Operational procedure: Honey grade verification
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 guidance to Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) inspection staff on standard commodity inspection procedures related to grade verification of honey. These inspections will verify that honey marketed and traded in Canada is safe, wholesome and meets the requirements of the Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA) and regulations and the Food and Drugs Act (FDA) and regulations.
The guidance outlined below may be used when verifying compliance of honey product, to support export certification, to aid in the assessment of a Preventive Control (PC) related sub-element, as part of a food safety investigation, or as follow-up to a complaint.
This document is intended to be used in conjunction with other guidance documents as referenced in Section 3.0.
- Agriculture and Agri-Food Administrative Monetary Penalties Act
- Food and Drugs Act (FDA) ) (as it relates to food)
- Food and Drug Regulations (FDR)
- Safe Food for Canadians Act (SFCA)
- Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR)
The inspection powers, control actions and enforcement actions authorized by the above legislation are identified and explained in the Operational guideline – Food regulatory response guidelines.
3.0 Reference documents
- Standard inspection process (SIP)
- Standard regulatory response process
- Food incident response process
- Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey
- Canadian Standards of Identity Volume 5 - Honey
- Categorizing labelling and advertising non-compliance and timeframes for correction in food (accessible only on the Government of Canada network – RDIMS 9912657)
- CFIA sampling information (accessible only on the Government of Canada network)
- Operational guidelines: Food sample collection
- Operational procedure: Calibration procedures for common equipment used by the CFIA inspectorate
- Operational guideline: Food net quantity verification
- Operational guideline – Food regulatory response guidelines
- Industry guidance: Preventive controls for food
- Industry guidance: Preventive controls for honey products
- DSDP SOP INS - conducting an inspection (accessible only on the Government of Canada network – RDIMS 9839405)
- Worksheet: Honey Inspection and Grading Report CFIA/ACIA 5918 (accessible only on the Government of Canada network)
Definitions are located in the documents listed below or as a defined word where it is intended to supersede the definitions within the glossary documents:
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
This operational procedure provides inspection guidance specific to honey for which grades and colour classes are established in the Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 – Honey and Volume 9 Import Grade Requirements; and for which a standard is established in the Canadian Standards of Identity Volume 5 – Honey. Where more specific guidance is required then what is provided in the Standard inspection process (SIP), these will be indicated in this section.
Commodity inspection operational guidance (OG) refers the inspector to the SIP for basic guidance on the 4 inspection steps. If the commodity inspection is being conducted to support a preventive control inspection (PCI) currently underway, some or parts of the inspection steps will have already been completed.
6.1 Prepare for inspection
Refer to SIP, section 3, step 1. In addition to the general guidance provided in SIP, the following applies.
Choose one of the following triggers as appropriate:
|Inspection task type||Commodity Inspection|
|Inspection level 1 task||Perform Test|
|Inspection level 2 task||Grade verification|
6.1.1 Prepare the toolkit
In addition to the list of equipment found in section 3.5 of the SIP, the following equipment is needed to complete the grade verification:
- 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
- weigh scale
- sample containers
- glass beakers
- white or light blue paper
- heating source (hot water bath)
- light source 540 lux (200 watt) or brighter
6.2 Conduct the inspection
Refer to SIP, section 4, step 2. In addition to the general guidance provided in the SIP, the following applies.
6.2.1 Locate and determine the lots
184.108.40.206 Choose the appropriate sampling technique
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
220.127.116.11. 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: Food sample collection 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||approximately 250 g from each container Table Note 1|
6.2.2 Grade verification
The Canadian Grade Compendium Volume 6 - Honey sets out the 3 grades for honey prepared or packed by a licensed 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.
"Substandard" 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.
The worksheet Honey Inspection and Grading Report CFIA/ACIA 5918 (accessible only on the Government of Canada network) may be used as a tool for inspecting honey.
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:
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.
Determining clarity (liquid honey only)
The clarity of liquid honey is evaluated in conjunction with 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.
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 that is not characteristic of honey indicates an off-odour.
To evaluate the flavour of honey, take a 5 to 10 gram sample (1 to 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".
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 to 10 grams or 1 to 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, then 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.
Colour is determined while the honey is in the liquid form. To liquefy granulated or creamed honey, melt samples (or sample portions) of granulated honey in a suitable, tightly closed container in a water bath or ultrasonic bath at 60°C. Do not submerge the samples. Shake occasionally. Heating should be stopped as soon as the melting is complete, in other words when all crystallization has disappeared (1 to 2 hours) – as high temperatures or prolonged heating will darken the honey leading to an inaccurate colour determination.
Cool samples as quickly as possible to room temperature (20°C) by transferring the honey directly from the water bath to the cuvette. The samples will cool within 5 to 10 minutes and then can be analyzed.
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.
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 2 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 using the procedures described in determine colour. 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 (for example, a drop or two) of the sample onto the prism. If the creamed or granulated honey has been melted, cool the sample as quickly as possible to room temperature (20°C) by spreading a thin layer of honey on the prism directly from the water bath. The sample will cool within 5 to 10 minutes and then can be analyzed
- 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
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. A defect for foreign materials is determined by visual examination.
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
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, based on the evaluation of foreign material, refer to Operational guideline: Food sample collection, collect a sample and contact the inspection supervisor or the area for further instructions for submitting a sample to the lab.
Note: If an observation is made that the net weight indicates the lot is potentially non-compliant (for example, slack filled), use Operational procedure: Food net quantity verification to verify the declared net quantity of the entire lot.
6.2.3 Determine compliance
The assessment criteria for honey grade verification includes a grading tolerance. If a non-compliance is identified, refer to SIP, section 4.5 and to SIP, section 4.6.
To determine whether the lot passes or fails the verification, the acceptance number at the bottom of table in Appendix 1 is used. For example, if 3 samples are graded each sample must meet all of the requirements of the grade declared in order for the "lot" to pass. Or if 6 samples are required to represent the "lot", one sample may be out of grade (one or more factors) and the "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 Categorizing labelling and advertising non-compliance and timeframes for correction in food (accessible only on the Government of Canada network – RDIMS 9912657).
6.2.4 Capturing notes related to commodity inspection in DSDP
For information on capturing notes relating to commodity inspections in the DSDP, refer to Appendix A section 5.4.1 of the SIP and section 3.5.1 of the DSDP SOP INS- conducting an inspection (accessible only on the Government of Canada network – RDIMS 9839405).
In addition to capturing an accurate description (brand name, common name, net quantity, lot number) of the commodity inspected in the "Commodity Description" field in DSDP, enter the same commodity description in the "objective evidence" field along with the non-compliances found so that it appears in the final inspection report.
Worksheets used as tools to aid in the compliance decision of the grade verification should be saved as an RDIMS file and referenced in the "Notes" section of the document record of the inspection task record in DSDP. Upon request, the worksheet may be given to the licence holder.
6.3 Communicate the results
Refer to SIP, section 5, step 3. In addition to the general guidance provided in the SIP, the following applies.
The DSDP inspection report is not required to be provided if the honey grade verification was conducted to support the issuance of an export certificate.
6.4 Conduct follow-up
Refer to SIP, section 6, step 4.
For general inquiries related to this Operational Guidance Document, please follow established communication channels, including submitting an electronic Request for Action Form (e-RAF) (accessible only on the Government of Canada network).
- Appendix 1: Single sampling plan and acceptance numbers for honey grade and colour classification
- Appendix 2: Honey conversion table: °Brix, specific gravity and % moisture relationships
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|
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.
|% Moisture||Specific gravity
|°Brix at 20°C
(refractometer 0 - 90 range)
|Refractive index at 20°C|
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