Mind Your Beeswax: Worker Bees Subject to Good Manufacturing Practices

bees-crawling-on-honeycombDid you know that the US Government oversees bees? No, not just the worker bees in Washington but real, live, buzzing, bees!

It’s true! The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) enforces good manufacturing practices for a variety of industries. They use what are called cGMPs, or Current Good Manufacturing Practices, to help keep the American people safe from harmful practices that can have far-reaching impacts. In a lot of ways, bees are no different than other large manufacturers. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t hold them to the same high standards.

What do bees produce, exactly? You probably guessed honey, which is used in sweeteners and other culinary applications. They also produce another product with broad reach across industries: beeswax.

When you think of beeswax and wax in general, you probably think of candles. While this is the world’s oldest use of wax, beeswax is used in a wide variety of industries, including electrical insulation, paper products, and even rubber.

Because beeswax is used across a variety of industries, regulation and testing is a necessary part of its manufacturing lifecycle. That’s why good manufacturing practices have an important role. cGMPs are established systems that ensure all the products produced adhere to strong quality standards. This quality assurance allows large companies with complex processes to minimize risks and deliver safe, reliable products in large quantities.

Bees are, quite literally, producing the product that eventually ends up in our food, building supplies, and paper. Just like how the quality of a metal or plastic component can vary based around how it was made, there are a lot of factors that determine the quality and characteristics of beeswax–and a lot of it comes down to the bees themselves.

In order to ensure quality of beeswax and adherence to USDA standards, a few things have to be determined. First, you must test if the wax supplied by the manufacturer is, in fact, beeswax. There are many other waxes that can be mixed in or substituted for the real thing. If other waxes are present, the characteristics of the wax can change, making it unsuitable for a particular applications.

It’s also important to test for the purity of a beeswax sample as well as the levels of various chemicals that might make it unsuitable for some uses. There are many potentially dangerous substances that the bees may have had contact with, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, or medicines used to treat different diseases of bee colonies. Especially in industries that use beeswax as a direct food and food packing component, testing for the presence of these contaminants is essential to keeping people safe.

Different species of bees can produce beeswax with different physical characteristics. It’s very important to know exactly what characteristics can be expected for use in industrial and food applications. The molar mass distribution of beeswax from different producers can be quite different. In addition to the conditions in which beeswax was made, the way humans process beeswax can also impact that molar mass distribution. GPC, which separates molecules based on size, is just one of the many tests we can perform to tell us more about this most useful form of insect-derived wax.

While bees don’t know anything about the rigorous standards and testing practices that go into beeswax production, they benefit from this oversight. Better understanding of how bees produce commercial products and what impacts their production can help mitigate serious ecological issues bees face today, such as colony collapse disorder. Careful regulation of quality standards and the testing that goes into that can lead to innovation for these important pollinators and producers.

The independent testing we do here at Polymer Solutions not only helps our clients but also, we hope, helps contribute to a culture of scientific inquiry about the world around us. Deep understanding of our testing capabilities allows us to be experts and offer a number of insights about different materials. From beeswax testing to innovative polymer science, we always remain curious and willing to explore the limitless world around us.

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