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Fresh flowers on cakes, part 2.

Updated: Sep 3

It just got scary! Game changing revelation from the FSA below!!

Fresh flowers on cakes…

So, up to this point I have been using fresh flowers on cakes, not least because I absolutely love how they look and the possibilities and it has always been problematic.

This year though, it's been much more difficult and I've been debating with myself if I could continue using fresh flowers after a couple of very tricky situations with the flowers that were supplied. I had resigned myself to having to quit my fresh flowers addiction and started writing this post to explain why...

But, as I was writing, there was been an update on the Food Standards Agency's position. I can't see how I, or any cake maker, can continue to use standard (florist supplied) flowers after that.

Here’s why.

Rule 1 - Don’t poison your clients!

As I’ve spoken about before, sometimes the issues with using fresh flowers are practical. The guidelines on using fresh vegetation on cakes has dramatically changed in the past few years and the laws to protect consumers have got much tighter.

Many kinds of flower and foliage are toxic, even deadly, and so should never be anywhere near edible goods. Awareness has greatly improved and cake makers are able to connect to a wider range of voices who all help to inform and educate us on these matters due to social media groups, etc.

Yet, there are still soooo many images on Insta and Pinterest that look oh so pretty, but could end up with someone being extremely ill.

There is an argument I often hear that some flowers are low risk and would only affect 1 in 1000 people. I make cakes that feed thousands of people each year. Those aren’t good odds to me!

I am not prepared to take a chance of anyone coming to harm for the sake of using a species that could be easily swapped out. It’s my job, enforced by the Food Standards Agency and the Environmental Health Office, to do everything I can to ensure that no toxins can contaminate my cake.

* I’ll put a link to my previous flower safety blog post below btw.

Rule 2 - Don’t endanger your loved ones!!

Let’s be honest, there are cake makers and florists who don’t seem to know about this stuff and use dangerous flowers on cakes.

But you are inviting all the people you love to your wedding .

If something happened to them because you decided to use a cake maker who is making unsafe cakes, would you ever forgive yourself?

If you are the cake maker or florist that provided those flowers specifically for the cake, would you ever forgive yourself if a child became seriously ill or died because of your actions?

As I write this I have just been looking at the Instagram pages of two cake makers who have photographs of cakes decorated with pretty blue delphiniums.

Delphiniums are one of the most toxic plants there is and are considered to be a deadly poison. Yes they are pretty, but they should NEVER be near anything edible.

Other commonly used toxic species include Gypsophila, Ranunculus, Eucalyptus, Ivy, Chrysanthemum and Hydrangea... but there are many others.

For me though, this wedding season has reinforced the fact that while most florists are aware, cooperative and diligent when it comes to the dangers, others resolutely refuse to take any notice and consistently try to coerce, bully and force cake makers and clients into bad practices; putting clients, their guests, and the cake maker at risk.

Rule 3 - Don’t railroad other suppliers!!

Awareness of this issue within florist circles is incredibly patchy. It's never been a priority for them, why should it be? It's a really small part of any order they get usually. But it is an issue and while many are educating themselves, being positive collaborators and bringing joy to the party, others are… not.

I have worked with many florists over the years, and count many as friends.

In advance of the wedding day, we have chatted about the design the couple has in mind, about what flowers will be in season, about what flowers are expected to be on the florist’s order list, about timings and basically make sure that we are doing the best for the couple.

Conversely, I have repeatedly had florists try to bully me into putting poisonous flowers and foliage onto my cake, or into letting them do it.

I have also twice stood in wedding venues, trying to set up a cake and been screamed at by florists who think their vision of how the cake should look (and their own convenience) is more important than the clients’ vision, or safety.

They must have worked with cake makers before

Florists have way bigger things to think about in their approach to each wedding than the cake flowers. They are usually creating the main decorative element for a wedding out of perishable materials. It’s a lot to think about. A lot of practical considerations to balance against the artistic vision. I know that.

But if you are committing to supplying suitable flowers for the cake, that follow the design brief the cake maker has been working on with the clients, then do that.

This year I have had a couple of really tricky situations with florists who've just not supplied what was needed to complete the design requested by the client, leaving me in a really impossible position where I just had to do the best I could with what was supplied. It's a horrible feeling. I always want to make the cake as good as it can be, but was left having to essentially redesign on the fly to make the best of what I had to use.

I can't repeat that situation. My clients deserve better. But how do I avoid it?

Rule 4 - The cake maker is in charge of the cake.

I know this sounds obvious. But there does seem to be a feeling with some florists that there’s a hierarchy of suppliers which puts them and their opinion at the top and the cake maker way down the pecking order.

Somehow, back in the midst of time (along with the oft cited “people overcharge for weddings” fallacy), a rumour began that cake makers are a bunch of lonely old ladies who knock up cakes in a couple of hours, in their spare time, selling them for cost only and it's basically a low art form.

The world of cake making is as varied as any other professional supplier group. Cakes usually take days (or even weeks) to produce, it’s a very specialised skill in most cases and these makers/designers are running a business that sustains them and their families.

