Requirements for fresh fruit and vegetables

There are mandatory requirements for products allowed on the EU market. The voluntary requirements such as organic certifications and private standards are not required by EU law, but may be requested by your importer or retailer in the EU. This page focuses only on the mandatory requirements for fresh fruit and vegetables.

Read about some voluntary requirements in our published market studies. Please bear in mind that for you as an exporter, by fulfilling some of the private standards that are used /common for your products, you may meet some of the mandatory requirements described on this page. We therefore always recommend you to have a dialogue with your importer on private standards.

Your tariff code

To understand what mandatory requirements your product must fulfil, you have to start by defining your product. A first step is identifying the tariff code. The code will differ depending on which type of product you have. The tariff code is a starting point, the requirement may vary on how the product is to be sold, refined further by the importer.

A tariff code is a product-specific code as documented in the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System (HS code) which is an international standardised system of names and numbers for the classification of commodities. The vast majority of the countries around the world use the HS code system, including EU. The EU’s tariff codes are 10 digits long, adding 4 digits after the international HS-code. The tariff code is also called product code.

The tariff codes for fresh fruit and vegetables falls under chapter 7 Edible vegetables and certain roots and tubers and chapter 8 Edible fruit and nuts; peel of citrus fruit or melons (group 0701 - 0814) in the harmonized system (HS). Example of tariff codes:

  • fresh plantains 0803 10 10 00
  • fresh okra 0709 99 90 20
  • fresh pitahaya 0810 90 20 10.

What are the mandatory requirements for fresh fruit and vegetables?

The EU’s fresh fruit and vegetable sector provides many opportunities for exporters. The market is very demanding and the mandatory requirements can be hard to navigate through. We have divided the requirements between general requirements, that are applicable for all food products, and specific requirements, that are very precise for fresh fruit and vegetables.

Below you will gain a better understanding about the mandatory requirements for fresh fruit and vegetables and how they may affect you as an exporter. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact Open Trade Gate Sweden.

General requirements for all food products

The EU adopted a comprehensive set of rules that covers the entire food production and processing chain within the EU, as well as imported and exported goods.

The purpose is to ensure that all food placed on the EU market, whether produced in the EU or imported, is safe and follows the same rules.

The General Food Law lays down the basic requirements for food safety in the EU. The following rules apply to all food intended to be consumed in Europe, including of course fresh fruits and vegetables.

Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP)

The EU rules on food safety rest on an important tool throughout the whole production and supply chain: food safety management based on Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) principles. HACCP planning consists of consecutive steps to: identify food safety hazards, determine how you can control them (i.e. critical control points) and to implement corrective measures when you cannot guarantee the safety of the foods produced. EU Law lays down specific rules about hygiene of food products, including guidance on the HACCP system, that need to be respected by companies in countries outside of the EU, such as your company handling and exporting some type(s) of fresh fruits and vegetables.

In practical terms, this means that you should establish and operate food safety programmes and procedures based on the HACCP principles. This includes for instance that employees should be trained in the application of the HACCP principles. You also need to have procedures that describe how the fruits and vegetables are handled in your company, including documentation of record keeping of the procedures.

You can find guidelines on how to implement HACCP principles in practice.
Please see guidelines from the European Commission at the EUR-lex website

Another way of learning about HACCP principles is to do trainings and courses and obtain certification. There are many courses (some online) and you should visit the websites of standardisation bodies if you want to obtain certification.

Traceability

EU Law defines traceability as the ability to trace and follow any food, feed, food-producing animal or substance that will be used for consumption, throughout all stages of production, processing and distribution. Food business operators are the ones that must comply with the requirements for traceability and have a system in place with information to the Competent Authorities, in the member state, upon request. The principle behind traceability is to insure that food and feed that are put on the EU market is safe for consumers.

It is important to mention that traceability provisions does not apply outside the EU, but can affect you as an exporter anyway. This because the EU importer must be able to identify from whom the product was exported in the third country.

Labelling

Food marketed in the EU must comply with EU labelling rules, which aims at ensuring that consumers get the essential information to make informed choices while purchasing their food.

