168,000
Any type of container over 5.0 kg but not over 50 kg 200 or less 201 to 800 801 to 1,600 1,601 to 3,200 3,201 to 8,000 8,001 to 16,000 16,001 to 24,000 24,001 to 32,000 over 32,000
Any type of container over 50 kg 25 or less 26 to 80 81 to 200 201 to 400 401 to 800 801 to 1,200 1,201 to 2,000 2,001 to 3,200 over 3,200
Single sampling plan
Sample Size 3 6 13 21 29 38 48 60 72
Acceptance Number Table Note 3 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Table Note

Table Note 3
  • If the number of samples which are non-compliant for one or more of the evaluated tasks is:
    • ≤ the acceptance number prescribed for the sample size, the lot is accepted; or
    • > the acceptance number prescribed for the sample size, the lot is rejected.

Return to table note 3  referrer

Appendix 2: Honey conversion table: °Brix, specific gravity and % moisture relationships

The moisture or conversely the soluble solids in honey, is determined by measuring the refractive index of honey using a refractometer. The refractive index of honey is different from that of a sucrose solution at the same concentration and therefore a moisture chart is required to determine the moisture of honey. The following Honey Conversion Table is an example of this type of chart.

Honey conversion table – °Brix, specific gravity and % moisture relationships Table Note 4
% Moisture

Specific gravity

(20°C)

°Brix at 20°C

(Refractometer 0 - 90 range)

Refractive index at 20°C
13 1.4525 85.66 1.5041
13.2 1.451 85.45 1.5035
13.4 1.4495 85.24 1.503
13.6 1.4481 85.03 1.5025
13.8 1.4466 84.82 1.502
14 1.4453 84.61 1.5015
14.2 1.4438 84.39 1.501
14.4 1.4428 84.18 1.5005
14.6 1.4409 83.97 1.5
14.8 1.4395 83.76 1.4995
15 1.4381 83.55 1.499
15.2 1.4367 83.34 1.4985
15.4 1.4352 83.13 1.498
15.6 1.4338 82.92 1.4975
15.8 1.4324 82.71 1.497
16 1.431 82.5 1.4965
16.2 1.4295 82.29 1.496
16.4 1.4282 82.08 1.4955
16.6 1.4267 81.87 1.495
16.8 1.4254 81.66 1.4945
17 1.4239 81.45 1.494
17.2 1.4225 81.25 1.4935
17.4 1.4212 81.04 1.493
17.6 1.4197 80.83 1.4925
17.8 1.4184 80.63 1.492
18 1.4171 80.42 1.4915
18.2 1.4156 80.21 1.491
18.4 1.4143 80.01 1.4905
18.6 1.4129 79.8 1.49
18.8 1.4115 79.59 1.4895
19 1.4101 79.39 1.489
19.2 1.4087 79.18 1.4885
19.4 1.4074 78.97 1.488
19.6 1.406 78.77 1.4876
19.8 1.4046 78.56 1.4871
20 1.4033 78.35 1.4866
20.2 1.402 78.15 1.4862
20.4 1.4006 77.94 1.4858
20.6 1.3992 77.74 1.4853
20.8 1.3979 77.53 1.4849

Table Note

Table Note 4

Data from the table complied by H.D. Chetaway. National Research Laboratories - Ottawa. Temperature corrections are as follows: Specific Gravity = .0006 per °C or .00033 per °F; °Brix value = .09 per ° C or .05 per ° F; Refractive Index = .00023 per °C or .00013 per °F. If the temperature is above 20°C, add the correction; if it is below 20°C subtract the correction.

Return to table note 4  referrer

Date modified: