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Tutu toxins in honey confirmed

Tutu toxins in honey confirmed

Test results have confirmed that the suspected tutu toxins were present in comb honey from the Coromandel Peninsula eaten by 22 people who fell ill.

New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) Senior Programme Manager (Animal Products) Jim Sim says the confirmation came after testing of leftover product provided by people who fell ill after eating comb honey from Whangamata at Easter. High levels of both tutin and its derivative hyenanchin were found. He says the test results combined with the symptoms reported were consistent with acute poisoning from tutin and hyenanchin.

There are some 20 packages of potentially toxic comb honey of the Wentworth Valley and Moana Point brands still unaccounted for. Consumers should check if they have any of these brands of Projen Apiaries comb honey and if so to hand it in to their nearest public health unit. Despite widely distributed messages to consumers and GPs seeking that they report any symptoms associated with the consumption of potentially affected honey, no further cases have emerged since the original cluster.

NZFSA is continuing to sample and test "NZFSA is testing to further confirm the safety of honey for sale. So far we have found no evidence of tutin in other sources. Hyenanchin at levels well below those that might result in illness has been detected in some of our residue monitoring programme samples. We are now targeting sampling to areas where these positive samples have been obtained with a particular emphasis on checking harvest records and taking late season samples in affected areas as these are more likely to be contaminated. These low levels of hyenanchin did not cause illness in consumers."

Tutin is well known as a natural toxin in honey in some areas of New Zealand. NZFSA is currently working to obtain quantities of tutin and hyenanchin so that studies can be done to determine the exact toxicity of these substances allowing regulatory limits to be established. Once chemical standards are available, commercial testing of honey will also become viable if it is determined that it is needed as part of the ongoing management of these substances.

Mr Sim says NZFSA is also working with the industry to address the problem. "Bee keepers have been reminded of their responsibilities in harvesting honey in accordance with food safety requirements. There are many options for management under consideration but right now what we need is more information about the affected areas and amount of contamination to better inform the decision making process."

A decision on whether to prosecute the beekeeper cannot be made yet as the matter is still under investigation.


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