Selling culinary herbs – things you need to know first

Herbs are one of the most pleasurable crops to grow.  They’re also great for selling, but, there are some tricky legislative considerations you ought to bear in mind if you are selling herbs.  The legislation may be infuriating, but it’s also bizarrely interesting.  For example do you know which herbs are “allowed” to be sold by the bunch, rather than by weight?  Read on to find out…

Primary product or food
Since 2006, the EU Food Hygiene Regulations have applied to primary producers (i.e. growers and farmers) as well as food producers and processors.  Culinary herbs fall under these regulations.  In their raw, unprocessed state, culinary herbs are primary products (not food).

The regulations mean that as a primary producer you have a duty of care to ensure your produce is fit for purpose.  Particularly you must avoid it being contaminated by things like soil, chemicals, non-potable water, etc.  You must keep records that demonstrate how you have ensured the produce is as safe as possible.  This will include detailed records of any plant protection products used, when they were applied, why, at what rate, etc. – this type of record should always be kept anyway if you are using sprays and chemicals. 

If your holding doesn’t already have a Customer Reference Number (CRN) or County Parish Holding Number (also known as a CPH number, or Holding Number) you will have to register with your Local Authority as a Primary Producer.

When is a herb a food?
Primary products become food once they have been processed.  In general, fresh herbs sold with little or no processing will remain as primary products.  However, dried herbs are considered to have been processed and are therefore classed as food.  Food products have far more onerous regulatory requirements than horticultural primary products.  Washing (with potable water) and trimming will not usually be considered to turn a primary product into food, but do check with your Local Authority to find out how they interpret the Regulations

By the bunch?
Most foods must be sold by weight, but chives, mint, watercress and parsley can be sold by the bunch, without a weight.  For other herbs, if sold in weights of more than 5g (about 1/6th of an ounce – almost nothing), you get into the realms of selling by weight.  For this, you need to make sure that you have suitable scales with calibration records to prove their accuracy.

Labelling
There are many sad stories of producers printing off sheets of labels only to be told they were non-compliant and therefore unusable.  Labelling regulations are complex.  Essential information for pre-packed herbs is: the name of the herb (plus any additives if appropriate); the business name and address; and the net weight of the product.  For packs of up to 50g the writing must be at least 2mm in height.

Do the regulations always apply (is there wriggle room)?
Direct supply by the producer to the final consumer or to local retailers may fall outside the scope of the Regulations.  However it’s always better safe than sorry, so you should use best practice and comply as far as you possibly can anyway.  Ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law.

Because the regulations are so complex, you should seek more advice from your local Trading Standards Office (about weights & measures, packaging, etc) and Environmental Health Office (for food hygiene information).  They are almost always helpful and friendly.  They would rather work with you and avoid problems arising than have to take enforcement action.
This information is provided as general guidance only and is no way comprehensive or a replacement for professional advice.

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