I’ve spent years building my business, investing in tools and equipment, investing in training, learning my lessons from experience, missing out on family time, working very long hours, investing in my website and marketing and business development and insurances and legal requirements.

I am proud of my business and in what I can offer to my clients. It’s taken me a lot of time, money, stress, long nights and hard work to get to this point.

Imagine then how it feels if someone tells me I should put poisonous things on the cake because they said so and that their opinion is more important than mine (or the clients’) when it comes to the cake. That the cake, and therefore my business, is unimportant. How would anyone feel in that position?

My contract is with my client. It is my job to advocate for that client's vision and protect my business in the process. Shouting at me in the middle of the wedding reception space, just before the client comes in, will not make me bend to your will.

Many florists are still dressing the cake with flowers themselves. But importantly, the florist is not legally qualified to put flowers on cake. They do not have the public safety certificates required, are not FSA approved, it breaks the food chain, they do not have the required insurances and in most cases simply do not have the knowledge required.

I've never understood why they would put themselves at this risk, nor why a cake maker would let them tbh.

They are however, according to the FSA, legally responsible for the safety of the foliage. By implication if we do not receive assurances and challenge them if we spot an issue we are legally complicit. This is why we HAVE to put our clients, our business and the safety of everyone involved first.

Now, I'd like to say again, most florists are brilliant and are exactly who you think they are, warm wonderful artistic gems. But the trouble is I don't get to choose which florist my client uses. I don't even tend to find out who the florist is until way down the line. So, what if I was asked to work with these florists again on a cake with fresh flowers? Awkward.

Now my problem is how do I say to future clients ‘I’m sorry I can’t work with that florist’ without it being something that creates stress and extra expense for everyone? Particularly now there has been some additional information from the Food Standards Agency that makes it legally impossible for any cake maker to work with a florist who does not provide documentary assurances that all the materials they are providing are safe to use on a cake!!! (More details on this below).

Which all brings me to the next rule…

Rule 5 - Keep up with current rules and regulations!!

Just as I was thinking about all of this, and honestly struggling with what I should do about it going forward, the lovely Bronya and Sammie from “The Business Of Cake Making” podcast ride in to help!

They have been a great touchpoint for many of us for a long time, and have done a fantastic episode recently on the rules around using fresh flowers on cake (thanks for the mentions ladies x). * Link below

As part of their research on the episode they contacted the Food Standards Agency again to try and get some REAL, DEFINITIVE, answers out of them because (unbelievably) the FSA are still consistently vague about how the rules are enforced and should be implemented by cake makers. Even my local EHO’s over the years haven’t been properly informed by the FSA, and they’re the ones who are being asked to enforce this stuff!!

I have tried to read through the regulations. They are insanely dense (to the point of being indecipherable) and the regulations are different for each country within the UK (* link below), but Bronya and Sammy have had an email back from them regarding using fresh flowers on cakes that helps to make things clearer for us… and it’s a game changer!

Here’s a transcript of some of the email they received as read in the podcast:

“The use of flowers on food such as wedding and Christmas cakes is well established.

Not all plants are safe to use as decorations and the onus is on the food business to ensure that the materials used do not contravene the legislation or endanger the consumer.

It cannot be assumed that a florist or supplier will necessarily know whether a plant is potentially harmful and thus it is important that checks are made before any plant is used to decorate food.

For the purpose of due diligence it is prudent as a food business to ensure such checks are documented.

The person who introduces the flowers and accoutrements to the cake and then puts it on the market is the person responsible for abiding to the “Materials And Articles In Contact With Food” regulations, the onus being on them to ensure safety is maintained.

If the florist sells food contact materials in the form of vegetation they will need to give documentary assurances that the materials are suitable for food contact use. They cannot assume that a material is safe without confirmation that it is so, as with any other associated materials such as cake boards. In the absence of such documentary evidence the onus reverts back to the cake provider.

Local authority enforcement officers [Trading Standards and Environment Health Officers] have the right to ask to see what assurances have been given that such food decoration, if placed on the market, is compliant with the legislation. A decorated cake [or decoration for cake] does not need to be sold to be placed on the market. Even if it is given away for free, it is a form of commercial transaction so the requirements apply (decorated cakes only for personal consumption are not however implicated).

In the eventuality a florist provides vegetation that is either harmful, adversely changes the composition of food, or affects it’s desirability, they may be liable under the food contact materials legislation but if there has been a lack of due diligence on the part of the cake maker they may also be liable under the general food safety regulations.”

So, here’s rule 6…

Rule 6 - No guarantee, no flowers!

That statement from the FSA, clarifying their interpretation of the legislation, means that if there’s no written assurance from the florist that ALL the floristry being provided is 100% safe and in accordance with our requests… then we can’t use it. That’s it. Nothing much more to say.

But really, florists aren’t going to be ok with that... and who can blame them. A lot of them won’t accept it, but even the lovely florists who want to help will be rightfully concerned about the legal position it puts them in.

