Producing and distributing food – guidance

Comply with marketing standards for fresh fruit and vegetables

If you import, pack, distribute or sell fruit or veg, you must follow quality and labelling rules and you may be inspected without notice.

Anyone who markets fresh fruit or vegetables, salad crops, nuts or cultivated mushrooms must comply with regulations on quality and labelling.

There are two sets of marketing standards:

  • the Specific Marketing Standard (SMS), which applies to 10 types of fresh produce
  • the General Marketing Standard (GMS), which applies to most other fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts and herbs

The rules are detailed, and you should make sure you understand and follow the advice in European Union marketing standards for fresh horticultural produce: a guide for retailers (PDF, 333KB, 10 pages) so that you comply with the law.

The Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate (HMI) carries out unannounced inspections to ensure traders are complying with these rules and can prosecute you if you are not doing so.

Who the standards apply to

The marketing standards apply to all traders in these types of produce, including:

  • importers
  • packers (who may also be growers)
  • distributors
  • wholesalers
  • retailers (who may not necessarily trade from shop premises)

The Specific Marketing Standard

The SMS applies to these 10 types of fresh produce:

To be saleable, these types of produce must be:

  • intact
  • sound (for example, not rotten, severely bruised or severely damaged)
  • clean
  • fresh in appearance
  • practically free from pests
  • practically free from damage caused by pests affecting the flesh
  • free of abnormal external moisture
  • free of foreign smell or taste
  • sufficiently developed/ripe, but not overdeveloped/overripe

The produce must also be graded into one of these quality classes:

  • Extra
  • Class I
  • Class II

The produce must be labelled with:

  • the name and address of the packer and/or dispatcher (or an official code mark which can be supplied by HMI)
  • the nature of the produce if it’s not visible from outside
  • quality class
  • country of origin
  • size

When sold loose at retail, SMS produce must be labelled with its country of origin, quality class and any variety or type information required by the particular standard for the produce.

Pre-packed produce

Pre-packs of produce covered by the SMS must also show either net weight or the number of items of produce (unless this number can be clearly seen)

You can find full information about labelling of pre-packs in the EU marketing standard, and a summary in HMI’s European Union marketing standards for fresh horticultural produce: a guide for retailers (PDF, 333KB, 10 pages) .

Produce for home processing

Produce covered by the SMS that does not meet the requirements of the particular standard for that produce can be sold at retail for home processing. If you sell any produce covered by the SMS for home processing, you do not have to label it with a quality class, but it must be labelled as ‘produce for home processing’. The label can also carry further information eg ‘strawberries for home jam making’ or ‘apples for home pie making’.

Produce sold for home processing still has to meet the quality criteria for the General Marketing Standard (see list in next section).

The General Marketing Standard

The GMS (PDF, 16.8KB, 2 pages) applies to most other fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, herbs and cultivated mushrooms, that are for retail sale rather than processing.

The produce does not have to be graded into quality classes, but it must still be:

  • intact
  • sound (for example, not rotten, severely bruised or severely damaged)
  • clean
  • practically free from pests
  • practically free from damage caused by pests affecting the flesh
  • free of abnormal external moisture
  • free of foreign smell or taste
  • sufficiently developed/ripe, but not overdeveloped/overripe

When sold loose at retail, the produce must be labelled with its country of origin.

When sold pre-packed, it must be labelled with:

  • country of origin
  • the name and address of the packer and/or dispatcher (or an official code mark supplied by HMI)
  • either net weight or number of items

When the produce is sold boxed for wholesale, the box must be labelled with:

  • country of origin
  • the name and address of the packer and/or despatcher (or an official code mark supplied by HMI)

UNECE standards

Instead of the General Marketing Standard, the law allows you to use alternative standards adopted by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

Produce not covered by the marketing standards

These products have no specific quality or labelling requirements under the marketing standards:

  • early and ware potatoes
  • chilli peppers
  • sweetcorn
  • olives
  • capers
  • wild mushrooms
  • manioc or cassava
  • arrowroot
  • salep
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • sweet potatoes
  • yams
  • dasheen
  • taro
  • sago
  • cocoyams
  • yam beans and similar roots and tubers with high starch or inulin content
  • coconuts
  • brazil nuts
  • cashew nuts
  • bitter almonds
  • pecans
  • pistachios
  • macadamia nuts, pine nuts, and all shelled nuts (that is, without their shells)
  • bananas
  • dates
  • saffron
  • ginger
  • bay
  • turmeric
  • galangal
  • chervil
  • swede
  • nutmeg
  • onion sets
  • Inkcap
  • cep
  • jelly nut
  • lemon grass
  • curry leaves
  • liquorice roots
  • sugar cane
  • peanuts
  • prepared and processed products, dried products, and products for industrial processing, wine making or animal feed

This is not an exhaustive list. You should contact HMI (PDF, 48.9KB, 4 pages) if you’re not sure whether you need to be complying with the marketing standards for a particular product.

Mixed types of produce

You can sell packs of mixed produce up to 5kg, as long as:

  • all of the produce is of uniform (ie the same) quality
  • each type of produce complies with the marketing standard that applies to it

You can label packs containing produce from more than one country with one of these wordings:

  • ‘Mix of EU fresh horticultural produce’
  • ‘Mix of Non-EU fresh horticultural produce’
  • ‘Mix of EU and Non-EU fresh horticultural produce’

Retail distance selling

Distance selling (also known as distance contracts) includes internet shopping, mail order, and purchases by telephone, fax or email. If you sell fresh produce by any of these methods, you must still give the customer the same information about the product as they would get in a retail outlet, before they buy.

Inspections

If you pack or trade in fresh fruit and vegetables in England and Wales, you may be inspected by the Horticultural Marketing Inspectorate (HMI).

HMI chooses which businesses to inspect based on risk and previous inspection history (so if your business passes an inspection without problems, it’s less likely to be inspected in future).

Inspections will be unannounced and you must follow any advice the inspector makes.

What the inspector will be looking for

The inspector will check whether you’re complying with EU marketing standards. Your fresh fruit and vegetables must:

  • be of saleable quality
  • have the appropriate quality grading (for produce covered by the SMS)
  • be correctly labelled

What happens if goods don’t pass inspection

If your goods don’t pass inspection, the inspector will discuss your options for bringing the goods into conformity if possible or disposing of them if not.

Your options may include:

  • bringing the goods back into conformity eg by relabelling them or reclassifying them at a lower quality grading
  • removing the goods from the fresh market, which may involve disposing of them by an approved method
  • sending the goods back to the supplier eg to the packer or importer

Before the inspector leaves, you will need to take a decision as to what you are going to do with the goods and sign an undertaking stating what action you will take. This undertaking is legally binding – if you break it you could be prosecuted.

Before the inspector will allow you to put the goods back on sale, they may need to carry out a follow-up inspection.

HMI are also more likely to select you for an unannounced inspection in future if your fresh fruit and vegetables have not passed inspection in the past.

If your produce or labelling are repeatedly found to be defective, HMI may give you ‘amber’ status, meaning that they will carry out an increased number of inspections.

If problems persist and HMI give you ‘red’ status, you may be prosecuted. Every visit HMI makes to your premises may include the collection of evidence which could in due course be used in any prosecution.

Approved trader status

If you are a grower/packer or an importer and your business consistently demonstrates a high level of conformity with the marketing standards, HMI can grant you approved trader status (ATS). This means that you are identified as low risk, and will be subject to fewer inspections.

For more information about ATS, contact HMI (PDF, 48.9KB, 4 pages) .

Relevant regulations