Managing tutin contamination in honey

Beekeepers and packers of honey for sale or export must comply with a standard under the Food Act to show that their honey does not contain toxic levels of tutin.

Causes of contamination

Tutin contamination, which causes toxicity in honey, is often found in late-season honey in some parts of New Zealand. It occurs when bees collect honeydew from passion-vine hoppers that have been feeding on tutu (Coriaria arborea), a poisonous New Zealand shrub.

Maximum allowable levels of tutin

The Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code has been amended to set a new maximum level for tutin in both honey and honey comb. The maximum level of tutin allowed is now 0.7 milligrams per kilogram. This came into effect in New Zealand law on 12 March 2015. There is a limited stock in trade provision allowing product already packed for retail sale prior to the 12th of March 2015 to be deemed to comply if it meets the previous limits (2mg/kg for extracted honey and 0.1mg/kg for comb honey).

Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code (External website)

Who must comply

It is a legal requirement that all honey for sale or export must comply with the limits set out in the Code. Beekeepers and packers of honey must ensure that they take appropriate measures to meet these limits.

Hobbyist beekeepers

If you are a beekeeper who only produces honey for your own use, MPI recommends that you also follow the standard. Read Part 1 of the standard, which is linked below, to learn about the options. If you donate or barter your honey, then that is a form of trade and you must comply with the standard for tutin in honey.

Food standards for tutin

Honey produced after 29 February 2016

The Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2016 comes into effect on 29 February 2016. This Standard replaces the Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2010 and its 2011 amendment. Beekeepers need to ensure that their honey has been produced in accordance with its provisions from 29 February 2016.

Key changes to the previous Standard include:

  • changes to Option 5 which provides for harvesting from areas after 3 consecutive years of testing indicating low risk to reflect the new lower tutin limit;
  • removal of the reporting requirement for tutin test results;
  • and increased flexibility to produce box section comb honey.

Beekeepers demonstrate that their honey is not contaminated with tutin by complying with the Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2016. You must hold records which demonstrate that honey you have produced or processed does not exceed acceptable levels of tutin.

Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2016 (103 KB PDF)

Compliance Guide to the Food Standard: Tutin in Honey (600 KB PDF)

Honey produced before 29 February 2016

From 1 January 2011, all honey for sale or export for human consumption produced between 1 January 2011 and 28 February 2016 must have been produced in compliance with the Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2010 and its 2011 amendment. A guide to compliance, provided by MPI, explains what you must do and includes information on how testing is done.

Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2010 (61 KB PDF)

Also refer to the 2011 standard, which amends the 2010 standard to clarify one of the options for managing tutin contamination.

Food (Tutin in Honey) Standard 2011 (22 KB PDF)

Bee pest and diseases

Two pests and diseases which affect bees are varroa mite and American foulbrood.

Varroa mite

You can find information about the surveillance and control of varroa mite on MPI's biosecurity website.

Varroa Mite (MPI Biosecurity)

American Foulbrood (AFB)

The National Beekeepers Association (NBA) administers the strategy that aims to eliminate AFB in New Zealand beehives. You can find out more about this on the NBA's website for AFB.

American Foulbrood Pest Management Strategy (External website)