Unpasteurized Foods and Raw Honey

Sep 27, 2016 | Mayo Clinic Transplant Dietitian | @mayoclinictransplantdietitian


Significant progress has been made over time in reducing the side effects of immunosuppressive therapy; however one side effect that remains is transplant recipients are more likely to develop infections, like those brought on by foodborne illness. Learning about food safety will empower you to shop, handle, prepare and consume foods in a way that reduces your chance of developing a foodborne illness. Let’s dive in to the topic of unpasteurized foods and raw honey.

Pasteurization is a heating process used in some foods to kill harmful bacteria like salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Some commons foods that are typically pasteurized include milk, juices, cheese and eggs. Consuming raw or unpasteurized milk, juices, cheese and eggs can pose extreme danger to transplant patients. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that older adults, pregnant women, newborns and persons with compromised immune systems accounted for at least 90 percent of the listeriosis cases between 2009 and 2011. CDC reported that 21 percent of the people with listeriosis died.

While dairy foods and juices have a clear definition from the Food and Drug Administration for what pasteurized versus raw means, this is not the case for other foods like raw nuts and raw honey. “Pasteurization” of honey actually has no technical meaning, and heating honey doesn’t provide any food safety advantage. Producers may heat honey to keep it from crystalizing but there is nothing safer about honey calling itself “pasteurized” honey versus “raw” honey.

Therefore, you will not find any research or government advice indicating the need for immune compromised patients to use "pasteurized" honey. Foodborne pathogens actually do not survive in honey, so there is no additional risk in consuming it raw. Yeast can survive and grow in honey, but this fermentation will turn honey into mead, and a consumer would know this easily with visual inspection. Remember that infants under one year of age should never consume honey.

What you can do

Lower your risk of developing a foodborne illness by following these shopping tips:

  • Always check the “Sell-By” date before putting any food in your grocery cart.
  • Don’t buy food displayed in unsafe or unclean conditions.
  • Buy only pasteurized milk, soft cheeses made with pasteurized milk, and pasteurized or juices that have been otherwise treated to control harmful bacteria.
  • When buying eggs, purchase refrigerated shell eggs. If your recipe calls for raw eggs, purchase pasteurized, refrigerated liquid eggs.
  • Buy honey from a trusted source, and as with all foods, avoid honey with particulate matter that shouldn’t be there.


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