Imports of herbs and spices from countries outside the European Union (EU) must meet the same standards of food hygiene and safety procedures as food produced in the EU.
You do not normally need a health certificate to import herbs and spices.
Standards for spices
UK law does not define standards for spices. However, advice from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) on ‘end product’ microbiological criteria may be helpful. The HPA is an independent body that protects the health and wellbeing of everyone in England and Wales.
APHA has further information on the criteria.
Information on UK standards for spices is also available from the Seasoning and Spice Association’s (SSA) website.
Food colourings, flavourings and sweeteners
Some herbs and spices may contain colourings, flavourings or sweeteners. Although these may be approved by the food authority in the country of origin, some of them may not be approved in the EU.
For information on food flavourings, sweeteners, colourings and preservatives, contact our Food Additives team
You will find general information about food labelling in the GOV.UK website.
For advice on the labelling of specific products, contact your local authority's Trading Standards Department or Environmental Health Department.
If you are importing organic products (live or unprocessed agricultural products, processed agricultural for use as food or feed and vegetative propagating material and seeds for cultivation), from outside the EU, contact the Organic Imports team through DEFRA’s website.
For information on organic regulation and standards, (including labelling) within the UK contact the Organic Strategy team also through DEFRA’s website
Food contact materials and articles, including those used for food packaging, are controlled by all-encompassing EU legislation that has been fully implemented in the UK.
This legislation is particularly thorough in its control of plastic materials and articles intended for food use.
For information on the safety of packaging please contact the Food Contact Materials Team at FoodContactMaterial@food.gov.uk
For general enquiries on food hygiene please contact the Food Hygiene Policy Team.
For information on pesticides safety levels for imports please contact Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Chemicals Regulation Directorate (CRD) through our website
Read the guidance note on the Contaminants in Food (England) Regulations 2013, which make provision for enactment and enforcement of Commission Regulations setting regulatory limits for contaminants in food (nitrate, mycotoxins, metals, 3-MCPD, dioxins and PAHs).
There are some other import restrictions/requirements that can apply to herbs and spices of which importers need to be aware.
Imports of certain feed and food of non-animal origin that are considered “higher-risk” can only enter the UK through specific ports and airports which are designated points of entry (DPEs) where official controls will be carried out. A “higher-risk” product is feed or food that is either known to be, or is, an emerging risk to public health.
Further information on importing high-risk food
For a complete list of foods (not of animal origin) with current EU restrictions, you can find the information on our website.
Since 9 January 2003 the herb Kava-kava, and any food containing it, is banned from entry to the UK. This is because of concerns regarding its toxic effect on the liver.
For further information please contact the Department of Health customer service centre.
Imports of feed and food from Japan
Imports of all feed and food originating in or consigned from Japan to the EU are subject to special conditions. This is following the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in 2011. This means that imports of feed and food can only enter the UK through specific ports and airports where official controls will be carried out.
Food Additives TeamFood Additives team