Radial machines are larger then tangential machines to ensure that the frames are far enough from the center to extract properly, but they can hold more frames than a tangential machine (e.g. a 20-frame radial extractor compared to an 8-frame tangential machine).
The honey is collected in a pan, preferably made from food grade plastic or stainless steel, and filtered through a nylon or stainless steel filter unit that has progressively finer filters as the honey moves to the outside of the filter unit. Some filters are fitted with heaters to make the honey flow faster, but these are not necessary in tropical climates and any increase in temperature risks a reduction in the quality of the honey (see below). The clear honey is then collected and packaged into glass or plastic containers and labeled. The package should be moisture-proof to prevent the honey picking up moisture from the air during storage.
Because customers regard the color of honey as an important quality characteristic, the containers should preferably be transparent so that customers can see the product. Glass jars with screw-on lids or plastic pots with heat-sealed foil or plastic lids may be used. In countries where glass or plastic containers are difficult to obtain, heat-sealed plastic sachets are an alternative.
The label on the container is important for attracting customers and a professionally designed label that describes the source of the honey (e.g. sunflower, mixed blossom, tree honey etc.), its purity, and the district it was produced in, can give a marketing advantage. Legally, in most
countries the label should have the following information:
- The name of the product (i.e. pure honey)
- The name and address of the producer.
- The weight of honey in the container (the net weight).
Other information may be included to benefit the customer: for example, the label on comb honey may indicate that the whole comb including the wax is edible, or strained honey may have a note to explain granulation (see below).
Honey is preserved because of its high sugar content (or conversely its low moisture content), which prevents micro-organisms (bacteria, yeasts and moulds) from growing in it. Despite this, it must be handled hygienically, and all equipment must be properly cleaned (see below).
The aroma and taste of honey are its most important quality characteristics, but honey is often judged according to its color. The color of honey depends mainly on the source of the nectar. Usually dark-colored honeys have a strong flavor whereas pale honeys have a more delicate flavor. Generally light-colored honeys are more highly valued than dark products. Some honeys have a high pollen content, which makes them appear cloudy, and this may be considered as lower quality by some customers.
The main causes of loss in quality of honey are:
1. An increase in moisture content – too much water in honey (greater than 19-20%) causes it to ferment. Honey is hygroscopic, meaning that it will absorb moisture, and all honey processing equipment must therefore be completely dry. Honey should also be processed as soon as possible after removal from the hive to prevent it absorbing moisture from the air, especially in humid climates. In areas with a very high humidity it can be difficult to produce honey of sufficiently low water content.
2. Development of HMF (Hydroxymethylfurfural). This is a break-down product of fructose (one of the main sugars in honey) that is formed slowly during storage but very quickly when honey is heated. Colour can also be an indicator of quality because honey becomes darker during storage and heating. The amount of HMF present in honey is used as a guide to the age of the honey and/or the amount of heating that has taken place. Some countries set an HMF limit for imported honey. HMF is measured by laboratory tests and technical advice from a Bureau of Standards should be sought if export is being considered.
3. Contamination by insects. Honey processing is a sticky operation, and the sugar in honey attracts ants, cockroaches and flying insects. Careful protection is needed at all stages of processing, including insect screens on doors and windows to prevent contamination by insects. All honey residues on equipment should be removed by proper cleaning to prevent them attracting insects. The presence of any other contaminations
(e.g. particles of wax, parts of bees, splinters of wood, dust etc.) make the honey very low value.
A Note on Granulation
Glucose is one of the main sugars in honey and when it crystallizes (i.e. it changes from a liquid to a solid), the liquid honey also becomes solid (or granulated). Depending on the source of the nectar collected by bees, some types of honey are more likely to granulate than others, but almost all honey will granulate if its temperature falls sufficiently.
Granulation is a natural process and there is no difference in nutritional value between solid and liquid honey. Although there is obviously a difference in the texture between liquid and granulated honey, there is no difference in the flavor or other quality characteristics. Some customers prefer granulated honey, and if liquid honey is slow to granulate, the addition of 20% finely granulated honey will cause it to granulate.
The routine quality checks on honey are a visual inspection to detect clarity, any contamination by insects or other materials such as particles of beeswax, and checking that the pack contains the correct weight of honey. In humid climates, or if a batch of honey is suspected of containing high a level of water (e.g. honey that is returned because it has started to ferment), it can be checked for moisture content. Because honey is mostly sugar (around 80%) and water (19-20%) the sugar content can be measured using a refractometer, and the value subtracted from 100 to measure the moisture content.
However, refractometers are expensive and it may be more affordable to send samples to a laboratory for checking if a problem with the moisture content is suspected. If during production, the level of moisture is too high, it can be reduced by blowing air for several hours over a pan of honey using an electric fan. Honey should never be heated to remove water because this will increase the amount of HMF and significantly reduce its quality.
The other important quality assurance check is to ensure that the correct cleaning procedure is in place and is being properly followed by production staff. All equipment, floors and work surfaces should be washed daily with hot water and detergent, and rinsed with clean water. They should be allowed to dry completely in the air before production starts again. Cloths should not be used to dry surfaces and equipment because they can contain sugar residues that recontaminate cleaned surfaces.