By Sarah Everhart
If you use a scale in your operation to weigh and measure food products for sale, you need to make sure you understand and comply with Maryland’s Weights and Measures Law which requires scales to be registered with the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) and proper labelling of products. The Weights and Measures law applies to food products sold by weight, measure, or count. The law was established to ensure equity in the marketplace, aiming to ensure that buyers receive sufficient and accurate information with which to compare quantity and price and that sellers have equal opportunity to market similar goods.
According to Ken Ramsburg, Chief of Maryland’s Weights and Measures Division, the most common mistakes that agricultural producers make are purchasing scales which do not meet State standards and improperly labelling packages with approximate weights. Producers can only use “legal for trade” scales designed to meet the specifications and tolerances in State law. According to the law, all products shall be sold and labelled with net weight which means the weight of the product excluding the weight of the packaging. Therefore, labelling a product with an approximate weight is a violation of the law.
Exceptions to the requirement of labelling products with net weight include vegetables when sold by the head or bunch (that is, sold by count) and berries and small fruits when sold in open containers with capacities of ½ pint, 1 pint, or 1 quart, dry measure (sold by measure).
Any product in a package form shall have on the outside a definite, plain, conspicuous declaration of:
(1) The identity of the product in the package unless the product is clearly visible and identified easily through the wrapper or container;
(2) The net quantity of the contents in terms of weight, measure, or count; and
(3) In the case of any package possessed, offered, or exposed for sale, or sold in any place other than on the premises where packed, the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor.
All meat, meat product, poultry, and all seafood offered for sale or sold as food shall be sold by weight. Shellfish, items sold for consumption on premises (restaurants), and cooked ready-to-eat whole chicken or chicken parts prepared on the premises may be sold by weight, measure, or count.
Importantly, a registration for a Weights and Measures scale expires May 31 each year. MDA has launched an online Weights & Measures Device Registration Service allowing businesses with weighing and measuring devices to pay for the renewal and obtain the certificate online. This new service accepts all major credit cards and eCheck/ACH payments and is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Businesses with active account numbers may register their devices online with the Weights & Measures Device Registration Service through the State’s official website, http://www.maryland.gov, or through MDA’s website, www.mda.maryland.gov. It should be noted that MDA makes regular inspections to enforce the Weight and Measure law and issues civil penalties for noncompliance.
New businesses which have never had their scales tested by the MDA should contact the Weights and Measures division at 410-841-5790 before they attempt registration to obtain an account number and to receive information about scales legal for trade.
As a seller, complying with the Maryland Weights and Measures law protects you from perceptions of shortchanging or misrepresenting your product.