This is something that happens to almost everyone: you distract yourself asking why someone would so diligently apply stickers to apples, but by the time you've finished eating your apple you can only remember washing it not taking off the sticker...

The next thing you know, that sticker is chewed up along with bites of your apple and it is gone. 

apple, bacon
Jessie Lee

So what happens when you eat a produce sticker?

Fortunately, you will not die. While the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, has listed food additives and adhesives that can be used safely on produce, but there is debate over whether produce stickers and the glue on them are actually safe to consume.

Jessie Lee

Before you go around eating every sticker in the produce aisle, it is best to know a little more about them.

What's actually on a produce sticker?

banana, vegetable
Jessie Lee

A produce sticker usually has a bar code (those lines scanned when you check items out) and numbers known as as PLU (price look-up). Both help identify the produce in the store's system, but PLU codes notify checkout computers how much the item should cost and provide information about how the item was grown—for example if it's organic or not.

What information does PLU provide?

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Stickers on conventionally grown produce (which are grown with the use of synthetic chemicals like fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones) have four-digit numbers. Regardless of where you are, a conventionally grown banana is always #4011. For organic grown produce, stickers have five-digit numbers and always start with a 9.

This means an organically grown banana would be #94011 instead of #4011. Genetically modified produce labels also have five-digit numbers but begin with a 8.

Are there alternatives to produce stickers?

juice, banana, pear, lemon, vegetable, apple
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Unfortunately, conventional produce stickers are non-biodegradable, but some biodegradable stickers have been introduced in select markets. Recent technology has allowed for laser etched labels on fruit to be approved by the FDA and the European Union—a method that neither harms the fruit nor affects taste. As for now, they are choice and not a regulatory mandate, so we really can't tell yet if laser etchings will replace sticker labels.

From a nostalgic standpoint, Chiquita banana stickers from the 1960s are believed to be the rarest produce stickers and are often prized by sticker collectors. The company claims it was the first to label its bananas with stickers. 

Who knew that a small sticker could hold so much meaning?