Honey production depends on management strategies, hive health, and uncontrollable factors such as drought. Whether you are producing comb or liquid honey, your process involves many steps to produce a high-quality product.
A bee’s work starts with flower nectar. It gets broken down into simple sugars stored in honeycomb cells, and then capped with beeswax.
The process of collecting honey begins with pacifying the bees by spraying them with smoke. This makes them less agitated, and it also helps them to release more of their pheromones, which are used for communication within the hive. Small processors will usually do this manually, while larger producers will use machines.
Once the honey is collected, it is poured into a processing tank and heated to melt any crystals. This also ensures that any extraneous bee parts or pollen rise to the top and can be skimmed off. Then, the honey is filtered. This can take several forms, including a fine filtering (0.1-10 um) that removes yeast cells, coal dust, and other impurities. Honey that has been treated with heat during this process is considered regular, while honey that is not treated with any heat is labeled as raw.
Heat degrades enzymes in honey, so it is important to ensure that the honey being processed is free of these enzymes before bottling. This can be done by ensuring that the equipment and facilities being used are clean, and that proper food safety guidelines are followed.
The raw material for honey production is nectar, a sugary liquid extracted from flowers. The amount of nectar produced is dependent on weather conditions. A wet spring may lead to low honey yields while a drought may cause nectar levels to rise.
Bees orient their hives through an advanced behavior known as the waggle dance, which combines motion and buzzing vibrations to communicate information about food sources. Workers also share regurgitated nectar with new recruits and use odor to direct them to specific locations for collection.
Once harvested, honey is heated to 66deg-77degC in order to decrease its viscosity for filtration and improve its shelf life. The heating process also kills yeast cells that could spoil the honey. The resulting liquid is poured into jars, where it is allowed to set before bottling.
The equipment used in honey factory production varies depending on the type of extraction and filtration chosen. A bee brush and a fume board are essential tools for harvesting. A bee brush is a long metal rod that can be used to break the wax seals of capped honey and remove intruders such as hive beetles. A fume board is a small board with a cloth inset that can be sprayed with bee repellent. This is used to clear bees from the honey super and is more effective than simply opening the hive door.
Once a frame is full of capped honey, it can be uncapped using an electric or cold serrated uncapping knife. This enables the honey to be pumped out into an extractor for pure honey extraction. The extractor consists of a cylindrical drum that spins the frames to separate the wax and honey without crushing the frame. Motorized extractors are available, but a manual spinner may also be used.
Honey and other bee products are natural foods that provide nutrients and offer numerous therapeutic properties. They are rich in enzymatic and nonenzymatic antioxidants, which prevent oxidation reactions in fruits and vegetables and can inhibit the growth of food-borne pathogens. Honey can also reduce lipid oxidation in meat, retard microbial degradation of cheese and enhance the flavor of foods.
Working with honey bees requires protective equipment, including a bee veil and gloves, to prevent stinging. It’s best to work with them at night when they are less active. Nevertheless, bees that are disturbed at any time can sting warm-blooded creatures.
Honey can be contaminated by environmental pollutants and pesticides that are used in hives to control Varroa destructor. Although MRLs (maximum residue limits) are set by different regulatory agencies, the presence of these contaminants in honey can cause serious health problems.