UK project aims to take sting out of honey fraud

Aston University and The Scottish Bee Company have teamed up to fight the not-so-sweet practice of honey fraud using a light-based technology to detect if honey has been blended with cheaper materials like sugar syrup.

The two partners have won a grant from Innovate UK for the project, which is supported by the British Beekeepers Association and the Honey Authenticity Network UK and will apply artificial intelligence to honey samples examined using a technique known as fluorescence excitation-emission (FLE) spectroscopy.

The aim is to develop a fast and reliable testing method for honey, which is the food most prone to fraud after milk. Current techniques, such as chromatography, nuclear magnetic resonance and sensory analysis are expensive and time-consuming, according to the partners.

Earlier this year, an EU study found that 46% of 320 honey samples were considered suspect, a big increase on an earlier assessment carried out in 2017 which pointed a rate of 14%. It examined 10 samples from the UK and found that all of them were suspect, although it was noted that it could be the result of honey produced in other countries and further processed in the UK before its re-export to the EU.

“The project aims to enhance consumer confidence, elevate product value, and safeguard the reputation of British honey,” commented Dr Alex Rozhin of the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (AIPT).

“The team will utilise advanced machine learning techniques, specifically parallel factor analysis (PARAFAC) and partial least squares discriminant analysis (PLS-DA), to analyse honey samples. These techniques offer the capability to identify the chemical constituents, assess their ratios, and determine quality markers within the samples,” he added.

The Scottish Bee Company will be sharing its expertise in honey production to inform the research. Iain Millar, director of The Scottish Bee Company said “Honey fraud isn’t just a consumer rights issue, it has far reaching implications for food security, land use and biodiversity.

“Aston University has a wealth of expertise in the area of food fraud, and we are glad to be working with their team and our colleagues at the BBKA to protect the integrity of the UK honey market.”

The current project is expected to continue for six month and to translate into a UK-wide project that will create a comprehensive database of UK honey samples and develop portable instruments for honey sampling and detection.

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