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Why Shouldn't Infants Eat Honey?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Although honey is a delicious natural sweeter, it should not be fed to infants under one year of age because of the risk of infant botulism. In the United States, most honey products are labeled to indicate this, although the reason why is not spelled out, which confuses some consumers. In addition, the label does not specify that infants should not be fed any honey products, including baked goods with honey in them. Infant botulism is a type of food poisoning that can result in death.

Botulinum spores are widely found throughout nature, although honey tends to harbor them more than other foods. In fact, botulinum can appear in other sweeteners, such as maple syrup, as well as corn syrup. Botulinum can even be found in dust, indicating that it is an extremely widespread toxin. As a result, most humans adapt to it and are able to fend off small amounts of the toxin, such as those present in honey.

Infants, however, do not have a completely matured digestive system and are susceptible to botulism food poisoning. While honey does not always contain the spores, it is more likely to contain botulinum than some other food products, and therefore parents are recommended to avoid it unless it is pasteurized. Pasteurized honey is also crystallized, however, due to the heat process, and is therefore rarely available. As a result, parents need to be cautious about processed foods containing honey, which is probably unpasteurized. Ingredient labels should always be carefully inspected.

Parents are also recommended to refrain from feeding their children excessively sweet diets when they are very young, to prevent the development of a taste for sweets. While small amounts of natural sweeteners are a splendid way to brighten the day of a young child, excessive use of sugars should be avoided so that children can live longer, healthier lives.

Infant botulism can be deadly if not recognized early, and because of the widespread nature of the toxin, parents should recognize the signs of botulism, which begins with constipation. An infant suffering from botulism will also exhibit nervous system damage, which manifests as muscle weakness. As a result of the muscle weakness, infants with botulism will cry more weakly, have difficulty feeding, and have a limp and floppy appearance. Infant botulism also results in lethargy.

Infants are most at risk in the first six months of life, and parents should take note of any health or behavioral changes in their children, while taking precautions to avoid exposure to the botulism toxin. Luckily, infection is very rare thanks to increased awareness and parent vigilance, as well as cleaner food processing and handling techniques.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon955923 — On Jun 10, 2014

Yes, honey is dangerous to infants! This doesn't mean that every baby who eats honey will die or even get sick, or that all honey will harm your infant, but it can happen and it has happened!

My grandmother told me about a friend of hers who dipped her daughter's pacifier in honey and her daughter died. It didn't happen for several months, but it did happen. All it takes is getting one jar of honey with the spores in it and you could kill your baby. Why would anyone risk this? Do you really want to just sit back and hope that it's not your baby who dies from this in this particular year?

By anon947105 — On Apr 24, 2014

If your raw honey is cloudy, I would question where you are buying your raw honey from and the process they use as my husband and I keep bees and our raw honey is not cloudy.

Besides which, that's not even the point of the article. Honey is concentrated pollen which contains dust from the environment, which could contain botulism. Raw honey simply means that the honey was not heated past a certain temperature for a certain amount of time which denatures the botulism enzymes along with many other enzymes (including some that are good for you).

Just don't feed your child honey pasteurized or not for the first year of their life (they will forgive you for it eventually) until their digestive tracts develop better immune systems.

By anon343872 — On Aug 03, 2013

My son, Cole, got infant botulism last September when he was four months old. He did not contract it from honey. His was purely environmental as he was exclusively breastfed. After diagnosis, he spent two weeks intubated in the PICU and an additional week post-intubation recovering and trying to eat. I relay his story so that people have an understanding of what IB is and how it affects babies. Cole did not contract IB from honey; it was "environmental" and we will never know exactly where it came from- but how he got it doesn't matter, it affects them all the same.

He got sick on the 15th and was fine throughout the day and went to bed just fine, but woke up several times overnight fussy (not like him at all) and all of a sudden had difficulty nursing. The next day, the fussiness and difficulty eating continued and I noticed that he was very weak and limp. I described him as "wet-noodley" and like a rag doll (he may have been that way overnight, but if he was I probably just thought he was tired).

