Getting Honey Safely and Legally from Hive to the Ultimate Consumer

Stage 2: Safely selling your Honey

Hopefully, my observations under Stage 1 will go a long way to helping you safely and legally comply with the law appropriate to your products from the hive until it is within your jars or other appropriate containers. What else needs to be done to get it to the consumer? I will offer the lawyers' classic answer: 'It depends!
In particular it depends on the producer and the size and nature of his operation, who the consumer is, how the consumer is to obtain the product from the producer and what the product is. Here are some of the issues to consider:

1) Hive Products for consumption only by the beekeeper and his family, gifts of hive products by the beekeeper to friends.
As may be expected, hive products to be consumed by the beekeeper, his family or his friends where no money changes hands, are not subject to any statutory control, so there are no special labelling requirements or restrictions. It may be sensible for the beekeeper, nevertheless, to ensure that a label is attached to the jar or other container briefly describing the product and any allergen simply as a matter of precaution rather than under any legal requirement.

2) Hive Products for Sale
We all take great pride in our honey and other products and naturally want our labels attached to jars and other containers to be 'the best'. Unfortunately, all labels must also be legal and comply with the laws relevant to the product being sold. The cumulative law is a mix, in the main, of Food Safety Act 1990, the Honey Directive 2001, Food Information Regulations 2014 and the Honey (England) Regulations 2015 (replacing those of 2003 and the amended version of 2005). The appliances manufacturers go a long way to helping us by producing either standard labels or labels of our choice, but they cannot be expected to know exactly what your products are, and therefore a particular label's suitability. Trading Standards officers, in my experience, always very helpful, can advise on labelling (but I am told some are now charging for their services!) and certainly, if you are designing your own labels, it will be sensible to explain explicitly your product to them and to get their consent to the label you are intending to use.
So what should be on the label? Hopefully the following list will cover the labelling requirements of most products you have for sale.

3) Mandatory Requirement: Accuracy of Information
Generally, all information on the label must be accurate. In particular, it must not mislead, it must be easy to understand, and it must not attribute qualities it does not possess (? Can we still call our honey 'pure' or 'purest' - I suggest not) nor claim that it contains characteristics where the same characteristics can normally be found in similar products. In addition, any pictorial material must not mislead: for example, it needs little imagination to appreciate that a picture on the label of heather collected by bees based in London Tower Hamlets has to be wrong. Also be very careful with those county (e.g. Yorkshire) or town (e.g.Yeovil) labels. You can call your honey derived from Yorkshire nectar 'Yorkshire Honey', but what do you do if your bees are in Yorkshire close to the Lancashire/Yorkshire border and you know that the nectar is mainly from Lancashire? Under EU Directives, honey is harvested where the bees' hives are located, in this example, Yorkshire. But to call it Yorkshire Honey would be plainly mislead. In these types of situations it may be found best to drop the county or place name title, and, for example, call it Charlie Woff's Honey (assuming that the beekeeper is Charlie Woff) and explain on the label that the honey is from bees based in Yorkshire collecting nectar from Yorkshire and Lancashire.

4) Mandatory Requirement as to Name of Product
Each label must state the name of the product. If you are selling 'straight' honey, you can call it either 'Honey' or you can use, if available, a reserved description (e.g. in the case of honey from 'the nectar of plants' the reserved descriptions are 'blossom honey' or 'nectar honey'). For further information on reserved descriptions look at Honey (England) Regulations 2015, and note the particular restrictions in the regulations relating to filtered honey, baker's honey and cut-comb honey.

5) Mandatory if your jar contains ingredients apart from honey.
Ingredients must be listed in a descending order of weight. Certain minor ingredients do not need to be named. Further, if any of the ingredients is an allergen (e.g. mustard in Honey Mustard) then an allergen statement must also appear on the label. The full list of allergens as regards which an allergen statement must appear, is referred to in the Food Information Regulations.

6) Mandatory Weights
Net metric weights must appear on the label. If desired, net imperial weights can in addition be used providing these are less prominent (i.e. lower case) than the metric weight shown. It is no longer a requirement that food, including honey, should be offered for sale in prescribed quantities.

7) Mandatory Durability
All products are required to have a date of minimum durability (meaning a date until which food /honey retains its specific qualities). This can be achieved by the following information; 'Best before..' when the date includes an indication of the day e.g. '1st September 2017' or 'Best before end' in other cases e.g. 2017.

8) Usually mandatory: lot numbering
Honey and other products usually must carry a lot number. The mark can be prefixed by the letter 'L' and must be clearly visible, clearly legible and indelible. It is good practice when containers are sold in exterior packaging also to lot mark the packaging. Where a product bears a date mark, e.g. Use by 24th September 2017 (in that order) this may provide sufficient batch identification to serve as a lot mark. Food, e.g. honey, sold to the ultimate consumer that is pre-packaged on the premises of the seller for sale do not need a lot mark. Where a lot number is required, you can either separately provide a lot mark on each jar or other item or batch mark with one lot number. The danger about batch marking is that if some defect is discovered then the whole batch may be destroyed rather than only an individual container.

9) Mandatory. Name and address of the food business
This is important if an authority needs to get in touch with you about your product or your label. There is no need to provide either a telephone number or e-mail address which is perhaps a blessing in these days of scams, computer fraud etc.

10) Mandatory. Country of Origin.
This may be stated as either 'England' or 'UK'. The fact that your address has been stated on the label is insufficient. Special provisions apply if your honey is from another /other EU country/countries or from non-EU country/countries in any combination or combinations.

11) Sometimes Mandatory - Nutritional Declaration

This requirement, where it applies, becomes compulsory on 13th December 2016, but can be complied with on a voluntary basis before this date. However:

  • NOTE 1 - Unprocessed products which comprise a single ingredient (e.g. honey) or category of ingredients are EXEMPT from this requirement. Despite the fact that honey taken from hive to jar goes through a series of processes (e.g. extraction, straining, perhaps some heating and jarring) it must be argued that honey is UNPROCESSED and that NO NUTRITION STATEMENT IS REQUIRED (but see further exemptions below.)

  • NOTE 2 - There is an exemption for Nutritional Declarations if food (e.g. honey) is in packaging or containers the largest surface which has an area of less than 25 cm sq.

  • NOTE 3 - There is a further exemption for food (e.g. honey) sold in small quantities or to the final consumer or to a local retailer selling to the final consumer. 'Small quantities' is not defined in the legislation so what is meant by this is uncertain (see my comments 'Registration of Premises' on Page 7).

12) Voluntary Information

The label may contain voluntary information without any restrictions. For example, a label
may contain:

  • a statement requesting that a jar be stored in a cool dry place. NB The authorities recognises that honey does not require special conditions.
  • advice as to how to clear crystallised honey
  • a direction not to give honey to any child under the age of 12 months, NB because of the risk of botulism.
  • (my favourite) A request for return of honey jar!

* Reproduced here by the kind permission of Andrew Beer

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The Association maintains an apiary at an organic farm in North Shropshire. We hold regular meetings at the apiary during the summer, where members old and new can gain experience in handling bees.

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