This chapter summarizes the basics of Illinois laws for beekeepers involved in honey production. This section concludes with a brief discussion of rules for maple syrup production, which are similar to those for honey.

  1. Bee Keeping

This section discusses state, but not local, regulations on beekeeping.  Some counties and municipalities may limit where, how, or how many bees can be raised in an area.  Therefore, beekeepers should contact their local authorities.  For more information on technical aspects of beekeeping, the Illinois State Beekeepers Association maintains a helpful website.  The organization is open to both commercial beekeepers and hobbyists/enthusiasts.

Domesticated honeybees play an integral role in agricultural sectors needing pollinators, and diseases and pests affecting honeybees can cause significant economic damage.  Therefore, the Illinois Bees and Apiaries Act (510 ILCS 20) and implementing regulations (8 IAC Part 60) establish registration and inspection requirements to facilitate protection of the health of Illinois bee colonies.

All new beekeepers must register with the Illinois Department of Agriculture within ten days of acquiring the bees and must re-register in November of each year (510 ILCS 20/2; 8 IAC 60.20).  The owner receives a certificate with a number that must be placed on the front of each hive.  There are no fees to register and the form is available on IDOA’s webpage.

The Department may enter the premises to inspect the bees, colony, equipment or apiary during reasonable business hours (510 ILCS 20/2-4).  IDOA may declare as a nuisance, and possibly order destroyed, any unregistered beekeeping operation or colonies that are diseased or contaminated with pests or exotic strains (510 ILCS 20/2-1).  The apiary inspector should provide advice on any treatments a colony may need.  However, IDOA will order destruction of the colony if certain diseases, such as American foulbrood disease, are present (8 IAC 60.50).  Although the owner is responsible for the costs of the destruction, the Department may reimburse owners of registered colonies $25 for each colony destroyed, if funds are available (510 ILCS 20/2-2).  The law requires a permit, based on an inspection certificate, to transport bees between counties or bring into the state any bees and equipment used by bees (510 ILCS §§ 20/2a; 20/2b; 20/2b-1; 8 IAC 60.60). 

The Department of Agriculture maintains a website  for its beekeeping program.  In addition to the registration and inspection program, the Department is attempting to establish a communication program between beekeepers and pesticide applicators in order to limit exposure of bees to pesticides.  At this time, the program allows pesticide applicators to access a database of all registered apiaries in the state.  Applicators are encouraged to contact nearby beekeepers so that the beekeepers can take necessary measures to protect their bees.  Although the program currently is voluntary, participation does provide some measure of protection for beekeepers.

  1. Selling Honey

A.  Raw Honey

Honey and food labeled as “imitation honey” sold in Illinois must be 100% pure honey  or it is misbranded under the Illinois Food Drug and Cosmetic Act (410 ILCS 620/11(p)). The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) defines honey as “a sweet substance produced by honey bees from the nectar of the blossoms or from secretion of or on living parts of plants, which they collect, transform and combine with specific substances, and store in honeycombs.”[1]

Like all foods sold at retail, if producers process their honey, they must do so at a plant and in a manner approved by IDPH (77 IAC § 760.100; 77 IAC § 750.200).  Because comb honey is a raw product that consumers expect to contain some contaminants,  IDPH does not consider honey sold in its original comb to be “processed” even if it is cut and placed in a box for sale.  Therefore, IDPH does not require honeycomb to comply with the processing rules and regulations.  Honey sold not in its original honeycomb, however, is processed, and must comply with IDPH regulations.

Honey processing occurs in a honey house (IDPH Technical Release # 22, II.1).  In addition to the general construction requirements for all food processing facilities (see Sections IV and V of the Introduction section), there are some specific requirements unique to honey.  Honey containers must be made of stainless steel, glass or food grade plastic which is smooth, easily cleanable and non-absorbent, and should not be made of galvanized metal (the low pH of honey can leach heavy metals out of it)(Technical Release # 22, II.8; 77 IAC §§ 730.4010-.4050; 6030).  Processors must thoroughly wash, rinse, sanitize and air dry synthetic strainers at regular intervals, and must discard cheese cloth strainers after each use (Id.).

