Saturday, June 18, 2016

Little Known Facts About Fruit and Vegetable Stickers

Most fruit and vegetables bought in a supermarket nowadays have a label attached to them much like the one in the picture of the Gala Apple above.  We know why the label is there -- to allow the checkout clerk get the PLU code from it so that you will be charged the right amount for the produce you are buying.

Let's make this very clear.  This is mostly for the convenience of the store and not you that the label is there.  They don't have to train their staff in fruit and vegetable recognition, especially with products that look almost identical like organic vs. non-organic cucumbers.  I suppose this ultimately might benefit us by them not charging us for a more expensive product or by reducing the store overhead and ultimately bringing the product to the consumer for a lower price.

The downside to the label is that you should remove it before eating the produce, but sometimes the label is difficult to remove and may blemish the produce while attempting to remove it.  I also happen to find a bowl full of apples less attractive if they each have their PLU labels still attached. You don't want to remove them because you might remove some of the apple skin and promote the immediate decomposition of the fruit and the unsightliness too.

The code on the label can tell us a lot about the produce.  First, the same code is used in all stores for the same product.  This is because it is the producer that puts the label on the product and not the store.  So, you can tell if the fruit or vegetable is the same at two different stores if they have the same label PLU code.  You can tell if the produce is organic or not (prefix 9 + 4 digits for organic).  You can also tell if the produce is genetically modified (prefix 8 + 4 digits).

The FDA requires that both the label and the glue be food grade and they are not supposed to harm you. Some sources claim that the label must be made of "edible paper" and can be eaten, but it is not recommended.   However, I have found sources that claim that the label can be made of plastic, and that should be somewhat disconcerting to us.

My personal experience diverts somewhat from the FDA mandates.  I used to dispose of the fruit and vegetable labels with the rest of my compostable waste.  However, I have found that the labels DO NOT DECOMPOSE.  This has lead me to believe that many labels, may, in fact, be made of some type of plastic.  So the question is whether something that is indigestible is edible, or more importantly whether it should be eaten at all.  Clearly, we should exclude inedible materials like, glass, rocks, metal, and plastics.  I would probably not want to eat clothing either.  Then there are the plant and animal products that we should most likely not eat either, like bones, leather, hair, corn cobs, fruit pits, nut husks, etc.

Are there produce label inspectors at the FDA, or is this purely on the honor system that these labels are being used?  Is there a downside for the manufactures to use real edible paper labels?

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