We saw his pediatrician the next day, and took him to local hospital ER the following day. He was admitted for three and a half days before he was transferred to a children’s hospital. Within about two hours of being at Children’s, the attending doctor came back telling us he suspected infant botulism as the main cause, with a few other neurological things to rule out the next day, particularly Guillian-Barre Syndrome (these were ruled out with normal MRI of the head and spine and nerve conduction study. A stool sample was sent to CDC and confirmed positive about a week later for the bacteria/toxin type b). The next day, he was transferred to PICU, where they intubated him, put him on continuous feeds of fortified MBM through an NG tube. He was given the baby BIG treatment a couple of days later (baby BIG- it is an antitoxin that binds the free toxin still in the baby’s body so that no further damage is done-- amazing!).

He remained intubated in the PICU for about two weeks. He was transferred from the PICU to the regular peds floor. We worked on nursing during the day (which was a huge struggle- latch was good, suck was weak, stamina was low) and ran continuous NG feeds for 10 hours through the night.

He was discharged 10 days later with an NG feeding tube until he was strong enough to resume normal breastfeeding day and night. He remained on the feeding tube for about three or four more weeks, with frequent checkups with his pediatrician to monitor his weight gain and condition.

We did speculate on how he may have gotten IB (had to have been environmental because he had never been fed anything like honey, as he had been exclusively breastfed). I took him to a local street fair a day before he got sick. They had three animal tents and were dusty and dirty--- not that he himself got dirty, he was just riding along in the stroller. There has also been road construction going on in the area where my parents live since late spring/early summer and we frequented their house (we have no active construction sites near our house). These are our two main thoughts.

I just never knew about infant botulism, or what botulism at all was and what it did to a person. I assumed its symptoms were just like regular "food poisoning." I especially never thought of it as something a baby could get without ingesting honey or "bad" food.

Cole has made a remarkable recovery (just like his doctors assured us he would). He was followed by his pediatrician very closely once we were home, had three follow-up appointments with his neurologist at Children’s and had weekly physical and occupational therapy for about eight months. Now at almost 15 months, he shows no lasting signs of his struggle with IB. He is a happy, healthy and active toddler. He even started walking at 13 months, right in the "normal" range!

Infant Botulism is very rare, but very serious. It is important to know the risk factors (including honey consumption) and its symptoms.

By anon333454 — On May 06, 2013

Honey is not good, yet feeding babies with formula milk (poison created in a lab from A - Z) is just fine. Go figure.

By anon320193 — On Feb 16, 2013

I am a beekeeper’s wife and over the years, I've gained a huge appreciation for bees and learned a few things about them and their honey. First, raw (unpasteurized) honey is the absolute best honey to consume, since it contains live enzymes and B vitamins, among other minerals. It may also contain dormant endospores of bacteria which can transform into toxin-producing bacteria in the infant's immature intestinal tract.

Second, not all raw honey is "cloudy". Orange blossom honey is clear and translucent. Saw palmetto honey is even clearer. Raw honey will not cause people to have allergies but may, in fact, help relieve them. People with allergies are advised to consume local raw honey, since the bees would be working flowers in the area you live around, which is where the pollen you’re allergic to travels. Consuming pollen is also beneficial, since it is a great source of protein and B vitamins as well. Propolis is also beneficial for human consumption because of its medicinal properties. Even bee venom has been used to treat MS, arthritis and skin diseases.

Third, honey doesn’t crystallize because it is processed or unprocessed, etc. Crystallization depends on several factors. like the type of nectar, the amount of water in the honey, and temperature. A beehive's temperature runs up to 117(F) degrees. If the temperature in your home runs a bit cooler, the honey may crystallize or not. Honey is not to be refrigerated. Always store at room temp.

For those who say honey is only for bees, everything a bee makes is beneficial for humans! Honey is not the only food source for bees; they also eat pollen and propolis. To the posters who mention religion and that God did not intend for humans to eat honey, the "promised land" mentioned in Exodus was a land "flowing with milk and honey."

Now as a mother, I always take precautions and consider what is best for my child and I don't believe there is any hurry for a child to consume honey, especially if it may cause harm – just as I wouldn't give soda, ice cream, or cereal in the milk to babies as a lot of parents do. I also didn't feed my child formula because of all the poisons (yes, poisons) it contains. Ultimately, it is up to the parent and their better judgment to decide what to feed their kids after advice has been given.

