It is an offence for a trader to sell less than the quantity indicated. There are several ways for the consumer to be sure that the quantity indicated is the quantity received.
Loose goods, which could include fruit and vegetables in the supermarket, or petrol from a fuel pump, are not pre-packaged and are often sold using a measuring instrument. By law, these goods must deliver the quantity displayed on the instrument. To find out how measuring instruments are checked for accuracy, see our page on control of measuring instruments .
Pre-Packaged Goods - Information for Packers and Importers
When goods are pre-packaged they can either be individually weighed with different weight amounts or pre-packed in containers all labelled as containing the same quantity.
An example of the first kind of pre-package is cheese packaged in different sizes at the delicatessen counter. These types of pre-packages must always contain at least the quantity displayed on the label.
The second type of pre-package is usually found in the supermarket and has been packed outside the store by the product manufacturer. Examples include beer, jam, coffee and biscuits, which might be packaged in a range of different types of container, such as bottles, cardboard boxes, jars or plastic wrapping. These pre-packages must comply with specific laws on quantities. The rules allow the manufacturer, within certain limits, to average the amount contained in each package within a batch, provided the overall average measurement of the quantities in all packages in the batch is equivalent to the amount marked on the label. This system of making up pre-packaged goods is commonly called the 'average quantity system' of pre-packaging.
What are the rules regarding the display of quantity on pre-packages?
Who is responsible for the quantity of goods?
The packer or importer of the goods is responsible for ensuring the correct amount is in every pre-package. Retailers may also be liable if pre-packages are deficient.
What is the average quantity system?
Under the average quantity system, groups of packages must average the net nominal quantity of the product, i.e. the amount of product without the packaging.
The packer or importer of the goods is responsible for the quantity and must be able to produce records of production checks when requested by an inspector. A retailer may also be liable for dificient packages.
How does the average quantity system operate?
The system operates according to three rules:
- Rule 1. The contents of the packages must not be less on average than the nominal quantity (i.e. that marked on the label).
- Rule 2. Not more than one package in 40 may contain less than the nominal quantity by more than an amount known as the Tolerable Negative Error (TNE). This amount varies according to the quantity stated on the package.
- Rule 3. No package is allowed to contain less than the nominal quantity by more than twice the TNE. Click here for more information
Can the average quantity system be applied to all packages?
No. The average quantity system can only be applied to packages made up out of sight of the purchaser and intended to contain a definite pre-determined quantity.
For example, standard packs of Cheddar cheese made up to a nominal quantity of 250g are covered but packs of the same cheese which are made up, weighed and marked with a variable weight (i.e. catchweights) are excluded from the average system.
Other types of exclusions from the average system are listed in the regulations. They include packages intended for export, except where the packer asks the Director of Legal Metrology, in writing, to treat packages of a specified class or description as packages to which the system applies.
Thus a packer of goods for export has freedom to use whatever system is acceptable to their customers abroad. If the packer is exporting to another state within the EEA, it is an advantage to opt to come within the system as they will then be able to obtain documentation to satisfy their customers that the packages were subject to controls similar to those applicable in the country to which the goods are being exported.
Who is a packer?
The packer is the person who places goods into packages. However, the packer may not necessarily be the person named on the package or the person whose brand or trademark appears on the label. A person who packs under contract for a chain of supermarkets is the packer and is thus responsible for compliance with the legislation.
What are the packer's duties?
The packer has four important duties:
- To ensure that the packages will pass a reference test to determine if the packages comply with the first two of the three rules of the average system. The reference test is a special statistical test carried out by an inspector.The packer must also ensure compliance with the third rule by either:
1) making up each and every package on equipment prescribed by the regulations
2) testing samples of the packages using prescribed equipment and keeping a record of the tests for one year.
- To ensure that the declaration of the nominal quantity on the label is in the prescribed units of measurement and that figures of the prescribed size are used.
- To show on the label the name and address of the packer or the person arranging for the packing to be done or, in the case of non-food products only, a mark which will enable an inspector to identify that person.
- To provide an inspector with any assistance that he or she may reasonably require.
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Is the packer obliged to use the average quantity system?
No. There is no requirement to pack to the average quantity system; it is permissible to pack to the minimum system provided each packaged contains at least the declared quantity.
However, packers who choose to pack on a minimum basis must follow the same rules as for the average system as regards the making up or checking of packages; in general, less checking is needed when more product is put into a package. This can be an advantage where the goods are relatively inexpensive.
Who is the importer?
The 1980 Act defines an importer as the "person by whom or on whose behalf the package is entered for customs purposes on importation".
An importer in this sense means anyone who imports products into Ireland from outside the European Economic Area. A person is not treated as an importer when the goods have come from another EEA Member State and bear the e-mark.
What are the importer's duties?
An importer is responsible for the quantity contained in the packages and for ensuring that they are correctly marked. In addition importers have a duty to either:
- carry out checking procedures to confirm the quantity, make a record of the checks, and keep the record for a year
- obtain suitable documents relating to the packages in order to provide an adequate guarantee of quantity.
There is no obligation on the importer to test any packages where suitable documents are obtained. However, the packages are subject to the inspector's reference tests and if they fail, an importer would find it difficult to establish a legal defence unless they could show that they took steps to verify the information.
What are suitable documents?
There are three general forms of document:
- A copy of a record of checks carried out by the packer
- A statement by legal metrology officials in the country of origin to the effect that the packer is subject to controls equivalent to those in the legislation
- A statement from the packer that guarantees that none of the packages contains less than the nominal quantity (i.e. that all packages have been packed to the minimum system).
Any one of these would be considered adequate to meet the importer’s duty.
What is the e-mark?
The e-mark is a symbol which may be put on packages in the same field of vision as the nominal quantity. It must be at least 3 mm high. Specifications for the e-mark are given in the regulations.
The e-mark constitutes a guarantee by the packer or importer that packages have been made up in accordance with the average quantity system. Authorities in any of the other Member States will contact Legal Metrology if they find non-compliant Irish products on their market.
Are there any restrictions on the use of the e-mark?
The e-mark may only be marked on packages having a nominal quantity of not less than 5g or 5ml and not more than 10kg or 10 litres and may only be applied by the packer or importer.
How do I apply to use the e-mark
A packer who wishes to export e-marked products or an importer who intends to re-export e-marked packages must give a 14-day prior notice to the Director of Legal Metrology, describing the goods, stating the quantities and identifying the place of packing or importation by filling in the e-mark application form.