The EU has a regulation that defines which mandatory information should be on the label for all fresh fruit and vegetables. These are:

  • Country of origin (in full and not abbreviation),
  • Name and address of the packer and/or dispatcher.

Products that have specific marketing standards must provide information about class on the label. In addition, some of these products should also be labelled with size and variety or kind.

If your produce is in closed consumer packaging it needs to be marked with the information above, plus the net weight. Closed consumer package means that you cannot change the content without breaking the packaging. These can be, for example, plastic bags, nets or plastic boxes with lids.

If you intend to sell your fresh fruit and vegetables in cartons you need to mention name of product/s, name and address of packer, country of origin, class and size (if the product have specific marketing standard) and lot number.

See the European Commission website for guidelines on packaging and labelling

The responsibility of labelling lies with the EU importer, but as an exporter you should be able to provide the information to the EU importer, at least in English. Therefore, it is very important that you and your importer discuss what information needs to be visible on the label. You are more than welcome to contact Open Trade Gate Sweden for more information.

Specific requirements for fresh fruits and vegetables

In addition to the general requirements mentioned above, the EU legislation sets out specific requirements for fresh fruits and vegetables, based on the specific risks attached to these products.

Contaminants

Contaminants are substances that have not been intentionally added to food, which includes fresh fruit and vegetables. These substances may be present in your products because of the various stages of production, packaging, transport or holding. Or they result from environmental contamination. Since contamination generally has a negative impact on the quality of food and may imply a risk to human health, the EU has taken measures to minimise contaminants (for example regarding certain fungi and metals) in food. Food containing unacceptable levels of contaminants are not allowed on the EU market.

Checklist for you as an exporter

  • The ultimate responsibility lies on the EU importer to control levels of contaminants.
  • Maximum levels of contaminants are set in Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006.
  • Lead and cadmium are examples of contaminants that are specific for fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • There are limits for nitrate in spinach and lettuce.

Remember that a specific product, for example cucumber, may not be mentioned in the regulation, but is included in a broader group, e.g. vegetables. 
Read more about contaminants on the European Commission website

Companies in the EU must stop sales of fresh fruit and vegetables if the products are found to have higher levels of contaminants than allowed. If it poses a health risk, the company must withdraw their products from the market and inform the consumers. In addition, the member state’s responsible national authority sends a warning message, via RASFF- Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed, to the other EU countries.

The ultimate responsibility of the products lies with the EU importer, meaning   that they will need to trust that you, as an exporter, send products of agreed quality. Therefore, it is important that you talk to your buyer and ask which contaminants may be relevant for your products. You need to stay informed about the rules and do proper testing of your products. Your EU importer may ask you for report analysis after testing or other documentation to ensure your products will pass inspection at the EU border.

Worth mentioning is that some countries have additional control measures they have to go through if exporting to the EU. This means that specific fresh fruit and vegetables needs to be accompanied with a health certificate and a report of analysis for different kind of pesticides or contaminants or other hazardous substances. Therefore, we recommend you to check if your products need additional documentation. The regulation is found under related information. Bear in mind that the rules may change over time, which means that it is important that you as an exporter need to know what is applicable. You can also contact Open Trade Gate Sweden for help on this regard.

Countries that need to provide additional documentation

  • Vietnam when exporting fresh pitahaya.
  • Turkey when exporting fresh wine leaves.
  • India when exporting fresh curry leaves (Bergera/Murraya koenigii).

No transfer of contaminants

Food comes into contact with many materials and articles during its many stages of production, processing and transporting. There is a risk that contaminants may be present in the food package material and can be further spread to your products. Articles intended to come into contact with fresh fruit and vegetables, including packaging materials and containers must be labelled 'for food contact' or bear the symbol with a glass and fork. The whole principle is that no dangerous substances will be transferred from material to food and thereafter be a danger for human health.

