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.