Safely putting fresh flowers on cakes is a constant stress for cake makers. Are you doing it correctly? Are the flowers you’re using poisonous? Are you using an effective barrier between the cake and the flower? Who’s responsibility is it – yours or the florist?
- Don’t believe everything you see online
- What is the best advise for putting fresh flowers on cakes in the UK?
- Food Safe Florist Tape
- Non-toxic vs Edible Flowers
- Edible Flowers
- Non-Toxic Flowers
- Toxic Flowers
- What if you can’t identify a flower?
- Who’s responsibility is it to provide Non-Toxic Flowers? The florist or the cake maker?
- What happens if a florist wants to decorate the cake?
- How to use a posy pick
- Alternatives to fresh flowers on cakes
- In summary to putting fresh flowers on a cake
- Listen to the Podcast
We did extensive research for Episode 94 of The Business of Cake Making, including writing to the Food Standards Agency and companies who claim their products are food safe. This is our definitive guide to safely putting fresh flowers on cakes.
Don’t believe everything you see online
Firstly, we would like to address some of the advise you see and read online. Whilst doing our research some of the posts and videos we saw were quite frankly scary. Borderline terrifying.
There are some flowers that won’t just make you feel a little iffy if your body consumes them. Some flowers can actually make you very ill or even kill you. So, to see top cake makers and cake making influencers with hydrangeas (which contain cyanide) sat on their bench next to a cake they are decorating with fresh flowers, is reckless to say the least.
There are also very big differences between what is acceptable from country to country. For example, there are numerous videos showing that it is acceptable to wrap flowers with florist tape and putting the florist tape straight into the cake. These are largely videos from American Cake Makers. However, in the UK floral tape is not considered food safe due to the glue it contains.
There are also posts recommending you dip flowers in white chocolate or the product Stem Seal from Australia - but what happens when that cracks and gets left in the cake. Sure, chocolate or Stem Seal is edible, however, it has been next to the flowers so no longer food safe.
Therefore, before you set about taking any and all advise you see online, make sure you are reading correct advice for your country, your cake and your situation.
What is the best advise for putting fresh flowers on cakes in the UK?
The UK has very stringent food safety rules and laws. Many products approved in other countries are not legal here. Therefore, we are going to assume if it’s legal in the UK, you can be pretty confident that you’re doing the safest thing.
We wrote to the Food Standards Agency in the UK and got a reply from one of their specialists in food contact materials. He was very exact with his recommendations. We will quote him several times through this post to get the best information to you.
He started his email with this:
The use of flowers on foods such as wedding and Christmas cakes is well established, however when used in this context the flowers, foliage and accoutrements such as cake picks, are all food contact materials and have to be treated with respect to ensure they are safe and comply with regulations on food safety.
This, at it’s very basic level, is telling you that anything that touches or comes in contact with the cake MUST be food safe.
Flower stems are not food safe. The stem of any flowers that penetrates a cake needs to be behind a barrier.
If you are using something to wrap or cover the stems and petals of the cake, that wrapping or cover must also be food safe. Floral Tape is not food safe due to the glue in it. Open ended straws, where fluid from the stem can drip out is not food safe. Chocolate that can crack off and be left in the cake after touching the stem is not food safe.
There is literally only one device for putting fresh flowers on cakes that is food safe – a Posy Pick! Use a posy pick!
Food Safe Florist Tape
Before we get an influx of comments regarding Hamilworth Florist Tape, and how it is food safe we thought we’d address this.
Hamilworth Florist Tape is sold by many cake suppliers as a food safe option. We wrote to Hamilworth and asked if this was true. This is their response:
.....we do sample our tape periodically with our public health specialist to ensure it is safe to be in contact with food and we state this on our website.
We do not advise inserting fresh flowers directly into a wet product such as a cake and the best way to do this is via a food grade plastic insert such as a flower holder which we also supply.
Therefore, whilst Hamilworth Florist Tape is in fact food safe, they advise also using a posy pick (or flower holder).
Florist Tape when wrapped around a stem can shift and move. Whilst the tape may be food safe, the act of inserting it in the cake might mean the tape shifts and leaves exposed parts of the flower stem touching the cake.
Non-toxic vs Edible Flowers
Not all flowers are edible, and not all flowers are toxic. This is why many cake makers find this whole subject so confusing when it comes to putting fresh flowers on cakes. So let’s break this down.
