(SEE NOTE FROM RHIO AT END OF THIS ARTICLE)
June, 26, 2002
Sticky But Useful Fruit Labels
by Maria Gallagher
As much as we may dislike them, the stickers or labels attached to fruit speed up the scanning process at checkout.
Cashiers no longer need to distinguish a Fuji apple from a Gala apple, a prickly pear from a horned melon, or a grapefruit from an ugli fruit.
They simply key in the PLU code – the price lookup number printed on the sticker – and the market’s computerized cash register identifies the fruit by its PLU.
The numbers also enable retailers to track how well individual varieties are selling.
For conventionally grown fruit, the PLU code on the sticker consists of four numbers. Organically grown fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 9. Genetically engineered fruit has a five-numeral PLU prefaced by the number 8.
So, a conventionally grown banana would be 4011, an organic banana would be 94011, and a genetically engineered banana would be 84011.
The numeric system was developed by the Produce Electronic Identification Board, an affiliate of the Produce Marketing Association, a Newark, Del.-based trade group for the produce industry. As of October 2001, the board had assigned more than 1,200 PLUs for individual produce items.
Fruit companies hear plenty of complaints from consumers about hard-to-remove stickers. Retailers gripe that stickers fall off or become marred during transport.
In response, some shippers have begun using stickers designed with tabs that make them easier to lift off, and are buying equipment that applies adhesive to the sticker but not to the tab.
Companies are also experimenting with different sticker materials, such as vinyl, that hold up under a variety of temperature and moisture conditions.
The adhesive now used to attach the stickers is food-grade, but the stickers themselves aren’t edible. To remove stubborn ones, soak in warm water for a minute or two.
CAUTIONARY NOTE from Rhio: I used to believe in the authenticity of the above information. I called the Produce Marketing Association mentioned in the article. Fortunately the article named the city and state in which they were located. I called them at (302) 738-7100 and they verified that the PLU sticky label marking system did indeed distinguish between conventional, organic and genetically engineered fruit and is going to be used for vegetables also. It will be used for all produce, as well as nuts, dried fruits and herbs. They also said that soon the system will be worldwide and that 85% of produce vendors in the US were using the system. They also have a website which is: www.plucodes.com HOWEVER I further asked them if there was any regulation or law that obligates a produce vendor to put his food into the genetically engineered category, and I was told that the system is completely voluntary, and there is no regulation in place to keep the companies honest. GE companies are not stupid and they know that in numerous polls 80% or 90% of the people want GE food to be labeled and they also know that once labeled, people will reject this food in the marketplace, as they have done in Europe. THE PLU CODES ARE NOT RELIABLE AS A SOURCE OF INFORMATION AS TO WHAT IS GE AND WHAT IS NOT.