PS. Bee good to bees! We would not have any food without them! If you have an unwanted hive in your yard, call someone who is willing to remove them humanely.

"My son, eat honey, for it is good; and let sweet comb honey be upon your palate."-Proverbs 24:13

By anon301942 — On Nov 06, 2012

So is it all right to give my daughter pasteurized yogurt that has honey in it? It says the honey is pasteurized too. She is 8 months old. She can't eat the baby yogurt because of the bananas and all we have is the banana one around here. They stop her up.

I'm a bit confused because the article seems to be talking about unpasteurized honey the whole time. And if natural honey isn't crystallized, then why does all the raw honey look cloudy and crystallized?

By anon288213 — On Aug 28, 2012

Interesting article about where the whole "idea" of botulism in honey came from. This doctor actually spoke with the lady who wrote the article that started the craze and the researchers that she misquoted. Look up Dr. Handley; it's an urban myth that honey is bad for children.

By anon283042 — On Aug 01, 2012

anon267161-Post 43: This is false. Science can never be proven. It's a logical, highly tested guess. Now, some things are simply fact. Such as: honey collects spores of botulinum that causes botulism. Scientists have tested unpasteurized honey and found that sometimes, the honey contains the spores. It's just like food poisoning at a Taco Bell. Does it happen very often? No, not really. Could it have been avoided, because of so many reports of unsafe food handling in fast-food restaurants? Absolutely.

And for those who are religious: I believe in God, but I don't believe that God gave us everything that belongs on this Earth. Can you exactly say that cows' milk is something that belongs to us? No. It causes a lining in our stomachs that can sometimes make us sick, because *gaps* cows don't make their milk for humans. Just like bees don't make their honey for us.

By anon281701 — On Jul 24, 2012

Babies drank formula made from Pet or Carnation evaporated milk and Karo, not honey.

By anon267161 — On May 09, 2012

Wow, to the person claiming to be a research scientist, how on earth could you ever say, all scientists have is their best guess? Really? I'm fairly certain science isn't a guess, hence the phrase "down to a science" meaning a precise and thoroughly researched, tested, and proven fact. Maybe you were confused with the sixth grade definition of a hypothesis, which concerning botulism isn't the case, since it has been studied and proven to be a danger to infants. "Long, long, long ago" we didn't have the advances in science we have today. So just because the Earth was once thought flat and now has been proven not to be, is that new result just a "best guess" to you as well?

By anon243011 — On Jan 25, 2012

I didn't know about the risk of giving my baby honey. He is 12 months and two weeks old, he's fighting a bad cold and I got syrup that contains eucalyptus, bougainvillea, mullein, propolis and honey. I gave him 1.25 ml. Can he get ill because of that?

By anon238567 — On Jan 04, 2012

My mother in law gave my husband and our friends' kids honey on the pacifier and they're all healthy and perfectly fine. What do you think children drank when there was no formula? Yes people, that's right: regular milk!

By anon182651 — On Jun 02, 2011

i just fed my 10 month old some food with a little unpasteurized honey in it. After reading this I'm worried. I'm praying now he'll be OK. If he gets sick I'll post a reply.

By anon155391 — On Feb 23, 2011

its only rare because doctors tell everyone not to give honey to babies. botulism isn't rare at all. that's why iodine gets put in our meat because it loves to grow on it, and what do people think botox is? botulism toxin

By anon155388 — On Feb 23, 2011

no matter what, you should never give your baby honey. I had a cousin who was given honey at an early age and wound up crippled for life and mentally retarded. that's what happens when it doesn't kill them.

By anon139934 — On Jan 06, 2011

I do not know about botulism before now. My baby is four months old and had a severe cough that refused to stop with cough syrups. I was advised to give her honey 2.5mls morning and night. What can I do to avoid her getting botulism? I am scared.

By anon137143 — On Dec 26, 2010

many, many years ago people were told that tomatoes were poisonous Are they? Many years ago(not so many) people were told that eggs were poisonous and to be avoided. Are they?

