Updated: Apr 18, 2020
I love fresh flowers on a cake, who doesn't? There's such a great choice of what you can do with them, colours, types... it can save you money, you can match them to your decorations. What could be easier, right? You just buy some flowers, or get your florist to provide extra for the cake and then stick them on...
some flowers are poisonous... and most flower growers use lots of pesticides now...
and cut flowers are shipped in containers with plant food that might not be safe for us to consume... and people have been getting ill from contaminated cake...
...so the laws have changed.
For some time now it's been illegal in the UK to stick fresh flowers on/in cakes without using a sealed food-safe barrier, such as a posy pick, to protect the cake from any cut stems and from the sap that carries pesticides and can leach into your cake. Trouble is that the news has not been getting through very fast at all and, to be honest, it's been pretty vague on the detail which has not been very helpful for either suppliers or customers.
So here's what I know...
Firstly, a list for clients:
1. Don't ignore this and do it anyway, someone could get very ill. Also your caterer may decide it's not safe to serve the cake at all and be obligated by law to bin it, putting them in an impossible position and leaving you disappointed.
2. If you are DIY-ing, buy some posy picks (various sizes) from Amazon, Ebay, Hobbycraft, etc. and make sure that every cut stem is completely encased before you put it anywhere near the cake. Put the pick in only until the top is level with the edge of the cake, no further. Never lay the cut flowers directly onto a cake without a stem protector. (If you are buying a cake from M&S, Waitrose, etc., ask them why they appear to have failed to advise their clients of the dangers?)
3. If you are buying a cake from a cake supplier, they should be the ONLY person putting flowers, or anything else, on the cake. They are the ones trained in food hygiene. The Environmental Health Office and the Food Standards Agency stipulate that they should be the only people dressing the cake. They will need to charge you consumables and time though.
4. Ask your florist to make sure that nothing they supply for the cake is toxic or contaminated. Some florists still haven't caught on to the change in the law but, if they're in any doubt, the FSA advice about florist's liability is pictured below. PS. just because it's on Pinterest doesn't make it safe. There are SO many images of cakes on the internet that would be completely unsafe to serve. PPS. don't just ask ask your florist to give the cake maker some left over flowers (eek!). The cake is the centrepiece of your reception, there will be lots of photographs of it. Apart from your bouquet, it's the thing that will need to have the most perfect looking flowers on it, and lots of them. The number of times I've arrived to find that I'm expected to recreate a style of decoration that would require 100 perfect stems to find that I've been given 20 wilted, bruised and twisted bits of old twig... we do what we can, but I can no more magic up extra flowers than I can loaves and fishes :(
5. Go Organic - You can ignore all of the above if you choose to buy organically grown "edible" flowers. These can be sometimes be bought at larger supermarkets, but safer options are that there are a number of suppliers who do mail order or look for local growers in your area. There are limitations on what's in season, but they are usually glorious, specifically grown for the task so you can stick them straight on the cakes & you don't have to worry about toxins or posy picks ;)
Now, a list for suppliers:
1. Forists beware!
It's bloody hard to find a definitive list of poisonous/toxic flowers and foliage - this is partly, I guess, because the range of fresh flowers available has increased so much in the past few years, and also because no-one has ever really been looking at it so hard before.
I've found various lists, but they all seem to have gaps and sometimes even the really obvious ones like Hydrangea, Delphiniums, Ivy and even Foxglove are missed off.
There are also differences of opinion about lots of things regarding if they're toxic enough to worry about or not. I have asked the Food Standards Agency about this, many, many, many times. Eventually they referred me to Kew gardens as they really didn't know themselves. They did however attempt to answer another question for me... who's responsible if it goes wrong and I'm supplied with something poisonous that I can't identify but I'm told is safe?
When I deliver a cake I have to set it up and dress it on site, so days before I ask the florist what flowers they will be supplying and ask them to check that the flowers are all clean, non-toxic, pest-free, long-stemmed and are not kept in the same bucket with any toxic flowers or vegetation. I check the list they send me against the advice I find on the internet, and then I write back to them and point out any foliage that they mentioned that cannot be used. Then when I arrive on site I often find that the list doesn't match the flowers they've actually supplied (and I understand that this is usually because they are buying according to what is actually available at the time), but then I have a dilemma... if they are there I can ask them the name of the plant and hope I have wifi so I can double check it's ok, but often they're long gone. They have been asked to supply flowers that are safe to use on a cake. They are the experts and I have absolutely no idea what the flowers are and no way of identifying them (I have apps but they rarely work). So, the florist has said they're safe and if I don't put them on the client could be upset and the cake could look Spartan... it's a dilemma. So, here's what the FSA had to say on the subject...
2. Food-safe barriers - I don't know what your experience is, but I've found Safety Seal to be unreliable (crumbles too easily) so the only sure thing to use to stop stem contamination is a posy pick. I heard recently of a cake maker cutting up straws, sticking stems in them and then shoving them into a cake...so the bit you're supposed to protect the cake from is completely open and there's absolutely no barrier at all. Eek! I have been told you can seal up the ends of straws with melted chocolate or Safety Seal, but as neither of these are full proof I just can't see why you would waste the time and not just buy posy picks. There's no little official information about this that people have been making up their own rules. Thank god for Facebook forums where we can all benefit from the conversations different suppliers have been having with their EHOs and from tales of early trial and error ;)
3. Who's serving the cake - so here's a subject of much discussion recently... If the cake is being served by the caterers, and there's something wrong with it because of something that was done to it after delivery, who's insurance is that on? I've heard caterers say that it would still be on the cake maker's insurance, but my insurance says that I can't be held responsible for contamination after delivery and sometimes the cake has not made by a professional at all, but by a friend or family. We've all been told the latest horror stories about the "made by mum" cakes collapsing or being mouldy inside, but my understanding (from my restaurant and cafe days) is that if you as the server feel there is something unsafe about any food, you are legally obliged to stop it from being served. I don't allow anything that I'm not sure of into my kitchen at all (so no "my Nan's made a tier for you to include in the cake" allowed) as it could be contaminated. I've had a couple of venues tell me that they have stopped cake from being served because it was unsafe, but it's a tricky legal situation and it seems that the people who are supposed to help us navigate this grey area haven't really worked out the rules themselves yet. As far as I can tell, they are waiting for a supplier to get sued and legal precedent to be set so someone else gets to pay for the details of the new laws to be written. Fun to come for someone.
Well, my quick round up ended up being a bit longer than intended, sorry about that. Hopefully I've given a few useful tips along the way, and if you've made it this far I guess something peaked your interest. I'll try to be more concise next time.
Time to hit the button and hope people are in a good mood ;)
Love and cake,