When shopping for fruits and vegetables in the grocery market, you may have noticed that they come with these seemingly good-for-nothing label stickers. You may have wondered about them or simply unpeeled and stuck them somewhere, and never really thought about their purpose. It is definitely annoying to find yourself biting into a fruit, and have eaten half the sticker placed on it.
The Produce Marketing Association invented the produce sticker system decades ago. These stickers are called PLU stickers, which stands for “Price Look Up.”
How to decode the information on PLU stickers?
Nearly half of the fresh produce sold in a grocery store doesn’t come in a packaging. The primary purpose of the PLU sticker is to tell the store clerk what type of item it is and how much to charge for that item. Yet, these stickers have more of a function than just getting scanned for the price at the checkout stand.
Well, next time you see them, make sure they don’t get unnoticed. There is hidden information on these stickers which could be of great use to all raw produce eaters. For the consumer, the PLU sticker is the only source of information which tells you about how your piece of produce was grown; if it was grown conventionally, organically or was genetically modified.
Worry not we are here to help you with untangling the mystery behind those labels.
A 4-digit code: Conventionally grown product
Whenever you see a 4-digit code on the fruit labels, it tells you that the fruit was conventionally grown. This means that the fruit was traditionally grown with the use of pesticides. Washing it properly before consuming would remove the pesticide residue.
A 5-digit code (starting with 9): Organic product
If you see a 5-digit code beginning with 9, the chances are the fruit is produced organically. This also means that it is grown in accordance with USDA organic standards. Organically produced fruits are more expensive than the conventionally produced ones.
A 5-digit code (starting with 8): Genetically modified product
If the PLU code has 5 digits starting with 8, then the fruit is genetically modified (it has genes from other organisms). These are also known as GMOs or genetically modified organisms. Many countries have banned GMOs.
Is there any harm in eating produce stickers?
FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) approval is required for the PLU stickers as they have direct physical contact with the produce. Such approval is necessary to ensure that any substances that may migrate to food from the use the stickers is safe for occasional, unintentional human consumption.
There are three main components to the sticker. There’s the ink, which spells out the PLU number (Caution: may contain phalates); there’s the substrate it’s printed on (Caution: may contain phalates; typically plastic, plastic composite or paper); and there’s the adhesive, which makes it stick.
FDA does not expect health concerns from accidental consumption of PLU stickers, as they are supposedly of low toxicity. Yet, FDA’s review does not include the exposure that would result from frequent consumption of these labels. They are definitely intended to be removed before consumption. Make sure to wash the produce thoroughly, especially before consuming in raw state.
Now you know what you need to look for when shopping for fresh produce labeled with PLU stickers.