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Why can’t babies have honey?

Most parents are excited to introduce their babies to food and honey seems like the perfect treat. Its soft set or runny texture and overwhelming sweetness is sure to be a sensory delight for little ones. But most honey labels advise that honey should not be given to infants under 12 months old. Is it really dangerous to give babies honey?

We would always recommend that parents follow NHS guidelines as well as the directions on our label and not give honey to their babies under 1 year old. Raw honey (and processed honey as well) can contain spores of the bacteria Clostridium botulinum. Spores are the dormant form of some bacteria, which can germinate and begin to reproduce under certain conditions. The spores of this bacteria are present in the natural environment (for example in soil, on plants and even in household dust) and since bees may come into contact with it whilst collecting nectar, it may also be present in the honey they make. 

Spores can only be destroyed at high temperatures (at least 121°C for 3 min is required) and since raw honey is not processed or heat treated in any way, spores can remain in raw honey. Spores can also remain in processed honey, depending on what temperatures it has been exposed to. Raw honey is however naturally acidic and this prevents spores from germinating and creating harmful toxins. 

Adults can normally consume bacterial spores without any problems, as their intestines are able to deal with bacterial spores. However the digestive systems of infants under the age of one year are not sufficiently developed to counteract bacterial spores. Bacterial spores can reproduce in babies’ intestinal tracts, creating toxins which cause illness (infant botulism). Although infant botulism is rare in the UK, it can cause serious illness and even paralysis. It is simply not worth the risk to give honey to such young infants.