Why does my honey bottle have a warning that it’s unsafe for infants? Is pasteurized honey ok?
The consumption of honey by infants has been linked to infant botulism, a paralyzing and sometimes deadly illness. The spores of the botulism bacteria (Clostridium botulinum) can be carried in soil, dust, and, sometimes, honey. While these spores lie dormant and are harmless when ingested by people over the age of 1, an infant’s still-developing intestinal tract provides an amenable place for the spores to grow and ultimately release toxins.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the 145 or so cases of botulism reported each year, 65 percent of those are infant botulism—though in most of these cases the illness was contracted by swallowing microscopic dust particles rather than honey. Since the spores are heat-resistant, the pasteurization process that kills yeast strains in honey and prevents crystallization doesn’t affect the spores, so pasteurized honey is no safer than raw honey when it comes to infant botulism.
THE BOTTOM LINE: While honey—raw or pasteurized—isn’t the only cause of infant botulism, it is one that is easily avoided. Consult your physician on this and all health matters related to diet; but in the meantime, do not feed honey to babies under the age of 12 months.