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The purpose and art behind produce labels

Posted on July 8, 2021 | Comments

Some might label this column a bit on the fruity side. Others may call it a veggie tale. Me? I chalk it up to curiosity about something that won’t make headlines, but it just might show up as clue on Jeopardy. I’m talking about fruit and vegetable labels, AKA stickers, that sometimes come right off. Other times not so fast. Yet, the “sticky” truth is quite fascinating according to some simple research except for one detail. When exactly did produce stickers first come into use since I can still remember ink-stamped produce growing up? Somewhere along the line, they started showing up and now they’re an industry standard.

For the hard-skinned produce, the stickers generally come off easily. It’s the soft ones like yummy pears and peaches that can be hard to remove. Good news is the stickers are regulated by the FDA and are edible after washing first. Not that I’m going to start eating them, but it is nice to know that if one sneaks by in preparation, it’s okay. In the future, word has it that a New York inventor is working on a dissolvable fruit label that will disappear after washing. What will they think of next?

Referred to as PLUs, which stands for price look up, produce labels are convenient for cashiers to avoid incorrect pricing given the number of varieties such as apples for example. Also, there is a distinction between organics which start with the number nine and four-digit codes mean the produce is conventionally grown. Whether you purchase the produce locally or anywhere in the country, the code remains the same once it is assigned. More than 1400 unique PLUs have been consigned to produce and produce-related items.

Produce stickers also have an artistic side. Both artists and collectors love them. Believe it or not, just like stamp collecting, people collect fruit labels! The World of Fruit Labels organization founded in May 1999 claims to be the oldest website with information about more than 1,000 different labels. Apparently collectors send boxes of them to Barry Snyder in Colorado, an artist who creates pop-culture icons with produce stickers. Wonder if these stickers will ever be auctioned off at a high price?

Who even knew of the possibilities when at first glance these stickers on every piece of fruit or vegetable looks like a nuisance of some kind. That’s the fun of curiosity. It has a way of taking us beyond the surface and turning into a memorable learning adventure. Curiosity makes my world go around. How about you?

Originally published July 8, 2021, by Orange County Register

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