Edible flowers are those you can eat.
Non-Toxic flowers are those that shouldn’t be eaten, but are considered safe if close to food.
Toxic flowers shouldn’t go anywhere near food as they can cause harm, illness and in extreme cases death.
Edible Flowers are flowers you can actually eat.
Edible flowers are usually purchased from a specific supplier. They are often organically grown and are picked the day before delivery. If you are needing to use edible flowers we recommend ordering them as far in advance as possible. They are not cheap and you should always get them priced up before sending a quote to your client.
You can also get small boxes of edible flowers from some supermarkets, but these cannot be relied on as they are often few and far between.
The Food Standards Agency gave this advise when using Edible Flowers:
The use of edible flowers as decorations is not without potential problems, and it is advised that careful research is undertaken before adding such flowers to food. There needs to be careful identification to ensure safe use, for example, jasmine is edible but the very similar false jasmine is poisonous, edible pea flowers can be consumed but sweet pea should not. It cannot be assumed that the flowers of plants that produce food are themselves edible, for example, some species of poppy have edible seed, but poppy flowers themselves are toxic. Some flowers may present a hazard to particular groups of people, some people can have allergic reactions to some flowers (tulips and daisies for example), whilst others with medical conditions may react badly to the chemicals in flowers (for example begonia can aggravate gout).
The user of edible flowers for decoration should be mindful they are a potential food, thus there still needs to be consideration of the issues of pesticide residues, infestations, general hygiene and such like. If the edible flowers are dried, the drying materials should be considered as food contact and be compliant accordingly.
In general it is assumed that only the petals of edible flowers will be consumed. However, there are many beautiful cake designs where the whole flower is stuck to the outside of the cake. Whilst the stamen, calyx, stems etc may all be edible it is advised they are removed before consumption, as they don’t have the best texture.
The Food Standards Agency recommends the advise of the Royal Horticultural Society. Here is our list of Edible Flowers, taken from the RHS website.
|Sunflower||Sweet Violet||Tiger lily|
Non-toxic flowers are those that are not considered to be food, however if used near food are not toxic. These can either be bought from a florist or grown in your garden. Please be aware, if you purchase from a florist chances are the flowers would have been sprayed with pesticides at some point. Pesticides are not always considered food safe so extra care needs to be taken to ensure nothing from the flower leaches into the cake and is eaten.
Our research shows the following popular flowers are all Non-Toxic and can be placed on a cake if the cake is protected properly.
|Lisianthus||Gerbera||Jasmine (be wary)|
Of course it’s not just flowers we decorate cakes with. The following foliage can also be safely used if the cake is well protected.
|Herbs: Rosemary, Sage, thyme etc||Wheat||Spider Plant|
|Willow||Leaves found with non-toxic flowers|
Some ferns and firs can also be used. However, be aware these can cause skin irritation for some people.
The above are all flowers that can be used on your cake. However, we need to stress there are some flowers and species that should never go near a cake whether they are wrapped well or not. This is because other parts of the flower, for example pollen, oils in the leaves, the stamen, are all dangerous to humans.
Some flowers we regularly see used include:
Gypsophila (babies breathe) – the pollen can cause irritation. Sammie, has actually experienced small blisters after being in contact with this flower.
Hydrangea – contains Cyanide.
Cala Lillies – the stamen has small crystals (similar to needles) that can get into the respiratory system.
Eucalyptus – the leaves secrete an oil which is toxic to humans.
Flowers we are often given as cake makers that should never go near a cake:
|Gypsophila/Babies breathe||Eucalyptus||Cala Lily|
|Lillies (all varieties)||Hydrangea (cyanide)||Foxglove|
|Daffodils||English Yew (+ berries)||Mistletoe (+berries)|
|Rhody and Azalea||Ranunculous (inc buttercups)||Poppies|
If you are given toxic flowers there may be an opportunity to place them around the base of the cake (not actually touching the cake). However, please ensure they will not be mistaken for flowers than can be eaten and are definitely part of the display and not part of the cake.
What if you can’t identify a flower?
Quite often, as a cake maker, we turn up to a venue and the florist has left a bucket of flowers for us to use on a cake. However, what if you can’t identify all of the flowers. What if you don’t know what is toxic and what isn’t?
