The National Measurement Institute (NMI) recently completed its ‘Harvest to Home’ campaign to help fruit and vegetable growers and packers comply with Australia’s trade measurement laws that require the weight or number of pieces of fruit to be clearly stated on the outside of the package.
The Harvest to Home trade measurement inspection program commenced in March 2017 and ran until June 2017. During this time NMI inspectors oversaw the weighing, packaging and selling of fruit and vegetables throughout their journey from paddock to plate. They visited more than 1,600 traders, ranging from producers to wholesalers and retailers; tested almost 2,400 measuring instruments; inspected just over 15,000 lines of packaged goods; and made almost 300 ‘secret shopper’ trial purchases.
Their aim was to ensure that the millions of measurement-based transactions occurring in the industry were accurate, because accurate measurements support fair competition among businesses and give consumers confidence in what they are buying.
During this time an old ‘count size’ practice still in use by some citrus growers/packers emerged as one that needed updating to comply with the law.
Problematic pattern packing
Up until the past decade, citrus was predominantly packed by hand into cartons – this was called pattern packing. Each fruit diameter had a corresponding number of fruit that could be put into a certain sized carton; this number was called the ‘count’. The term ‘count’ was widely used throughout the industry and can conjure in the minds of those who have used it a certain size of fruit because, for example, a count of ‘88’ pieces of fruit with a certain diameter would fit into the carton.
Recently, and increasingly, packers are opting to use ‘volume fill’, ‘rumble fill’ and other mechanised loose fill packing for most carton types. All these different terms mean that the fruit is loosely tipped into the carton until the carton reaches a certain minimum weight.
However, some packers are still using the term ‘count’ on the outside of the carton when volume filling – and here lies the problem. The ‘count’ in these cases no longer actually refers to the number of pieces of fruit inside the carton. Therefore, while the diameter of the fruit inside the carton is consistent, there are invariably fewer pieces of fruit than the ‘count’ written on the outside of the carton when the carton is volume filled.
From NMI’s perspective this is not only confusing but also punishable under Australia’s trade measurement laws.
The good news is that this old system is easily changed to ensure you comply with the laws. And there’s plenty of help available to help citrus growers/packers to do the right thing.
Match measurements with content
The most widely used and accepted measurement for packing citrus is now weight. Growers and packers who are volume filling must make sure the contents are accurately weighed and that the weight is recorded on the outside of the carton in a way accepted by NMI.
In its explanation about how to record measurements on pre-packed fruit, NMI provides the following information:
“Pre-packaged fruit and vegetables that are packed in advance ready for sale in bags, trays or any other form of packaging must be marked with a statement of the measurement (excluding packaging material) on the principal display panel. Measurement statements should be printed, either on labels attached to the package or directly on the package itself. When the produce is packed and sold on the same premises, however, the measurement statement can be hand-written.
“The measurement statement must be:
clear to read, at least 2mm from the edge of the principal display panel and at least 2mm from other graphics;
in the same direction as the brand or product name; and
in a colour that provides a distinct contrast with the colour of the background.
“All pre-packed fruit and vegetables not packed and sold on the same premises must be clearly marked with the name and street address of the packer or party accepting responsibility for packing. The use of a post office box, locked bag, telephone number, website or email is not acceptable.
“Pre-packed fruit and vegetables must not contain less than the stated amount at all times prior to sale.
“If the fruit and vegetables are likely to lose weight over time, through evaporation, dehydration or other means, the packer must make allowance for any expected losses in the measurement when packaging the produce.”
Selling by ‘count’
While weight is the most widely used measurement for citrus, true counts – that is, the actual number of fruit within a carton or package – are acceptable.
NMI says, “If you sell fruit and vegetables by count, the packaging must be marked with the accurate count except when the package is transparent; and contains less than nine items.”
Get it right
Shane Coombe, National Measurement Institute, said NMI wanted to help growers comply with the law.
“We understand that most businesses want to do the right thing,” said Shane. “We’re happy to assist them understand and comply with their obligations under the law.”
“NMI undertakes regular audits of businesses and when breaches of the law are detected we have a range of enforcement options, from issuing a non-compliance notice to imposing fines of up to $1,050 per offence.
“However, where businesses persist in breaching the law or an initial offence is particularly severe, matters can be referred to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and, if taken to court, the maximum penalty for each offence is $210,000 for a company and $42,000 for an individual.”
Citrus growers who need more help or guidance to ensure compliance with the law can visit the NMI website, where a range of helpful resources are available – see measurement.gov.au. Or contact them directly on 1300 686 664 or firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat and some helpful tips.