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In beekeeping, putting harvested honey into small-sized containers for the consumer market is called the bottling and packaging of honey. This article details the best practices and methods on how to bottle and package honey.
After the processes of harvesting honey, it is stored in large containers, usually buckets. The end consumers usually want it in small amounts for their purchase. Smaller units of honey weigh less and are thus easy to transport. Jars are a very popular and common method of packaging honey. Some beekeepers also use tubs that hold a slightly larger amount of honey than jars. Both beginner and experienced beekeepers can easily bottle and package honey for the market.
The best presentation of harvested honey to consumers is in small containers that the consumers can easily buy and carry to their homes and offices. They transfer the honey to jars using various methods, tools and equipment. Bottling and packaging honey is part of the processing that honey often goes through before you buy it. Some honey consumers prefer unprocessed honey. They usually need to contact a beekeeper that is willing to sell them honey that has undergone less processing. It may be comb honey, unfiltered honey, or honey that has not been sieved.
Bottled and packaged honey in jars needs labelling. You are free to use the method of labelling that you prefer. Subsequent handlers of the honey may also add their labelling to the bottled honey. Most of the honey you can buy in retail stores has branding on the container. The branding content contains all the important information that consumers of the honey are required to be provided with. It may also contain additional or other information intended for consumers to see and read.
Containers for Bottling and Packaging Honey
If you visit a beekeeper, you are likely to find honey in liquid form in the storage space they are using. The honey will be in large buckets for long-term storage. In some beekeeping operations, you might find packaged honey that is set for release into the market, or left over from the last batch released into the market.
Beekeepers choose containers to package honey based on market standards, regulations and guidelines that apply. Preferences by the beekeeper may also play a role when they are choosing the containers for bottling and packaging honey in their beekeeping operation. Consumer trends and preferences are also a major factor when choosing honey containers. As a result of these considerations, most containers are usually made using glass, plastic or metal. The container may be opaque, colored or transparent.
Qualities of the Best Honey Containers
There are many types of containers available to beekeepers that they would use to bottle and package honey if they wanted to. Honey is, however, a food for human consumption. It requires application of health and safety practices in its processing and handling. There are, therefore, only a few types of containers that are suitable for holding bottled and packaged honey.
The best containers for bottling and packaging honey keep it in its best form and state. Their qualities include:
1. Cleanliness and Hygiene
Any container for holding honey should be clean. You should rinse the container and ensure it does not have any contaminants in it before putting honey inside. Contaminants of honey are not limited to: bacteria, fungal spores, residues, dirt and plant materials. Some machines that you can use for bottling and packaging honey have the capability of rinsing honey containers and drying them before putting honey in them.
2. Non-reactive With Honey
Containers should be inert in the presence of honey. They should not react in any way with the honey they contain. Honey is slightly acidic and can corrode some materials. Prolonged contact between the honey and the container should cause no changes in the characteristics and quality of honey. Corroding the material used to make the container weakens it and can result in honey spills among other undesirable outcomes.
3. Imparts No Odors or Flavors to Honey
Honey will easily absorb odors and flavors from materials that it comes into contact with. The container you use to bottle and package honey should not impart any such flavors or odors unto honey. It should be made using suitable materials that are safe for use with food for human consumption. Avoid this from happening by using containers that are new. Reused or recycled containers that you use to hold honey, may have residual odors and flavors from the contents they previously held and can impart such flavors and odors.
4. Letting Light to Reach Bottled Honey
Honey bottling and packaging containers are best if they are opaque. Light hitting honey causes degradation of antioxidants in the honey. Long-term storage of honey uses containers that do not let light through them. Some of the containers are darkened and greatly reduce the amount of light reaching the honey they hold.
Preferences of consumers have made it difficult to package honey in darkened or opaque jars. People buying honey have led to packaging for honey turning to transparent jars. They let the buyers of honey see the contents of the jar. It also enables easy evaluation of the quality of honey in the jar by the buyer.
5. Made Using Non-porous Material
Honey has a very specific composition which gives it the many great properties that consumers love. It has high sugar content and little water content. Honey can get water from humid air and absorb the water. This results in dilution of the honey. It loses its ability to stay fresh and can ferment. Containers for holding honey should, therefore, be water-tight and air-tight. Porous materials are not suitable for packaging honey. Together with other considerations, this makes glass, plastic and metals the most suitable materials for making honey jars.
6. Tight Sealing and Easy Opening
The container you use to bottle and package honey should have a tight seal over its top. Screw-on caps are great at ensuring a tight seal on honey containers. Other tightly-sealing caps are also suitable for use as long as they keep the honey separate from the environment outside the jar. The container’s cap should also be easy to remove and put back on for easy and convenient access of the honey in the jar. Additionally, the cap should maintain the strength of the seal even when removed and reused to cap the container several times.
