Humans, bees not at risk from heated HFCS, says CRA

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Corn refiners association Beekeeping High-fructose corn syrup

Storage standards and temperature control for HFCS mean human health is not at risk from the formation of hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), the Corn Refiners Association asserts, which also refutes suggestions that the toxin could be a factor in honeybee colony collapse disorder.

In a new study by published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry​, USDA researchers measured HMF levels in samples of HFCS over a 35 day time frame, at temperatures of 31.5, 40.0, 49.0 and 68.8ºc.

Study leader LeBlanc and team saw that HMF levels increased steadily with temperature, and that there was a dramatic jump at 49 ºc – a finding they said is important for commercial beekeepers, for manufacturers of HFCS, and for purposes of food storage.

But the CRA has called the study "flawed",​ and emphasized that its members have safety measures and best practices in place.

Dr John White of White Technical Research, a consultant whose clients include the CRA, told that there are well-established and widely-available industry storage standards for HFCS: for HFCS 55 the temperature standard is between 75ºF and 86 ºF (23.9 ºC to 30 ºC), and for HFCS 42 between 95ºF and 106 ºF (35 ºC to 41.1 ºC).

Moreover, the standards specify use of containers made with stainless steel or mild steel coated with stainless steel material.

“Clearly LeBlanc used extreme conditions aimed at maximising HMF formation which contradicted both temperature and vessel composition specifications. It should be noted that any syrup source subjected to such harsh treatment would produce elevated levels of HMF,”​ White said, on behalf of the Corn Refiners Association.

No danger to bees or humans

The CRA and White say the risk of HMF to humans presented by the new study are also over-egged. They say that a 2000 study by Janzowski et al discounts HMF as posing a serious health risk to humans.

The new study also suggested that the formation of HMF could be a factor in the decline in honey bee populations, known as colony collapse disorder (CCD). It leant on a study published in 1966 by Bailey to support claims that the toxin that causes gut ulceration and dysentery-like symptoms in bees.

HFCS is given to bees to stimulate brood rearing and boost honey production. But according to White, properly stored HFCS would not pose a risk for honeybees.

He cites a study by Jachimowicz et al, published in 1975, which saw that concentrations of up to 3mg HMF per 100g of solution was harmless for bees. This would mean that the base HMF level established by LeBlanc, of 30 parts per million (ppm) is also harmless.

“Honeybee producers clearly violate published storage recommendations when they expose HFCS to excessive temperatures and store it for prolonged periods in unapproved containers.”

Nor was HFCS cited as a potential cause of CCD published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; rather, ribosomal RNA degradation was seen to be the likely cause.

FoodNavigator’s article on the original study is available here


Apidologie 1975; 6:121-143
“Problems of invert sugar as food for honeybees”
Authors: Jachimowicz, T; El Sherbiny, G.

Journal of Agriculture and Food Science 2009, 57, 736907376
DOI: 10.1021/jf9014526 Formation of hydroxymethylfurfural in domestic high fructose corn syrup and its toxicity to the honey bee (Apis mellifera)​ Authors: LeBlanc, B; Eggleston, G; Sammataro, D; Cornett, C; Dufault, R; Deeby, T; St Cyr, E.

Food Chemical Toxicology 2000; 38:801-809
“5-Hydroxymethylfurfural: assessment of mutagenicity, DNA-damaging potential and reactivity toward cellular glutathione”
Janzowski, C; Glaab, B; Samimi, E; Schlatter, J; Eisenbrand, G.

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