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Processing Mānuka honey

New Zealand company Comvita is making and selling Mānuka honey woundcare products. In order to meet the high safety standards that are required, the honey needs to be monitored all the way from the bee to the bandage.

How does honey heal?

All honeys have wound healing properties. They are able to kill bacteria that infect wounds and help tissue to repair and regrow.

Get information sheet: How honey heals wounds

Medical-grade Mānuka honey

Mānuka honey seems to be especially powerful at helping wounds to heal. This is because of a mysterious substance called the Unique Mānuka Factor. Mānuka honey can be tested for its Unique Mānuka Factor (UMF®) activity and given a UMF® rating, for example UMF®15+, UMF® 18+. The higher the number the greater the UMF® activity and the better the Mānuka honey it is at killing bacteria. Medical-grade Mānuka honey is irradiated to make it sterile it can be used for wound healing.

Get information sheet: Honeybees and Mānuka trees

In order to be used in woundcare products, the honey must be made to the highest standards to ensure that the honey is clean and free of contaminants such as pesticides and microorganisms. This means that the final product is safe to use on people.

The supply chain

The process of making Mānuka honey begins with bees collecting nectar from Mānuka flowers during summer. Nectar is a sugary liquid secreted by flowers, which attracts insects because it is a rich source of food for them. The bees fly the nectar back to their hives and seal it into wax cells, where it ripens into honey. Mānuka honey is then extracted from the honeycombs and sent in large drums to Comvita’s processing factories in Cambridge or Te Puke.

Quality checks at Comvita ensure that each step in the honey supply chain has resulted in honey which is of the highest quality, and safe for medical use.

New honey drums

As part of the safety checks, it is important that each drum used to transport Mānuka honey to the factory for processing into woundcare products is brand new. This keeps everything clean and cuts out any risk of contamination

Testing - and tasting - honey

Before the Mānuka honey is processed into woundcare products, it has to be tested. A sample of honey is taken from each drum using a huge metal syringe. It acts just like an apple corer, and samples the honey from the bottom to the top of the barrel.

The Mānuka honey samples are tested to make sure they are free of microorganisms, like yeast and bacteria. The samples are also tested for their taste, smell, texture, colour, water content and UMF activity. It’s all to check that only the best Mānuka samples will be used in the woundcare products.

Processing the honey

If the honey passes all of these tests, it is made into batches and processed at the Comvita factory. The processing is made a lot more difficult because of another of Mānuka honey’s unique properties: it is thixotropic. This means that it is quite solid, or gel-like, when kept still, but will pour when agitated or mixed.

The honey needs to be kept warmed and agitated. The constant agitation overcomes honey’s thixotropic nature and allows it to go through all of the processing steps. The main step in processing is pasteurisation, where the honey is heated and cooled rapidly. This is similar to the process used to treat milk.

Making Mānuka dressings

After processing, the honey is placed back into more new drums and shipped to the UK. In the UK, the Mānuka honey is made into wound dressings for use worldwide.

To find out more about how the first honey wound dressings were made:

Get information sheet: From bees to bandages

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