7. Easy Labelling and Branding
Hold honey in containers that are easy to label and brand. Clean outer surfaces of the container hold labels better than dirty surfaces. Use labels that adhere tightly to the container that you use to bottle and package honey. You may also use markers of various types to label jars of honey for your local use. The markers should put a long-lasting mark on the container so that it lasts for as long as it is used to hold honey.
8. Ease of Filling and Emptying
Bottling and packaging honey requires you to put some amount of honey in a container. This can quickly get very difficult when the container has a narrow mouth. Containers with wide mouths are easy to fill with honey. They also make your access to the honey in the container easy. You can use spoons or other scoops you have to fetch honey from the containers. Narrow necks on honey containers limit the number and type of utensils that consumers can use to fetch honey from the container.
The best containers for honey bottling and packaging are durable. They can withstand forces from light impacts without breaking or getting damaged. Glass containers of honey have a difficult time fulfilling this requirement. Plastic and metal honey containers are very durable.
You should handle glass containers of honey with great care. Do not drop them or allow the container to be impacted with strong force. Bits of glass breaking off the container are a big threat to the health of honey consumers. They may persist in honey and get ingested along with the honey. Once in the digestive system of the consumer, the bits of glass hurt the consumer to varying degrees.
How to Pour Honey into Jars
Extracted honey is held in buckets or in a honey settling tank. Its final transfer into jars comes much later after extraction. It is not advisable to pour honey from the extractor directly into honey jars. Putting the honey into jars requires care and proper equipment for best results. The honey in the jar is the final product you present to consumers of your honey, so it should be at its best.
Using a Honey Gate
From the honey extraction process you use, put honey in a settling tank or food-grade plastic buckets. It is great if your buckets have a honey gate on them. A honey gate eases management of the flow of honey from the bucket. Settling tanks typically have honey gates on them. If you do not have a settling tank, you may put honey into a bottling tank. Sieve the honey and filter it to get best quality honey into the bottling tank.
Pouring Honey Without a Honey Gate
You only need to pour honey into jars if you use a bucket without a honey gate. It requires accuracy and is prone to causing spills. A honey bucket tipper helps you to control the angle at which the honey bucket tips for better management of the honey pouring process. You can make a honey bucket tipper or buy one for your beekeeping operation.
Removing Foam from Honey before Bottling and Packaging
When getting the honey from the settling, bottling or storage into jars, remove any foam that forms at the top of the honey. The foam is largely air bubbles that were in the honey and have risen to the top of the honey. You can prevent this foam from forming by reducing or eliminating the splashing of honey during transfers from one container to another.
You should also reduce the falling distance of honey during the different container-to-container transfers. Letting honey sit for some time in a settling tank, bottling tank or in honey buckets allows time for any air bubbles in the honey to rise to the top. It improves the clarity of honey. A period of time ranging from 24 hours to 48 hours is enough for air bubbles to rise to the top of settling honey.
Prepare your packaging jars well in advance before starting the bottling and packaging process. Ensure that you have enough containers to take all the amount of honey that you want to bottle and package. When you are using a honey bucket or bottling tank, the process is manual. You can automate some or all of the honey bottling and packaging process using honey bottling machines.
Manual Honey Bottling
In manual honey bottling, you place a jar to hold honey under the honey gate of your large honey container and then open the gate. Honey flows from the large container of honey, through the honey gate and into the honey jar.
Once an adequate amount of honey has entered the honey jar, close the honey gate to stop the flow of honey. Close the top of the honey jar using its lid and put the jar with honey on a suitable surface. You may label the jar immediately or later.
Using Honey Bottling Machines
Honey bottling machines make the bottling and packaging of honey fast and easy. They also add consistency of the filling levels of honey jars. Some bottling machines include a finalization step where they label honey jars for you. They are great for large beekeeping operations that can afford them and have a lot of honey to bottle and package.
Specific operation of a honey bottling machine depends on the tasks that it can perform and the model of the machine. You should learn how to properly operate the machine that you have at the best bottling speed you can achieve. Additionally, you should perform any honey bottling and packaging task that the machine does not perform, such as rinsing containers, centering honey jars and labelling jars among others.
Spills during Honey Bottling and Packaging
Liquid honey that you are putting in jars may accidentally spill on surfaces or the sides of the honey jar. If any spills occur, clean them up immediately or as soon as you can. Spilled honey causes unhygienic conditions to quickly develop in the bottling and packaging process. On the sides of honey jars, the spill attracts dirt and unwanted insects to the jar.
