Ever had that heart-stopping moment when you realize the sticker on your apple or peach wasn't where you last saw it? Yep, you just ate it. Before freaking out, let's explore the implications.
Imagine this: You're relaxed on a sunny beach, enjoying a juicy peach. Suddenly, you realize the sticker that was once on your fruit is now journeying through your digestive system.
Understanding the Panic
Before you envision a trip to the hospital, hear what the experts have to say. Max Teplitski, PhD, the chief science officer at the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA), assures that even though it's not ideal, eating these small labels won't harm you. It's not something your body digests, but it's also not something it struggles with.
Purpose of Fruit Stickers
Ever wondered why fruits even have these stickers? Introduced in the late 1980s by the Produce Marketing Association, these labels have a dual purpose. Firstly, they were developed to provide clarity in pricing for fresh produce sold without packaging. Secondly, the PLU (Price Look-Up) code printed on each sticker helps cashiers differentiate between various produce types without having to guess. For instance, the code helps identify if an apple is organic or conventionally grown. Interesting, right? Yet, it's worth noting that produce at farmers markets doesn't need these stickers, thanks to shorter supply chains.
Cashiers can swiftly differentiate produce based on the PLU codes. Organic produce has a five-digit code beginning with either 9 or 84, while conventional produce either starts with a 3 or 4 or has a five-digit code starting with 83.
Composition of Stickers
These tiny stickers might appear simple, but they're designed to be resilient. After all, they need to withstand elements like water and handling during transportation. As per Teplitski, they mainly consist of three elements:
- The actual sticker material.
- Food-grade ink.
- A food-grade adhesive, often derived from synthetic polymers or natural sources like starch.
But here's the kicker. Most of these stickers aren't environment-friendly. They aren't compostable or biodegradable. This poses significant issues when they mingle with food waste, especially in commercial contexts. Thankfully, industries are catching on, and stickers that are industrially compostable are available. Some producers are also looking at laser-etching PLU codes on fruits with thicker skins to eliminate the sticker problem.
The Aftermath of Eating a Sticker
Let's address the elephant in the room: What happens if you eat one of these stickers on apples or produce? While they're made with food-safe materials, that doesn't make them snack-worthy. The FDA does ensure the adhesive residue left behind is safe, but it doesn't recommend chowing down on a bunch of labels. Swallowing plastic isn't the best idea. Yet, if it's a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence, there's no need to panic. The occasional ingestion isn't seen as a health concern.
So, the next time you accidentally eat a fruit sticker, remember: it's not ideal, but it's also not the end of the world. Keep an eye out for them, and remember their purpose and journey.