Many, many, many years ago people were told that potatoes could cause infant death if fed to infants under the age of two. Does it?

All scientists have is their best guess, and the results can be twisted to mean anything. Why can't people go on what they feel in their gut. Yes, keep healthy habits, yes don't let your children be exposed to unnecessary dangers but come on, if you listened to everything you were told by scientists you'd be very confused.

Source: Myself. I'm both a research scientist and a mother of two small children.

By anon130426 — On Nov 28, 2010

anon128705: your kid's probably fine. This is a matter of risk. It is not at all true that honey itself is poisonous to infants. See the article above. If the honey had any botulism spores in it (rare), and ifyour girl got some in the tiny bit of honey she had (rare), and if her digestive tract couldn't take care of them (rare), she might get food poisoning from it. Yes, this is no fun at best and dangerous at worst, but that's all we're talking about here.

By anon128705 — On Nov 20, 2010

My fiance' and I went out for the first time since our baby girl was born, alone. she is four months old. we left her with his mother, with a good 6 oz bottle of my breast milk, and instructions to feed it to her two hours from when we left. Needless to say, the bottle was fed shortly after we departed.

When our daughter woke up crying because 1) she was in a strange place and 2) mom and daddy weren't there. then, when she still wouldn't quiet, the woman gave her honey mixed with water. now i used to attend a school where our history teacher kept bees out in the backyard, and custom made his honey. and along with that, he would teach us about honey, honeybees, etc., and i learned very early on to not give a baby honey.

so naturally, i panicked when i heard that my child had been given honey and she's only four months old! my fiance's mother says she wouldn't even eat it, just a little. *laughs* the little stinker didn't like the taste. go figure.

but I'm still worried about that tiny bit she did drink. any advice?

By anon127041 — On Nov 14, 2010

Why are you adding any sweetener to an infant's food? Give them food naturally sweet without risk of food poisoning.

You wouldn't give your child unpasteurized milk products or meat, fish, egg products not properly cooked to avoid food poisoning so why would you risk your child's health with honey? Ridiculous!

By anon125979 — On Nov 11, 2010

Poster12: do your math about infant botulism. Assuming you made the mistake of thinking .00003 is the same as ".00003 percent" (it's off by a factor of 100) you have said that 3.33 million babies die in the US each year.

If we read you literally, you have said that 333 million babies die in the US each year - just about the entire population of the country is a baby, and dies, each year, in the US.

Wow, a little perspective is a wonderful thing. Please stop offering "advice" to well-meaning people - assuming your advice was "hey, no worries, feed your baby honey! Statistically, nothing will happen to you!"

By anon117621 — On Oct 11, 2010

I don't recommend giving your child honey unless it's at a safe age. Any death of a child's traumatizing. Enough said. I never intentionally gave a child honey at an infant age, because you never know.

Don't be naive and use the motto "it will never happen to us." Now I have made a mistake here and there as I am raising my four children, but it was never intentional and/or done with negligence. This information is vital and helpful utilize it, because your child could possibly benefit from it. Physicians and pediatricians are warning you for a reason. And those who have eaten honey at the age of infant lucky you congratulations for not getting botulism, but it doesn't mean to give bad advice to good people you just got lucky.

By anon103313 — On Aug 11, 2010

Is anyone here aware of the common processing procedures for honey? Most all honey is heated to clarify it. if you're buying honey you can see through, it's been heated and filtered. Raw honey is cloudy, usually partially crystallized (because raw honey does that when you let it sit for a while).

Regardless, I wouldn't give honey in any form to anyone under six months old, just to be safe.

By anon99736 — On Jul 27, 2010

My grandmother told my mom to dip my passy into honey to help with colic. She did not know any better at the time. I am fine and now enjoy honey that my neighbor harvests in the woods behind our house. I am hoping that eating honey from our region will help with allergies during pollen season.

By anon96791 — On Jul 16, 2010

Poster 24 is wrong. Honey can actually help allergies! It gives you small "doses" of pollen which your body builds an immunity to, therefore helping relieve allergies over time. Very much like what allergy shots do (except honey isn't painful since you get to eat it and is a tasty treat).