How can they possibly write a 100% guarantee? Realistically, they don't 100% know where the flowers have been, what pesticides were used, what bugs visited, if the species has been interbred with something toxic... Are they even insured to write that?

Even if I'm super careful about how the flowers are arranged, even when I've wiped them with antibacterial wipes and sprayed contact antibac and used posy pics and done all the other advisory things I'm supposed to do, how can the FSA say that it's ok to even use fresh flowers if they are saying this to florists?

So maybe that makes the decision for me. No more fresh flowers?

But how to explain to clients? Clients who see fresh flowers on cakes all the time?

And I need to work too.

Money is tight all over, people have budgets for a reason and using fresh flowers will always be the cheapest option.

Flowers handmade from sugarpaste, wafer paper or cold porcelain are by far the better option as they are completely food-safe, they're totally beautiful, far easier to arrange in many ways and can be made in your specific colours and species and style... but handmade takes time, materials, tools and skill so they are never going to be the cheapest option.

Here are some cakes made with handmade flowers

Faux (silk) flowers are a more realistic option than ever before but good ones are still very limited in terms of varieties and colours, and are often not cheap themselves. There are some absolutely horrible ones out there too though and often you can't tell if they look at all realistic until you have already spent the money. The cheaper ones also run the risk of being made with toxic materials.

It's worth noting here that edible grade fresh flowers, including pressed ones, are available which are grown specifically for use with food and by FSA registered businesses. These are fantastic, but the species are limited, seasonal and comparitively the arrangements are too.

Here are a few cakes I've made previously using edible grade flowers.

(Also, don't forget that fresh flowers can be used on the table, around the stand and on the display around the cake (say on a hoop stand, etc) without coming into contact with the cake. Creating a cohesive display for the cake table area, especially using fresh flowers can really help to centre the design for the day and create a focal point. Florists can do amazing things. Just ask them.)

So... where does that leave us?

I’ve recently moved areas and have had to turn away a lot of clients for 2023 and 2024 due to that (because you can't take bookings for advance orders you're not sure you can fulfil). Because of this, unusually, I have no more cakes booked in that use fresh flowers. If I’m going to make the break from fresh flowers, now’s the time. Not so easy for other cake makers to make that clean break though maybe?

To be honest too, any change will be slow as the information slowly gets shared, and lots of people won’t care. They’ll just keep using fresh flowers. I mean, even now people are still using delphinium, hydrangea, gypsophila, eucalyptus, ranunculus, carnations, ad infinitum… stuff we’ve known to be unsafe for years.

There's a revolution coming.

Because of my situation, I'm ahead of the curve, but that's an unenviable position when it means you have to turn down orders that others will take.

... and here's another related issue, this revolution is apparently ONLY happening in the UK! Certainly, in Europe and the USA people are still sticking fresh flowers and wires straight in cakes, or using unsafe barriers like clingfilm, tape, straws, etc. They are using flowers varieties that are HIGHLY toxic with apparently no legal come-back.

... and it's being seen by couples here who are planning their perfect wedding with no understanding of the limitations we're facing.

So, that's me. Trying to rebuild my business in a new area, trying to make new relationships with new suppliers and trying not to come across as awkward, but knowing I can't compromise on my clients' safety no matter how much pressure people put on me.


Of course, it's up to others how they choose to process the information available...


Since writing the above, I have been in conversation with the same representative of the FSA, who tells me that publication of the Post Implementation Review of The Materials and Articles in Contact with Food (England) Regulations 2012 is imminent... they are looking to review the engagement with florists regarding their role within any food related supply... but that any "putative "guide they would create is unlikely to be available this year.

So maybe this would mean that clarification would be reached and I/we may then be able to resume using fresh flowers again with the floristry industry on board?

But no other time frame indication was given and, if the guide is putative (ie. thought, assumed or alleged to exist), does that mean that there is in fact no such guide in process at all? Is anything actually being done to help us all to navigate the legal implications? Or are they just waiting for a legal precedent to be set by someone being endangered and a cake maker and/ or florist being sued?

Bronya and Sammy have also published a copy of the email they got from the FSA representative which includes the following:

  • The flowers, foliage, berries or sap may be toxic or may elicit an allergic reaction in susceptible people.

  • The flowers and foliage may have been treated with pesticides, even organically produced flowers can have harmful residues of some pesticides, such as nicotine.

  • Children may be unaware of the inedible nature of such decoration and may attempt consumption. Children are more at risk from such poisonings and choking hazards.

  • The plant may harbour insects, spiders, slugs or other undesirable animals which could contaminate the food directly or with their droppings.

  • The plant matter may attract undesirable animals to the food, such as flies.

  • Use of crystallized flowers (preserved in sugar) will eliminate some problems associated with fresh flowers but will not detoxify them.

  • Some decorative plants have thorns or prickles.

  • The stems of any flowers, if penetrating the food, need to be behind a barrier. Florist wire is not appropriate for penetration into the food.


My previous post about putting fresh flowers on cakes -

The Business of Baking podcast (also available via various podcast apps) -

The email sent from the FSA, cited in the podcast -

Food Contact and Materials regulations -

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