Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Cooking and Produce
Why the Little Sticky Label on Fruit?
Karma Metzgar, C.F.C.S. Former Northwest Regional Nutrition Specialist, Nodaway County Extension Center, University of Missouri Extension
Have you noticed the little “brand” stickers on your
bananas, apples, peaches, pears, mangos, kiwi, and other
seasonal fruits? Those stickers are helpful for the store
clerk, as they don’t have to distinguish the difference
between Fuji apples from Gala apples. That little helpful
sticker has the price look up (PLU) code to speed up the
check out process. But did you know that the look up number
also tells you more? Do you want to know what?
The number on that little sticker, not only is the price
look number, it also tells how the product is grown or
created. This has made news recently with the release of the
new rules for “organic” labeling.
For conventionally grown fruit, the PLU code on the
sticker consists of four numbers. Organically grown fruit
have a five-numeral PLU beginning with the number 9.
Genetically engineered fruit has a five-numeral PLU
beginning with the number 8.
When I read about this labeling, I decided to scout my
refrigerator for the little stickers. The bananas and apples
both were four digits - meaning conventionally grown fruit.
So using this numbering system, a conventionally grown
banana would be 4011, an organic banana would be 94011, and
a genetically engineered banana would be 84011. Interesting
Who developed this numbering system? The numeric system
was developed by the Produce Electronic Identification
Board, an affiliate of the Produce Marketing Association, a
trade group for the produce industry.
While the stickers are helpful to the cashiers to
accurately identify and price produce, there are plenty of
complaints about how well the stickers stick!
According to the Produce Marketing Association, some
shippers have begun using stickers designed with tabs that
make them easier to lift off, and are buying equipment that
applies adhesive to the sticker but not to the tab.
Companies are also experimenting with different sticker
materials, such as vinyl, that hold up under a variety of
temperature and moisture conditions.
The adhesive now used to attach the stickers is
food-grade, but the stickers themselves aren’t edible. To
remove stubborn ones, soak in warm water for a minute or
two. As a kid, we used to argue over who got the sticker off
the bananas to wear as tattoos! They weren’t a problem…just
not enough on a bunch.
So the next time you pick up that kiwi, melon, pineapple, apple or banana, check out the numbering system. Is it conventionally or organically grown? Or, is it a result of genetic engineering? It’s all in the number - which is also the price look up code for the cashier. A simple number for a complex situation.
Last update: Tuesday, May 05, 2009