Pesticides residues

Pesticides are used to protect plants from pests, weeds and mold, but because they can be harmful to humans and the environment, they are tested thoroughly before being approved in the EU. EU Law lays down strict rules for when and how they may be used. Many pesticides that were previously used are no longer approved in the EU. Countries outside of the EU need to provide a plan guaranteeing monitoring of the groups of residues and substances used in fruit and vegetables. Substances are not allowed to be used if they are prohibited by the EU. The European Commission has a pesticide database where you can browse and learn about acceptable levels of pesticides. 
Visit the EU pesticides database on the European Commission website

Like contaminants, products containing more pesticides than allowed are withdrawn from the EU market and if the pesticide pose a health risk, a warning will be sent to other EU member states via RASFF. An exporter needs to be aware if pesticides are present in their products and make sure they fall within the acceptable levels allowed in the EU.

Do not be surprised if your EU importer asks which pesticides are used and which programmes you follow. You must prove, through testing, that your products meet the requirements for maximum permissible levels of pesticide residues. It may be a lot to manage and therefore it is very important that you check with your importer if s/he have additional or stricter requirements about pesticide residues than the EU’s acceptable levels.  

Plant health

Fruit and vegetables exported to the EU must comply with legislation on plant health. Certain plants, plant products and other objects such as some fruit and vegetables entering the EU, must have a phytosanitary certificate guaranteeing that they are inspected, free from pests and in line with the plant health requirements.

No phytosanitary certificate is required for the import of five fruits. These are pineapple, banana, coconut, durian and dates. However, these rules can change and therefore we advise you to stay up to date on what applies for your products.

The exporting country’s national plant health authority issues the phytosanitary certificate. The certificate must accompany the shipment until it enters EU borders and it must be issued not more than 14 days before the date on which the products have left the exporting country.

Your products may also be inspected when entering the EU. The shipment must be announced, by your EU importer, before arrival to the customs office at the point of entry into the EU. The inspections will consist documentary checks, identity checks and, when judged necessary by the competent officials plant health checks. EU countries collect a fee for the documentary-, identity and plant health checks, normally paid by the importer or their custom's representative. Release of the products from customs can only be done after the check.

We advise you to contact your responsible plant health authority and ask if your country have phytosanitary agreements with the EU and if so, how the process looks like to get a phytosanitary certificate.

Marketing standards

European legislation sets general and specific marketing standards for the minimum quality and the minimum maturity of fresh fruit and vegetables. These standards apply to the quality of the products and how they are presented, graded and sold to consumers.

Most fruit and vegetables must comply with the general marketing standard. The general marketing standard introduces a definition of "sound, fair and of marketable quality" for these products and requires them to bear the full name of their country of origin. Products must be intact, clean, and practically free from pests, free of abnormal external moisture or any foreign smell and/or taste and arrive in satisfactory condition at the place of destination. There are also maturity requirements.

Specific marketing standards apply to ten fresh products: apples, citrus fruit, kiwifruit, lettuces (curled-leaved and broad-leaved endives), peaches and nectarines, pears, strawberries, sweet peppers, table grapes and tomatoes. These products are graded into three different classes (Extra class, Class I and Class II) and have defined rules when it comes to presentation and tolerances in respect of quality and size.

The competent authorities in the EU member states perform documental and/or physical inspections of the imported products in order to check their conformity with the EU marketing standards. A conformity certificate is required for all fresh produce shipments destined for the EU market. It is up to the importers to obtain the certificate at the point of import.

The European Commission may approve authorities in third countries to perform conformity certificates checking operations. This means that the third country's inspection bodies must check each lot of goods and issue a certificate of conformity, prior to the entry into the EU.

This approval has been granted to several countries: India, South Africa, Morocco, Kenya, Senegal and Turkey. These provisions can change over time, so we advise you as an exporter to talk to your EU importer in order to be informed on what applies for your products. You can also contact us at Open Trade Gate Sweden if you need more information.

The responsibility of the products lies with the EU importer. There is no need from your side, as an exporter, to provide specific documentation that proves marketing standards of your products. However, it is very important that you know exactly what quality your EU importer wants to buy from you. You need to be transparent about what you have to offer and the quality of your products before you send them.

Do you want to know more?

If you want to find out more about the rules and regulations that your product must fulfill, you could consult one or several available online tools. And always remember that you can contact Open Trade Gate Sweden for any queries.