Understanding What Stickers on Fruits and Vegetables Mean

Take a stroll down the fresh produce aisle at any grocery store and you’ll notice little stickers adorning fruits and veggies. Ever wonder what those small tags actually signify?

Turns out, the stickers provide essential details to retailers, distributors and consumers. They enable tracking of the produce from farm to store shelf and offer insight into the origin, variety, and growing practices.

Keep reading to unlock the mystery behind the meaning of produce sticker labels. This guide will empower you to make informed choices next time you’re filling your cart.

PLU Codes – Identifying Fruits and Vegetables

That 4 or 5 digit number on produce stickers refers to the PLU code, which stands for Price Look Up code.

PLU codes are a universal identification system implemented in 1990 to help stores ring up and track produce sales. Prior to PLU codes, clerks had to manually look up prices for every fruit or vegetable, but the standardized system streamlined the process.

Each fruit and vegetable is assigned a specific PLU code number. For example, bananas are 4011 while conventional lemons are 3302. Organic produce starts with the prefix 9.

So a clerk simply keys in the PLU code at checkout rather than selecting from an extensive list of produce items. The system pulls up the price and item name automatically.

PLU codes allow retailers to track inventory and sales trends for individual fruits and veggies. They also enable connections between producers and stores.

The Meanings Behind Sticker Colors

When you pick up fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, the little stickers on them might catch your eye. These stickers aren’t just for scanning prices; they can hold clues about the produce. However, let’s set the record straight on what these colors really mean:

Green Stickers: Contrary to the belief that green stickers mean conventionally grown produce, that’s not always the case. The numbers on the stickers, known as PLU codes, help identify the type of produce. The color of the sticker is just for design and doesn’t necessarily indicate farming practices.

Red Stickers: While red might seem like a sign for organic produce, it’s not the standard indicator. Organic items usually have a PLU code that starts with “9” and often includes a barcode. The color of the sticker isn’t a reliable way to spot organic produce.

Blue Stickers: Despite the calmness associated with blue, it’s not commonly used to represent fair trade produce. Fair trade items usually come with their own specific certification labels, rather than relying on sticker color.

White Stickers: White stickers don’t necessarily mean genetically modified (GM) produce. GM items are typically labeled with a PLU code starting with “8,” although this is rarely depicted through sticker color.

Brown Stickers: Brown might evoke thoughts of local and earthy produce, but it’s not consistently tied to locally grown items. While some places might use brown stickers, the color isn’t a universal standard.

Yellow Stickers: Yellow might remind you of sunshine, but on produce, it usually indicates ripeness or a reduced price. This is about the condition or cost, not specific characteristics of the produce.

Keep in mind that sticker practices can vary by store and region. To truly understand what you’re buying, focus on the PLU codes, labels, and certifications rather than sticker colors. With this knowledge, you can confidently decode the story behind each piece of produce you bring home.

Numbered Stickers

Notice those tiny numbered stickers often accompaning the larger PLU sticker? These identify the specific farm or grower that cultivated the produce item.

For instance, banana sticker numbers starting with a 4 indicate Dole as the grower. Numbers starting with 9 signal Del Monte bananas. The farm numbers trace back the origins.

Grower sticker numbers also facilitate recalls if a contamination issue arises. A particular farm’s tainted produce can be swiftly identified and pulled from shelves using the traceability stickers.

4 vs 5 Digit PLU Codes

Nowadays, most PLU stickers contain 4 digit numbers, but some organic produce sports 5 digit PLU codes starting with 9. Here is what the extra digit signifies:

4 digit PLU codes

4 digits represent conventionally grown produce without any special attributes. This is the norm for mainstream fruits and veggies lacking special designations.

5 digit PLU codes

A 5 digit sticker starts with 9 to indicate organic produce. The extra digit provides more label combinations to represent the many types of organic edibles. It also helps distinguish organic vs conventional.

So if you pick up an apple with a sticker reading 94012, the 9 tells you it’s organic. Apples are normally 4131 when conventional. Easy!

Country of Origin Stickers

Some produce also includes country of origin stickers listing where it was grown or produced.

You may see “Product of USA” or “Grown in Mexico” stickers that clearly tell shoppers if the item is domestic or imported. The stickers must adhere to legal labeling requirements.

Origin stickers help consumers who want to buy local produce or support farmers domestically. The stickers also promote transparency and traceability from farm to market.

Berry Baskets & Cartons

Notice those clamshell berry containers have stickers with assorted numbers and letters on the bottom? Those identify key attributes:

  • HP – High Profile box meaning taller container
  • LP – Low Profile meaning shorter box
  • TF – Twin Flip top lid that opens from the center
  • SP – Side Pivot lid opening from the side
  • 1 – 1 dry pint volume
  • 2 – 2 dry pints volume

So a blackberry clamshell marked HP-TF-1 tells you that it’s a taller container with a center flip lid that holds 1 dry pint of berries. Useful for stocking and labeling purposes.

Stickerless Produce

Some items like corn, pineapples and melons sell stickerless. But don’t worry, the checkout scanner can still identify them by appearance through digital imaging software. Others are getting etched laser labels that eliminates stickers.

The grocer knows a pineapple is PLU code 4182 even minus a sticker for reference. Modern scanning maximizes convenience.

Matters of Taste

Do produce stickers affect taste or ripeness? Rest assured they’re harmless to edibility and have no impact on flavor or shelf life. Stickers simply share codes, not chemicals. Peel them off and enjoy!

Of course, bruising or damaged skin under stickers indicates the fruit or vegetable may be overripe and best avoided. Use your judgment.

Are Stickers Safe To Eat?

It is recommended that you remove them before consuming the produce. The stickers are harmless to edibility and have no impact on taste, ripeness, or shelf life. They simply provide codes and information. Feel free to peel off stickers and enjoy the fruits and veggies without concern.

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