I certainly wouldn't recommend giving it to babies. But kids and adults are fine. It will not cause harm unless eaten in large quantities, and then it is more of a dietary issue more than anything. It won't make allergies worse. Look up about how honey helps allergies online, there is a ton of stuff!

By anon94038 — On Jul 06, 2010

@ poster 24 - your husband didn't develop pollen allergies from eating honey as a child. That's nonsense. Haven't you ever heard "correlation doesn't imply causation?" In other words, just because he ate honey as a child and has allergies as an adult isn't proof of anything.

The risk of infants eating honey is as outlined in the above segment: a risk of infant botulism. Nothing more, nothing less. When your child is older, there is nothing wrong with him/her eating honey (other than those risks associated with eating any other type of sugar).

I swear, sometimes I wonder if the misinformation spread around the internet (especially that which fuels uneducated paranoia) completely nullifies any of its benefits.

By anon92738 — On Jun 30, 2010

Not everything your parents did was safe--or smart. My grandmother suggested rubbing alcohol on my baby's gums to help him with teething. And no, I did not follow grandma's bad advice.

If there's the slightest chance your infant will become deathly ill, why risk it? Just because all babies left alone in the backyard don't fall into the swimming pool doesn't mean it's safe for you to leave your toddler alone in the yard, right?

Anyone having questions about anything concerning their baby's health should pick up the phone and talk to the nurse at their local pediatricians office. Don't look for answers to your baby's health on the Internet.

By anon85154 — On May 19, 2010

I never knew honey could be found dangerous. I started applying honey to my baby's food at three months but when I came across this, in fact and in short, I am confused. I thought honey is a natural food for all.

Well, to avoid complications I have made up my mind not to give it now though my baby is clocking in at seven months in June.

By anon75193 — On Apr 05, 2010

My husband was fed honey from birth. He is the one who is paying for the price of it now. He has pollen allergies so high that his throat and nasal passages swell until he cannot breathe.

He could not go outside for long periods of time as a child, was always physically weak, and suffers from constant migraines. This is one of the common effects of giving an infant honey.

Is that something you want your child to go through?

I say that if you can avoid it, why take the risk? For those that are religious and see honey as a gift from God- there are poisons in this world that humans are not meant to eat. Honey was intended for bees, not human beings.

By anon70912 — On Mar 16, 2010

I agree with all the intelligent people who would not give their infants honey. Even one death is one death too many.

By anon68820 — On Mar 04, 2010

I thought it wasn't until two years old that you shouldn't give your baby honey. I have a 12 month old and my husband keeps trying to give him honey, peanut butter and all the things babies aren't supposed to have.

I've been successful with warding off the honey issue because of the botulism scare. Can we start giving it to him now or should we wait for two years old?

By anon68599 — On Mar 03, 2010

Are you people kidding me! Even if only 100 babies die from this in a year, that's still 100 babies! Those deaths could have easily been avoided. Why take the risk?

By anon67478 — On Feb 24, 2010

yes i'm totally with the person who said honey is helpful, not harmful because it is a gift from God. Only human interference pollutes it sometimes, but honey itself is bactericidal.

By anon55927 — On Dec 10, 2009

I would never give my children honey now that I read this! I just finished giving birth to my child, Mary, who is now 5 weeks old. Thanks for the info!

By anon50595 — On Oct 29, 2009

As a parent of two young children, I can't imagine exposing them to anything that could potentially harm them. As parents, our job is to protect and nurture our children. If there is a risk, why take it? Their safety and well being is too important to take a chance on a product that is not a nutritional necessity. We are all exposed to dangers, but does that mean we intentionally put our children in harm's way? Of course not.

By anon49322 — On Oct 19, 2009

These people who are saying it's OK to feed honey to babies are idiots. Just because nothing happened to them or anyone they know does not mean that the botulinum bacteria does not exist in raw honey. Because most honey is unpastuerized, the bacteria may or may not be there and since there is no way to be certain, other than testing each bottle you consume, the only way to completely avoid accidental food poisoning is to not feed infants raw honey. The honey producers surely want to avoid lawsuits and therefore put the warning lables on their product. If you as a parent decide to feed your baby honey, you are taking an unnecessary risk. Why the heck is it so important to feed your baby honey in the first place?

