As with most food contamination stories, the presence of antibiotic chloramphenicol (CAP) in honey is not new. Chloramphenical is a bacteriostatic antimicrobial previously used in veterinary medicine. But, given that CAP has been found to be potentially carcinogenic, the United States, Canada and the European Union (EU), as well as many other countries, have completely banned the use of CAP in the production of food. The EU has gone so far as to set a minimum required performance level (MRPL) for CAP in food of animal origin at a level of 0.3 μg/kg.
While Asian honey has been banned in Europe, it has not been banned in the United States and thus has been flooding the US market with some estimates saying that as much as one third of the honey in the United States is from China. Here is a comprehensive round up of the honey situation in the United States.
This particular contamination story is not new in India either. Here is a 2010 story in India on the testing of honey products from 10 different companies showing unacceptable levels of CAP including some samples showing multiple types of antibiotics. Recently, the Food And Safety Standards of India (FSSAI) decided to make honey safety standards mandatory after repeated tests confirming antibiotics and pesticides in honey. From the FSSAI blog, “… While the new standards specify that there “should not be any residue of antibiotics in honey”, the FSSAI will also list down antibiotics that should remain absent from honey before it is made available for the consumers.”
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Responding to this crisis, we recently released a significantly improved, quick, and sensitive method titled,Measurement of Chloramphenicol in Honey Using an Online Sample Extraction with LC-MS/MS (downloadable PDF). This method provides automated sample preparation with liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) analysis for sensitive CAP determination, and the total LC-MS/MS method run time was about 5 minutes.
In comparison, current sample preparation for the detection of CAP in honey by LC-MS/MS involves complex offline extraction methods, such as solid phase extraction, QuEChERS, or liquid/liquid extraction, all of which require additional sample concentration and reconstitution in appropriate solvent. These sample preparation methods are time-consuming often taking 2 hours or more per sample (estimate) and are more vulnerable to variability due to errors in manual preparation.
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