Red honey in the beehive state causes concern among officials, beekeepers

SALT LAKE CITY — Beekeepers in three counties said they’re harvesting red honey, and the turn of events has some people worried.

“This is an extremely unusual circumstance,” said Larry Lewis, spokesperson for the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.

Lewis said the state issued an advisory to beekeepers Wednesday, “To not mix this red honey with their regular product, because this red honey might not be in fact honey.”

Lewis said state law defines honey as a product produced by a bee that forages on plants and flowers, but it looks like some bees in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties have been foraging on hard candy.

“Specifically, it looked like it might be candy cane,” said William Burnett, who is a Utah County Bee Inspector.

Burnett said beekeepers in his county have been harvesting red honey for the last two months, but they had no idea where it was coming from until just recently when a local beekeeper came forward and said he’d been feeding his bees a mixture of crushed hard candy and water.

Bees from neighboring farms got into the mixture, collecting sugar water instead of nectar and taking it back to the hive. The result, Burnett said, is a red syrupy substance that tastes more like cough syrup than honey.

“Quite frankly, it doesn’t taste very good if you’re storing simple sugar in the hive,” Burnett said. “You want the flavor of the flowers. You want the pollen. You want the things that make honey honey to be there.”

Burnett said, as far as he knows, the contaminated honey hasn’t made it into the food supply.

Lewis said state officials have no reason to believe the red honey is unhealthy, but they’re running tests. And they’re adamant about the warning to farmers to keep it out of their regular harvest.

“We’re cautious and concerned that the product is not a real honey, and might affect the economic stability of Utah beekeepers,” Lewis said.

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