by Tom Roberts, Selling Outdoors, 1992.
The first issue of Selling Outdoors contained an article about the State Bureau of Weights and Measures ruling on the Hanson scales that are commonly used at farmers’ markets. That ruling made it clear that in 1992 there should be no more Hanson hanging scales in use at markets. Although the following may cloud that issue somewhat, most market members are realizing that the powers that be are making the use of Hanson scales a legal liability to the seller.
During a protracted discussion about Hanson hanging scales at the 10-Apr-92 meeting of the Federation at the Dept of Ag’s shop on the Cony Road, we invited Stanley Millay, Dept of Weights and Measures supervisor, in for a grilling. Here are some of our questions to him, and his answers:
SO: Will Hanson hanging scales pass inspection?
SM: No, because the Hanson company has not applied for “handbook 44 compliance,” which is required for accuracy in weighing fruits and vegetables at the point of retail sale. Hanson no longer manufactures scales labeled “legal for fruits and vegetables only” and intends their scales to be used only for customer estimation of weights prior to sale. However, he also said scale sealers will “reluctantly pass old Hanson scales if they are old and labeled ‘for fruits and vegetables only’ and still weigh correctly.” If a scale sealer made contact with you last year, and told you not to use your Hanson scale, then you may not use it. If the scale tester finds you for the first time this year, you have a month to stop using your Hanson scale. This is often up to the local scale sealer, not all of whom, by the way, are state employees; some are independents working on a commission. Independents get some training, but field decisions are made “on the spot” and are dependent upon local circumstances. All scales that Hanson manufactures have a sticker on the box stating they are not legal for trade, but it is known that these stickers often get removed between the factory and the point of sale.
SO: Does a seal expire?
SM: If your scale has a seal on it with a date, all this means is that your scale passed at that date. The seal is good only until the scale is no longer weighing accurately, or is re-tested. Weights and Measures tries to annually test all scales known to be in use.
SO: How can a Hanson Scale be used in retail trade?
SM: Either by letting the customer use it for estimation of a purchase, or by using it yourself at home for weight estimation when prepackaging items for sale at market. Putting up 1 lb. packages ahead of time with a Hanson scale is OK, but a prepackaged item sold by weight must be labeled as to the weight. If the weight variation from package to package is a net negative (say on a test weighing of 10 packages the average is less than the stated label weight) then you are in violation of the labeling law, irrespective of whether you used a Hanson scale or just guessed the weights. If, however, the variation on a sampled lot is zero or positive, then there is no violation. Labels must include what the product is, who packaged it, and the net weight or volume.
SO: What constitutes pre-packaging?
SM: Prepackaging means you determine the weight or volume outside the customer’s presence. It is the opposite of “selling in bulk.” This includes putting a price tag on a pumpkin based on its weight times a price per pound, if that is how it is sold. Putting an elastic around a bunch of the product is considered prepackaging. However, the way it is sold is critical here. It is perfectly OK to then sell them by the bunch, rather than by weight or volume. Then, “what you see is what you get,” with no reference to weight or volume (a bunch of radishes, for example, but you could also bunch green beans, if your customers would put up with that).
SO: What if these laws are just ignored?
SM: The first time you are caught, you are issued a verbal warning. The second time, the state is notified and you are sent a certified letter stating the complaint. It rarely gets beyond this, but when it does, tare weight violations can carry a $2500 fine.