Why Is There a Sticker on My Fruit?

granny smith

A PLU sticker on a large, organic granny smith apple; Credits: Sam Grenrock

We’ve all been there: you’re about to enjoy a piece of fruit, and all of a sudden you notice that the sticker is still attached. If you’re like me, you may have wondered, why is there a sticker on my fruit? (especially if you had trouble removing it!).

It turns out that sticker was an important part of your purchasing the fruit in the first place.

In fact, that sticker is a way of labeling bulk produce that makes it easier for the cashier to ring up the item. That’s because the sticker contains a PLU code—PLU stands for “price look up”—and the code is used to identify the piece of produce in terms of type, variety, size, and whether it was conventionally or organically grown.1

For example, a large, conventionally grown Granny Smith apple is labeled with the PLU 4017. The PLU of organic produce is the same as that for its conventional counterpart with the addition of a 9 at the beginning of the code, so the PLU of a large organic Granny Smith apple is 94017.1

If PLU stickers are the bane of your fruit-eating existence, take heart! These sticky labels may eventually be replaced by PLU labels etched into the fruit with a laser.2 Research that begin with UF/IFAS2 has led the FDA to allow the sale of citrus with laser-etched labels.3 In the future, you may see more kinds of produced labeled in this manner.


  1. PLU Codes Frequently Asked Questions, International Federation for Produce Standards, August 2015, http://www.ifpsglobal.com/Portals/22/IFPS%20Documents/PLU%20FAQ/PLU%20Site%20FAQs%20Aug%202015%20v2.pdf
  2. Mickie Anderson, “UF/IFAS research aids FDA decision to allow laser-light labeling of citrus,” University of Florida News, June 14, 2012, http://news.ufl.edu/archive/2012/06/ufifas-research-aids-fda-decision-to-allow-laser-light-labeling-of-citrus.html
  3. “Carbon dioxide laser for etching food,” 21CFR179.43 (2012), http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=531367451470fdb5e8cfd12b6038e7ba&mc=true&node=se21.3.179_143&rgn=div8

Featured photo credit: UF/IFAS