Botulism warning on honey for babies

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 4th June 2010

Spoon with syrupThe UK’s Food Standards Agency today issued a warning to parents not to feed honey to children under 1 year old, after a confirmed case of infant botulism last month.

While there have only been 11 cases of infant botulism in the UK since 1980, all have had possible links to honey, and three have occurred since June 2009.

Infant botulism is rare but serious illness, causing muscle weakness and breathing problems and usually requiring hospitalisation. Most babies recover slowly but fully. The bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, can enter honey through soil and dust brought in by bees, and while children over 1 are resistant to the bacteria, babies’ immune systems are not yet sufficiently developed to handle it.

“Not all babies who are given honey will develop infant botulism, but because of the link to this infection, babies under one year of age should not be given honey under any circumstances, even on their dummies or mixed with their milk,” said Dr Kathie Grant, botulinum expert at the UK’s Health Protection Agency.

The UK’s Honey Association has a voluntary labelling code of practice, recommending on the packaging that honey not be given to infants under 12 months. Currently no similar labelling exists in Australia.