Recent news articles ( in the Daily Mail and on the BBC) have highlighted a Food Standards Agency regulation regarding safety criteria for food packaging. It has come to light that selling homemade jams and chutneys in reused jars may be punishable by local authority environmental health officers with penalties reaching £5,000 or six months in prison.
So should we be concerned about this?
Is it still safe to reuse jam jars for my own use?
What about if I sell jam at the local fete?
Looking further into the details it seems that the relevant legislation (which has been around since 2004) is aimed at large scale producers and concerns all food containers not just glass jars.
The Food Standards Agency said the rules had been introduced because there was a risk of chemicals leaching out of old containers and contaminating food, though it added that it was not aware that re-used jam jars were a safety hazard.
It is more concerned about being able to follow a chain of documentation, obviously important where mass manufacture and distribution is concerned.
But, the legislation could be applied to small producers if the local environmental health officers wanted to enforce it.
Looking at personal safety, reusing jam jars has been done for decades, if not centuries. As long as basic hygiene rules are followed and the jars sterilised before use, it should be no safer using new jars than old.
It is always best to carefully check jars before reuse, and any with cracks or chips discarded. New lids can be bought if you are concerned about the seal on old ones.
The FSA legislation only applies to food that is 'placed on the market', which means sold, or used as a prize.
If you are regularly producing preserves for sale, and running it as a business, then you should already be registered with your local environmental health service. If not you can search for your local authority here.
Your local environmental health officer would also be able to advise you if they thought there was a problem with selling small amounts locally.