On July 13, 2010, the Illinois General Assembly passed legislation that amends the FDCA to define raw, unadulterated honey (whether in the comb or extracted) as a raw agricultural commodity.  As a result, IDPH does not have authority to regulate comb honey or unadulterated honey extracted from the comb (410 ILCS 620/27).  Further, the legislation amends the Sanitary Food Preparation Act to prohibit IDPH from inspecting honey houses of producers who sell less than 500 gallons of honey per year (410 ILCS 650/7(b)).  The Act defines a honey house as “any stationary or portable building or any room or place with a building that is used for the purpose of extracting, processing, or other handling of honey” (410 ILCS 650/7(a)).  The effect of the amended legislation is to make it easier for beekeepers to sell their products to retailers and farmers’ markets.  The ISBA website has additional information about the changes to the law.

Pasteurizing honey makes the product free flowing, destroys osmophilic yeast (i.e., prevents molding) and delays crystallization.  IDPH does not require pasteurization of honey because its high sugar content makes honey naturally anti-microbial.  Therefore, a beekeeper in Illinois may produce and sell unpasteurized “raw honey.”  Some consumers seek out local raw honey because they believe it helps alleviate allergies.  Due to U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulation of health claims, producers should not include this claim on their labels or in their advertising.  FDA must specifically approve all health claims prior to use (21 C.F.R. § 101.14),[2] but it has never approved the claim linking honey and allergies (21 C.F.R. §§ 101.70-.83). Therefore, labels and advertisements should not include any health claims connecting raw honey to allergy relief.

B.  Organic Honey

To market honey as organic, the bees and processing plant must be certified organic according to USDA’s National Organic Program.  Although the regulatory definition of livestock specifically excludes bees (7 C.F.R. § 205.2), USDA guidance documents direct certifiers to use the livestock standards for certification of bees.  The livestock regulations generally require the producer to handle the livestock organically from the day of birth, use 100% organic feed, avoid most synthetic chemicals, and refrain from use of antibiotics and certain other medical treatments.  For bees, this may mean locating the hive so as to prevent foraging at non-organic flowers, building the hive out of particular materials, or treating hive diseases in a manner that would comply with standards set out by the certifier.  The “Organic Marketing” chapter of this Guide covers the livestock regulations in more detail, as well as information on the certification process, record keeping requirements, labeling rules, and processing of organic foods.  Given the special nature of bees, it may be best to contact an accredited organic certifying agent that certifies bees to discuss specific requirements.  Refer to the “Organic Marketing” chapter of this Guide for more general information on the organic certification process. 

C.  Maple Syrup

Much like honey, maple sap is a naturally occurring product extracted by producers.  However, to make it into a saleable commodity, sugar makers must boil the sap down into syrup.  IDPH considers this processing.  Therefore, maple syrup production must be done at a facility inspected and licensed by IDPH.  IDPH does not have specific guidance for maple syrup production, but like all other food processing facilities, the maple syrup facility must be clean and sanitary, have the adequate and appropriate supplies, and be capable of keeping vermin, insects, and other contaminants away from the food.

Have you…

  • Registered your bee colony with the Illinois Department of Agriculture and obtained any necessary permits? Checked with local authorities for other restrictions?
  • Had the Illinois Department of Public Health inspect and permit your honey house (if you plan to sell more than 500 gallons per year of adulterated honey that has been removed from the comb)?
  • If you intend to market your honey as organic, read the chapter on Organics and contacted an accredited certifying agent that has experience certifying honey?

Key Contact Information

Illinois Department of Agriculture, Bees & Apiaries Program

Ph: 217-782-6297

[1] This definition is not found anywhere in the regulations, but rather is contained in IDPH Technical Release # 22: Guidelines for Sanitary Manufacture, Processing, Packaging or Holding of Honey. This technical release is available through the Illinois State Beekeepers Association here.

[2] The Nutrition Education and Labeling Act of 1990 prohibits states from establishing any labeling requirements for food in interstate commerce that are not identical to FDA labeling regulations (21 USC 343-1). Consequently, Illinois has not promulgated regulations on labeling. It is unclear whether FDA’s labeling requirements apply to purely intrastate food, but it is likely they do.

Continue to Meat & Poultry  arrow.jpg