Hidden Meaning of the Stickers on Fruits and Vegetables

May 27, 2020Silvia Fonseca

You are one of those people who remove the fruit and vegetable stickers without even looking at it? Stop it now! These sticky little coded papers in little fruit and vegetable can reveal a lot of information to us consumers and even help you to make healthier purchases. Want to know want information is hidden on them? Keep reading.

Mystery Stickers

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Before we start deciphering the codes on these stickers, let's take a minute to examine the stickers themselves. The stickers are a bit of a mystery. Are they bad for you? Can you eat them? Is there an easier way to take them off your food? Let's find out.


What Are Those Stickers?

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This code helps to identify the type of fruit or vegetable you are buying. These stickers usually have a barcode for scanning and a PLU code, which means Price Look-Up. If you care about your health, we'll teach you everything you need to know about the information it contains.

What Are They Made Of?

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Certain stickers can be made of plastic, paper, or even vinyl, depending on their manufacturer. Grist also pointed out that you shouldn't throw these stickers in the bin with the rest of the fruit and vegetable peelings if you compost. They won't decompose with everything else. But are they edible?

Inedible Stickers

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The stickers are inedible but digestible, according to InTouchLabels. That means if you accidentally eat one, they can move into the digestive system without harming you. But they have no nutrition characteristics. However, it's better to be careful about eating them.

Are They Unhealthy?

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And although the adhesive that is used on PLU tags can be FDA-approved, it is composed of different substances that you'd never want to consume. Among them are rubber chlorides and other polymers. So be sure that the stickers are removed as thoroughly as possible. There is a way to do it easily.

How to Take Them Off Faster

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Most people remove the stickers on fruits and vegetables by scratching them off. But if you want to avoid getting residue stuck under your nails or ruining the fruit, use this trick to get them in one piece. This can be useful if you don't want to damage delicate fruits, like peaches, nectarines, or apricots. And this is one of the oldest tricks in the book...

Oldest Trick in the Book

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An article in The Free Lance-Star of 1999 shows that this same hack was already used at the time. So you can imagine how useful it is! Just use some scotch tape that you have laying around at your house. But be careful about where you throw them. Now that the stickers are all removed let's get back to deciphering the codes on them.

Four-Digit Codes

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Typically, these codes start with a 3 or 4 and indicate that your product has been conventionally grown, which means they contain pesticides. But don't worry: the levels of pesticides are so small they aren't dangerous. That's not the only information hidden on these stickers.

Discovering Other Information

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Using the PLU codes search tool, you can discover relevant details such as food type, variety, size, restrictions, and more. Simply scan using the 4-digit code on the sticker. If you don't get any results, your store might have changed the code to a personalized one. In this case, it's best to ask your food store for more info. And these codes can also tell you how the food was grown.

Origin of Products

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The code systems can also tell which country the food grew, and all products must use Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) according to US legislation. The country must be on the sticker or on a sign next to the display for the product. But how do you know if the product was genetically modified?

How to Tell What Food Is Genetically Modified

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If the code contains five digits and starts with an 8, then the fruit or vegetable is a genetically modified organism (GMO). These products can be bad for your health. That's why some countries put some restrictions on it.

Country Restrictions

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Twenty-six countries currently prohibit or restrict GMO production rigorously. Poland and Italy, for example, agreed to ban Monsanto GMO corn in 2013 and this ban is still in order. And there is another thing you should remember...

Ignore the Extra Digit

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As this extra digit it's not part of the PLU code, do not use it when searching a product on the website. For example, 3380 would be a Perola variety pineapple, but an 83380 would be a genetically modified. What if the extra digit is a 9 instead of an 8?

How to Tell What Food Is Organic

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Five-digit codes starting with a 9 indicate that the fruit is produced according to organic requirements in the USDA. These products are often more costly, but there's a good reason: there are several criteria that farmers need to follow to have their products certified. But remember, these codes are not mandatory.

Not Mandatory Codes

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It is important to say that the international version of the PLU system is voluntary and not mandated by any governing organization. This system serves as a guideline, but your best resource will always be the grocery store itself, which keeps a catalog of each vegetable and fruit and its indicators.

You've become intimately familiar with the stickers on your fruit and vegetable. Now you have learned how to thoroughly peel them off and even everything about the mysterious code numbers on it. Enjoy your new skills, and go pick up your groceries for the week. And share this article with your family and friends so they can know which food to pick as well!

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