Honey is promoted as something of a superfood. It never goes off, due to its antiseptic properties (the use by dates when you buy raw honey are actually only there because by law all consumable produce needs to have a use by date displayed – in actual fact it lasts forever), it is a great natural sweetener and preservative, and it can be used in both savoury dishes and desserts. When you add to this the list of health and cosmetic uses for raw honey, which include using it as a dressing for wounds, using it as an exfoliant and moisturiser, putting it on your hair to reduce frizz and create shine, and swallowing it to soothe a sore throat, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was one of the most saintly substances on the planet! However, there is one group of people for whom honey can actually be very dangerous – babies.
Honey and Botulism
Raw honey can contain spores and soil particles which may transmit botulism. While botulism may be most famous these days as a component of the anti aging cosmetic treatment Botox, when someone gets it from food it can cause serious problems as it paralyses muscles. For a baby, this can mean time on a respirator or worse. The potential for catching botulism from honey as a child or adult is microscopically small unless you have an immune disorder, however a baby does not yet have a sufficiently developed immune system, so the risk is high enough to warrant doctors advising that babies should never be given raw honey.
What About Cooked Honey?
While raw honey should not be given to babies, products containing cooked honey do not carry a botulism risk for infants. This means things like cereals or baked goods that have honey as a sweetener are absolutely fine for your baby to have. Cooking the honey will get rid of any spores, rendering it safe even for a baby’s delicate immune system. You should also avoid using raw honey on a baby’s skin, though again, products containing cooked honey are fine.
When Can I Start Giving Honey To My Child?
While honey carries a botulism risk for infants, it is perfectly safe for anybody else, and due to its many health benefits, and the fact it has a sweet taste that appeals to children, you will probably want to start including it in food for your child once their immune system has developed enough for there to be no risk of botulism. While immunity develops at different rates in different populations and people (depending on factors like what kind of things a baby has been exposed to), doctors advise that it is safe for a child to consume raw honey once they are a year old.
Honey really is a great thing, with lots of proven benefits and a delicious and versatile taste. It is simply important to make sure you don’t give it to a baby under 12 months old in its raw form.