By kallico — On Sep 28, 2009

You don't have to so *why* do it? babies die from it, OK?

By anon42354 — On Aug 20, 2009

i am a pediatrician and last week admitted a 8 week old baby to the hospital with descending paralysis. The diagnosis was very puzzling but was finally made when the baby had to be ventilated and taken to intensive care. Parents had been giving him honey and he developed botulism. Having said that this is the first case i have seen in my seven years' career as a pediatrician. I will not recommend honey for my child until at least 6 months old.

By anon39765 — On Aug 04, 2009

Infant botulism accounts for less than 0.00003 percent of infant deaths in the US. The risk of an infant contracting and dying from infant botulism is about 1 in 3 million. There are approximately 100 infant deaths from botulism in the US each year.

In my opinion, this ranks right up there with worrying about whether you'll be killed from falling airplane parts. Perspective is a wonderful thing.

By anon30579 — On Apr 21, 2009

I am a physician. You should not feed honey to children less than 12 mos. The problem all stems from a bacteria that produces a toxin. Most commonly, people home can foods that aren't prepared right. Bacteria sits in cans secreting a toxin, secreting *a lot* of toxin. An adult opens the can later and eats a spoonful and dies soon after.

With infants it's different, the spores of the bacteria settle in the intestine (*not the toxin*) and grow bacteria. Now these bacteria are being killed by the immune system more so than canned goods, so less is toxin released. Also, since the toxin is slowly being leeched in smaller amounts the effect is lesser than the adult with the can. It is very treatable as long as the signs are noted. Look for a floppy baby not eating well.

By anon29475 — On Apr 02, 2009

Infants should have only the mothers milk and that's enough nutrients for them. It's natural! They don't need honey so why give it to them anyway? End of the debate!

By anon28574 — On Mar 18, 2009

I was wondering if this happens only if you feed an infant a lot of honey? Everyone in our family, not just immediate family, but everyone is given honey during the first 3 weeks, but it's not a lot.

It's like a tradition, someone in the family gives the baby a small taste of honey, and that's it. Its been like that in our family for years and so far nothing has ever happened.

So does this relate to how much honey you give an infant or just honey, no matter how much, in general?

By anon18426 — On Sep 23, 2008

5 babies alive and well today and they all had honey on the dummy. so many things are dangerous walking up the street is dangerous. what is the percentage of the death rate? very slim i am sure, less chance of sids?

By anon16007 — On Jul 27, 2008

Don't listen to the other post about being fed honey. While I'm sure that poster received honey from two weeks of age, that doesn't make it safe. I jaywalk all the time and haven't been hit by a car (yet) that doesn't mean I'll tell people it's safe to do so.

The reason researchers kept changing recommendations is because new information is constantly coming out. Take for example back to sleep. When I was an infant (all of 30 years ago) parents were told to put babies to sleep on their stomachs, and I was put on my stomach. Research then came out over time that sleeping on your back cuts down on SIDS. We should be happy that scientists are never satisfied and are always questing for more information.

By anon7312 — On Jan 23, 2008

Not every baby who eats honey will get sick, and not every time, but why risk it? What logical reason is there to risk something so serious? Lots of studies about what's "good" and "bad" go back and forth, especially when it comes to things like cancer that have many factors. But bacteria spores are real, just look through a microscope. Bacteria break out of their little spores and make toxin. That's not new news. You don't have to believe everything you read, but why risk something like this?

By anon6641 — On Jan 05, 2008

Tit for tat, remain aware of the bat. Be cautious, is the meaning of the article.

By anon5507 — On Nov 27, 2007

All of these different kinds of researches coming up are very, very confusing. One minute it is not good and then next it is good. I think researchers should make up their minds as to what is good for our children and what is not.

By anon4714 — On Oct 29, 2007

Honey can be given to infants less than 1 years of age. This is unharmful. I was fed with honey from 2 weeks old.

By anon562 — On Apr 28, 2007

it is said that honey might be pasteurized before giving it to infants but this operation will make honey loose a lot of his nutritive quality like vitamines and other elements. 37 degres C already makes honey loose a lot so what about more than 60?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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