Operational procedure: Honey inspection procedures
Although the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR) came into force on January 15, 2019, certain requirements are being phased in over the following 12 to 30 months. For more information, refer to the SFCR timelines.
On this page
- 1.0 Purpose
- 2.0 Authorities
- 3.0 Reference documents
- 4.0 Definitions
- 5.0 Acronyms
- 6.0 Operational procedure
- 7.0 Appendixes
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.
- Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA)
- Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR)
- Food and Drug Regulations (FDR)
- Food and Drugs Act (FDA)
The inspection powers authorized by the above legislation are identified and explained in the Operational guideline – Food regulatory response guidelines.
3.0 Reference documents
- Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey
- Canadian Standards of Identity Volume 5 - Honey
- Guidelines on categorization and timeframes for correction of food labelling and advertising non compliances (internal access only – RDIMS 9912657)
- Operational procedure: Calibration procedures for common equipment used by the CFIA inspectorate
- Operational guideline – Food regulatory response guidelines
- Operational Guideline: General principles of sampling
- Operational Guideline: Net quantity verification
- Standard Inspection Procedures
- Standard Regulatory Response Process
Unless specified below, definitions are located in either the:
- Safe Food for Canadians Regulations: Glossary of Key Terms
- Integrated Agency Inspection Model (iAIM) - Glossary of Terms (Annex F)
- My CFIA Glossary of Terms
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
The following are sampling techniques specific for various forms of honey containers:
- 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.
- Remove any debris (for example: foam, wax, bee parts) from the immediate sampling.
- 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.
- Seal and label each sample unit with the lot code and the sample number.
- Use a tool such as a long handled ladle for sampling.
- Scoop up an appropriate amount of honey, as indicated in the sampling plan, into the sampling container(s).
- Samples may also be taken directly from the honey storage tanks, in which case this should be indicated on the Sample Submission Form.
- Remove foam and wax from the sampling surface.
- Use a sampling tool such as a trier to sample the product.
- Insert the trier into the honey at a slight angle with steady and firm pressure until it is submerged about half way.
- Remove and scrape the honey with a spoon or knife from the trier into the sampling container.
- Ensure that the selected containers are sound and not leaking.
- 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
- 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.
|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 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).
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:
|Type of product||Type of packaging||Order of evaluation|
|Creamed/granulated honey||Clear container||
|Creamed/granulated honey||Opaque container||
Open container and evaluate:
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.
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.
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:
- Make sure that refractometer is properly calibrated. Refer to the instructions provided with your instrument.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stir the sample well before placing it on the refractometer prism.
- Place a small amount (e.g., a drop or two) of the sample onto the prism.
- Wait 30 seconds before taking the reading.
- 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:
- Select a 25 to 50 g sample of honey, preferably from the top of the container.
- 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).
- 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.
- Hold the screen to the light and visually look for any foreign material that may have been captured.
- 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).
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|
|Acceptance Number Table Note 3||0||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8|
- 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.
- If the number of samples which are non-compliant for one or more of the evaluated tasks is:
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.
°Brix at 20°C
(Refractometer 0 - 90 range)
|Refractive index at 20°C|
- 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.
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