What’s with those Fruit Stickers?




I think we’ll just sub-title this as “Good Intentions gone down the Crapper”.  You see, my thought, as I peeled yet another stubborn little sticker off my Gala Apple, was to write a wonderfully helpful blog about those little stickers.  I planned to share the logic behind the coding – the scheme of the numbers – so that we would perhaps be able to make better choices at the produce counter.


I peeled the sticker from my apple and stuck it on my notepad.  “4135”, “Product of USA” – with a small graphic of a red apple with “Washington” printed on top of it.  I figured that since it was now fairly obvious that it was a Gala Apple (that was the bin labeling at the store and besides it looked like a Gala Apple) and that just by reading the sticker I knew it was likely from the state of Washington, there just had to be a special, secret coding hidden in the numbers “4135”.


It was time to go to my source of “Everything there is to know about the Universe” – the Internet.  Since I had no clue about what these numbers were called, I typed “fruit codes” in the search box and was immediately provided with a spammy link to “myspace fruit icons and graphics”, a link to grocery store coupons, a California fruit company – and the contact link for a well-known underwear company.  Nice try Ace…


After a few more minutes of putzing (using a different search engine) I finally arrived at the IFPS (International Federation for Produce Standards) home page.  OK, now I was on the right track.  I quickly learned that the mystical numbers are really just PLU’s (Price Look-Up Codes).  Hmmm, “price” huh?  I was expecting something more significant related to “produce” or “fruits”… but not “price”.  Well OK.  At least there is a single agency that is responsible for monitoring all this and making sure the numbers are logically and systematically assigned to the different kinds of produce.  That’s probably very good.


On to the logic.  As a place to start, I clicked the “Search PLU Codes” link – and after a couple of quick entries to inform the organization that I was just out snooping and would probably never want to sell another person my Gala Apple, I typed “4135” into the search box.  Bam!  There it was. The secret code had been cracked.  The results showed… this was the code for… a Gala Apple, Large!  That was it.  No other information.  Nothing… nada… zip…


OK, there HAS to be more to it than this.  Maybe there’s something in the numbering logic that will be meaningful.  Maybe all 41xx numbers are apples – and 43xx numbers are oranges and… who knows?  Nothing on the site really discussed the numbering system.  Maybe if I pulled up the entire list of numbers I could learn more.  Maybe…


A couple of clicks later I had the list.  A total of 1385 different codes running from 3000 on up to 4961.  And no, there weren’t 1961 codes (do a subtraction thing) simply because some of the numbers weren’t used.  I dunno why.  And… as far as I can tell, there is nothing in the coding that I can point to that will switch on my “Ah-Hah” – that makes sense” light.  Not only are there apples clustered around my “4135” code, you’ll find some down around the 3000 numbers, then up around 3060 and 3070, then again around 3290 and again… well, you get the idea.  Sometimes the codes are used to differentiate between large and small produce – or indicate if it was grown in the eastern or western half of the United States – or if the code should not be used with products grown in North America.  Hmmm… I dunno.


What I did learn though is that there are a whole bunch of kinds of produce that I’ve never heard of before.  Like Gai Lan (#3160), Frisee (#3167), Babaco (#3303), Cherimoya (#4257), Lychees (#4309), Bok Choy (#4545), and Tarragon (#4906).  Just between you and me, I’ll probably never intentionally eat any of these.


A couple of potentially useful things that I did learn though were these:  A nine (9) before any of the usual four-digit codes means the item was organically grown.  An organically grown Gala Apple would be 94135. To me this at least implies that it was grown using “natural” fertilizers and pesticides but I don’t honestly know if there is any oversight to this claim.  Likely not.  The other thing… a genetically engineered food would have an eight (8) in front of the usual four digits.  A genetically engineered Gala Apple would be 84135.  This may be important to some folks.  Realistically, most foods that we eat have already been genetically modified from their original state at least through selective breeding practices.  I do think I would start to get concerned however, if I learned that a tree frog DNA segment had been spliced into my mashed potatoes.  That would be bothersome.  I guess the “8” would let me know.  Maybe…


Other than that I guess the best I can do is pass along the link to the IFPS home page.  It’s  At least that way if you don’t know what you just bought at the supermarket, you can look up the code number on that pesky little sticker.  That’s a good thing, I guess…





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