UPDATE: Hey guys, I screwed up on this one. NPR points out that the story I wrote about here is pretty heavily biased, produced by a website that's run by a law firm specializing in food poisoning cases. And the claims made here don't line up with evidence. Apologies. I normally manage to avoid being suckered in by stuff like this, but we all have bad days. Thanks to those in the comments who pointed out the flaws.
Honey that comes from large grocery stores, big-box chains, and individual packet servings in restaurants may not be honey you can trust. That's because the vast majority of this honey has had all the pollen filtered out of it, effectively preventing regulators from knowing where the honey came from.
Food Safety News purchased honey in 10 states, and the District of Columbia, and had it independently tested by scientists at the University of Texas. Roughly 76% of the honey from grocery stores and big box stores was lacking pollen. 100% of the honey purchased at drugstores and distributed at restaurants in single-serving packets lacked pollen. Only the samples that came from farmer's markets, co-ops, and smaller niche stores like Trader Joe's and PCC all contained all of the pollen they were supposed to.
Why do you care? This really isn't about the pollen, itself. Instead, it's about what the pollen (or lack thereof) represents. There aren't a lot of reasons someone would want to filter honey so aggressively that they remove the pollen. It adds costs to production, lowers the quality of the honey, and doesn't produce much of a benefit for businesses. In fact, according to research by Food Safety News, there's really only one benefit you could get from filtering out the pollen: Without the pollen, nobody can tell where the honey came from.
This is the part you should care about. A desire to hide the origins of honey is a pretty big red flag that the honey might be coming from places with potentially dangerous production practices. Honey from China, for instance, can be contaminated with animal antibiotics that are illegal in the the U.S. and Europe because they are fatal to a small percentage of people. Honey from India has turned up laced with heavy metals. Without pollen, there's no way to verify that the honey you're getting is safe. It might well be. But no one can tell. And if it does hurt you, there's no way to connect it to other honey from the same source, which makes it harder to recall all the dangerous honey.
Via Sally J