Sieving, Straining and Filtering Honey
Sieve, strain and filter honey as appropriate before bottling and packaging it. Sieving and straining remove large particles of undesirable materials from honey. They let the components of honey including propolis to remain within the honey. Filtering honey removes some components of honey. It gives you honey that is very clear but lacking some of its components.
Safe Handling and Storage of Bottled Honey
Handle honey jars and containers carefully and with considerations to safety at all times. This includes when the containers are empty. Ensure that you do not damage the containers or make them unsuitable for use with honey to avoid losses of the containers and any honey that may be in the containers.
Jars of honey need proper storage conditions. Improper storage of the jars causes the honey to lose its high quality. It may also go bad in some instances. Conditions for proper honey storage include dryness and low light. If you do not have capability to store the jars of honey, arrange for their release into the market as soon as possible. You may use crates, cartons, baskets or other appropriate, available and safe container to manage the jars of honey during transportation.
Warming Honey for Bottling
Despite being a liquid, honey can get very thick and viscous. Its composition that includes a high amount of sugars and little water content contributes to its viscosity. This composition also contributes to other behaviors of honey, especially crystallization. Crystallization is the process in which sugars in the honey form crystals of various sizes and settle at the bottom of the container of honey. The crystals can harden to various levels and cause difficulties in pouring honey from the container. Honey flows best when it is at a temperature of between 900F and 1000F.
Crystallized honey in a settling tank, honey bucket or bottling tank, requires warming for it to flow better. Additionally, very cold honey flows slowly. You can speed up the flow of honey by warming it so that you bottle and package it with greater ease. There are different mechanisms you can use to warm honey. Some honey bottling tanks and bottling machines have heating systems. They may also have a stirrer for the honey in them. Use the internal heating system of the bottling tank or machine as needed. The heating systems typically come with a thermostat to control heating to the temperature that you want.
Using a Honey Warming Cabinet
If you do not have a bottling tank or machine with internal heating, do your best to bottle and package honey at room temperature. You can use domestic or special heating systems to warm up the room to the proper temperature. You may also warm the honey in a specially prepared warming cabinet. Ensure the honey is evenly warm before you start putting it into jars.
How to Warm Honey for Bottling
Apply indirect heating of honey to protect its properties and quality. Air and water are great for warming honey. The low thermal conductivity of honey makes heating it in large amounts problematic and slow. Direct heating methods cause too much local heating and can even result in caramelization of the honey. It would also cause it to lose its nutrients.
Requirements for Labelling Honey
Labels are a requirement for bottled and packaged honey to have. Each container of honey is expected to be labelled for adherence to regulations. Even honey storage buckets you use benefit from a label indicating the production date of the honey in the least. Honey jar labels have varying types of information on them. Requirements of what should be on the label vary by jurisdiction.
Ensure that you meet the requirements for honey labelling for the area in which you aim to sell your honey. Most beekeepers put labels on jars of honey after they have filled the jars with honey. For example, the USA National Honey Board publishes requirements for labelling honey in the USA. Below are the common requirements.
Common requirements for labels on Honey Containers
- A lot number, batch number or production date. This can help the producer track down problems. You may use the date of bottling and packaging as the production date of the honey.
- The common name of the honey product. This may be a brand name or designation referring to the type of honey in the jar. It may refer to the plants or flowers that honeybees mainly used as a source of nectar for making a crop of honey.
- Net weight of the honey in the jar. Provide this in clear text that is easy to read. The net weight should be in pounds or ounces, and also in metric weight such as grams. Provide this information to consumers of your honey product in the lower third of your front label panel on the jar of honey.
- This is necessary if there are other ingredients in the honey in addition to the honey, such as flavorings and spices. If the honey does not have additives, you should label it simply as ‘honey’ without a list of ingredients.
- Contact information. Provide a name of the person or company that put the honey in the market and a means of contacting them.
- The country of origin of the honey for traceability.
- A ‘best before’ date.
- Any special storage conditions that should be used on the honey.
A label on honey jars coming from your beekeeping operation is great for marketing purposes. It should be clear and easy to see and read. Use the best type of label you can manage to. It should stick strongly to the jar of honey and remain legible for long. Engage a professional graphic designer to develop a label for your honey jars if you can afford it.
Honey is a major beekeeping product. Beekeepers processing honey follow strict guidelines and standards. Bottling and packaging honey is one of the final processes that take place on honey before it enters consumer markets. Jars made using various materials are great containers for small amounts of honey.
During the bottling and packaging of honey, beekeepers ensure cleanliness and preservation of the natural state of honey. You can mechanize the process or do it in more traditional ways. Both beginner and experienced beekeepers can bottle and package honey.
Put great beekeeping products in the market by using appropriate tools, equipment, safe methods, and observing best practices on how to bottle and package honey for consumers.