Researchers have identified how secondary forms of a neurotoxin from the poisonous native shrub tutu get into honey.
Tutin, which can cause seizures and delirium, is picked up by bees feeding on honeydew left on tutu by other insects.
Plant and Food Research research leader Nigel Perry said tutin was detected by tests but two secondary forms disguised by a glucose or sugar molecule had been slipping through.
He said the sugar coating delayed the release of the toxin.
"The molecule can have one or two glucose units attached to it that we believe are then broken off in digestion - when humans ingest the honey - to release the tutin toxin."
Dr Perry said permissible levels of tutin in honey were lowered in March to prevent any tainted product from hitting the shelves.