As you can see in the image above, most fruit and vegetables that you purchase in a grocery store, will come with a sticker attached to them.
But why is that?
What does it mean to you the consumer?
The label meaning is (purely) to indicate that the sticker usually contains the brand name, the origin of the fruit or produce, a PLU code, barcode, and the name of the product.
The web nowadays is awash with fake and/or false claims about PLU stickers. That is why we need to show you a few important things that the majority of people often ask themselves:
- The produce stickers are NOT biodegradable and must be removed before you cook or eat the fruit,
- PLU stickers are NOT “edible” – they won’t kill you but can scratch inside your intestines, therefore we advise against eating it,
- PLU stickers are the supply chain identifiers – like an I.D card that will remind the producers and supermarkets of the optimal end of life,
- The fruit and veggie industry can do better, considering it’s plastic and cannot easily be recycled.
Other mighty interesting facts about fruit stickers
- The stickers on fruits and vegetables are called a PLU, which stands for Price Look Up. These labels have been in use since the 1900s to make check-out and inventory control easier for grocery stores.
- The fruit stickers are attached with FDA approved food grade glue.
- All produce uses the same type of codes. In total there are roughly 1421 PLU codes.
- All fruit & vegetable labels are commercialized with a 4-5 digit PLU code.
- Conventionally Grown Produce uses a four-digit number that begins with a 3 or 4. A banana for example would be #4011. You might also see these numbers with a zero in front, however, zero is usually omitted. Fruit labels starting with 3 tell us that it was conventionally grown, meaning the produce was sprayed with pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or other spray.
- Genetically Modified Produce uses a five-digit number. It is the same number as above, but the # 8 is attached to the front. A banana for example would be #84011. Genetically modified produce (GMO) means the plant or seed has been genetically manipulated or genetically engineered to make the fruit larger, prettier, juicier, or to make it grow faster. This is actually the worst type of produce to consume. “8 means it is FAKE”.
- Organic Produce uses a five-digit number. It is the same number as the conventionally grown produce, but instead, the #9 is attached to the front. While organically grown bananas, for example would be #94011. Organic produce is by far the safest to consume as the sprayed of pesticides is not applied nor was it genetically modified. So if you see “9 in front, it’s FINE”.
- PLU codes are not regulated by a government agency and are therefore voluntary. However, most grocery stores require them from the farmers. This is why you see them on some, but not all produce items.
- The barcode you see on the product labels are called a Data Bar, which is a smaller version of a UPC code. It is a code specific to the manufacture, and it not in most grocery store databases. And that is why cashiers still type in the PLU #.
You can also directly search your favorite fruit PLU.
Labels environmental impact & possible new alternatives
Although they’re useful for fruit and vegetable identification. The PLU labels are now recognized globally and required for industry standards, however, they are considered harmful to our environment.
The good news is that some students are working towards some sort of plastic label alternative.
These are likely to be eco-friendly PLU stickers, especially found on produce, fruits and vegetables. The result? No microplastics found in our seas, grounds etc.
Remember… until then 8 is FAKE, and 9 is FINE! For more information on PLU codes visit www.plucodes.com/docs/Users_Guide.pdf.