I find myself biting into an apple or a peach over and over again only to find that I’ve eaten half of the sticker the store put there. Is Eating Stickers Harmful?
While the stickers that will be placed on fruits and vegetables won’t harm you, it’s probably best to remove them before you eat.
PLU stickers, which stand for “Price Look Up”, fulfill an important function in grocery stores: They tell the seller how much he has to charge for this item. In the United States, around half of fresh produce does not arrive in packaging, so the sticker is the primary source of information about what type of product it is and how it was grown. (Stickers that start with the numbers 3 or 4 mean the item was conventionally grown and stickers that start with 9 indicate the item was organically grown.)
“Since stickers come in contact with food, the intended use of these stickers must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration prior to placing on the market to ensure that any substances that may be released into food through the use of the sticker are safe,” said a spokeswoman for the agency in an email. “Because these labels are designed to be removed before products are consumed, the FDA review does not include the exposure that would result from regular consumption of these labels. However, since these substances have a low toxicity, exposure from the occasional, unintentional consumption of a sticker is not to be expected as a health concern. “
According to Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain and sustainability for the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), the organization that invented the product ticker system decades ago, the sticker has three main components. There’s the ink that spells out the PLU number; there’s the substrate to be printed on (usually plastic, plastic composite, or paper); and there’s the glue that sticks it. “All three must be safe for humans,” said Mr Treacy.
Although the stickers are edible, they have no flavor or nutritional value. And there is an environmental disadvantage not Remove them before throwing away hides, peels, and other parts that you won’t eat: product labels are not at home compostable so they won’t break down in the compost.
When it comes to making the stickers biodegradable, “It’s a challenge that our industry is trying to solve with a lot of time, effort and money,” said Treacy. “The challenge is the glue” – to find something that is sticky enough to adhere to the fruit or vegetable along the entire supply chain.
“For something to be compostable, it has to be made from natural ingredients – something that was once alive and is now dead,” said Jean Bonhotal, director of the Cornell Waste Management Institute. She explained that every time you forget to remove the label before tossing your banana peel, avocado skin, or orange peel in your countertop compost bin, those stray stickers will contaminate the compost with tiny microplastics which, in turn, will contaminate the soil in which this batch of compost is dropped.
All the more reason to remove the sticker and throw it in the trash before enjoying your fruit or vegetables.