Firstly, we recommend getting yourself a plant identification app. There are a few on the market. We have one called Picture This. It’s very simple to use. You take a photo of the plant and it will identify it. You can then look up to see if its toxic or not.
If, however, you get to a venue and there is no wifi or phone reception, and you can't identify a flower, our advise is to just not use the flower in question. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Who’s responsibility is it to provide Non-Toxic Flowers? The florist or the cake maker?
But who's responsibility is it to ensure that the fresh flowers you are putting on the cake are actually safe?
As the cake maker, and food producer, it is ultimately your responsibility to ensure the cake is food safe and edible. Therefore, you should not rely on a florist to ensure the flowers they are providing are not toxic.
The FSA are very clear on this, and this is direct from their email:
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 (England) Regulations, the onus being on them to ensure safety is maintained. The legislation is to be found at: Food contact materials regulations | Food Standards Agency.
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 a material is safe without confirmation that 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 retailer/provider.
Local authority enforcement officials (Trading Standards or Environmental Health) 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 does not need to be sold to be “placed on the market,” even if given away for free, if it is a form of commercial transaction, the requirements apply
We can’t put it any plainer than that!
What happens if a florist wants to decorate the cake?
Quite often we get told that the florist will decorate the cake when they arrive. Or the event planner at the venue will do it.
The first question we need to ask you as a cake maker is – do you really want someone fiddling with your cake when you’re not there? They may do something that ruins the look of it. They may dink it or dent it. They may, at worse, do something that means it collapses. And then what?
But, that’s not all. Are they even qualified to touch it? As cake makers in the UK we have to take exams, we have to be inspected, we regularly talk to our Environmental Health Officers so they can make sure we are following the correct procedures to be food handlers.
The florist that’s wanting to decorate your cake, do they have their Level 2 Food Safety and Hygiene in Catering? Are they registered with their local council as a food handler? Do they know what a posy pick is and how to use it? Do they know florist tape is not food safe?
So, in answer to the question, what happens if a florist wants to decorate the cake? Our answer, is absolutely not!
Note: if for some reason you must leave a cake undressed. We would recommend you get a signed document to say you have provided the cake with NO flowers attached. We have heard of some cake makers who suspect one of their cakes may be decorated after they have left. We suggest you cover yourselves in this eventuality and get your documentation signed and dated, and take lots of photos.
How to use a posy pick
But how do you effectively use a posy pick? There are lots and lots of sizes of posy picks. Some teeny tiny, some very large. Make sure you choose the best size for the job.
If you have several flowers to put together, try to bunch them into one larger pick so you don’t have to make too many holes in your cake.
Only push the pick in to the surface of the cake. Never let the pick disappear into the cake as the stem of the flower may still end up touching the cake. And the pick may end up on someone’s plate when the cake is cut.
If your pick is slightly too large push a little fondant into it to hold the stem better.
Alternatives to fresh flowers on cakes
Here are some alternatives, and the things to bear in mind when using them:
Sugar Flowers - make sure the stems are wrapped and put in a posy pick. Florist wire is not suitable to penetrate cakes.
Wafer Paper Flowers – again these are edible. If you have wired them the wire must have an appropriate barrier against the cake.
Food compliant artificial flowers - there are some fantastic artificial flowers on the market. The plastic stems are often food safe and can therefore be placed directly into the cake. But as the FSA said, make sure you wash them properly between uses.
Dummy Cakes – put your flowers on a dummy cake instead of a real cake. Heat a metal skewer with a flame (lighter or blow torch) to melt a hole, and place the flower directly in.
In summary to putting fresh flowers on a cake
Ultimately, as the cake maker/food producer, it is your responsibility to safely put flowers onto a cake.
It is up to you to know which flowers are non-toxic, so go prepared and educated.
We recommend that the only way to safely put fresh flowers on cakes is to use a posy pick. It really is the only way to have a full, food safe barrier between the flower and the cake.
For more information please refer to our references below, or read the email from the FSA.
Listen to the Podcast
For more information and to hear Bronya and Sammie talk about their experience listen to the podcast.
For information about particular risks presented by potentially harmful plants the Plant Poisons Information is available from the Centre for Economic Botany at Kew Gardens, Kew Science staff | Kew