While the stickers on fruits and vegetables will not damage you, it is usually advisable to remove them before eating. PLU stickers, which stand for “Price Look Up,” are vital at grocery shops since they notify the cashier how much to charge for that item. Because over half of fresh fruit in the United States does not come in packaging, the sticker is the primary source of information on what sort of produce it is and how it was cultivated. (Stickers beginning with the numbers 3 or 4 indicate that the item was cultivated conventionally, whereas those beginning with 9 indicate that the item was grown organically.)
“Because produce stickers come into contact with food, the Food and Drug Administration requires premarket clearance for the intended use of these stickers to guarantee that any compounds that may migrate to food from the usage of the sticker are safe,” an agency spokesperson said in an email. “Because these stickers are supposed to be removed prior to eating of food, the F.D.A.’s evaluation excludes exposure from normal ingestion of these labels.” However, because these compounds are low in toxicity, any exposure through the inadvertent eating of a sticker would not be considered a health risk.”
According to Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain and sustainability for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), the company that established the produce-ticker system decades ago, there are three key components to the sticker. There’s the ink, which spells out the PLU number; the substrate (usually plastic, plastic composite, or paper); and the adhesive, which holds it all together. “All three of those have to be human-safe,” Mr. Treacy stated.
“That is a difficulty that our industry is spending a lot of time, effort, and money trying to solve,” Mr. Treacy said of making the stickers biodegradable. “The problem is the adhesive,” which is finding something sticky enough to attach to the fruit or vegetable along the supply chain.
“To be biodegradable, anything must be manufactured from natural elements — something that was once living and is now dead,” said Jean Bonhotal, head of the Cornell Waste Management Institute. She added that when you neglect to remove the label before dumping your banana peel, avocado skin, or orange peel into your countertop compost bin, the stray stickers contaminate the compost with small microplastics, which pollute the soil where that batch of compost is deposited.
Another reason to remove the sticker and dispose of it before eating your fruits or veggies.