“You know what really bothers me?”

May 23, 2022 • 2:15 pm

The title of course comes from the late Andy Rooney of CBS, who made a fine living as a Professional Kvetcher. Now it’s my turn.

Look at the photo below. Do we really need to do this? How did fruitmongers survive before the days of these ridiculous stickers?

This is my after-lunch plum, and of course the skin tore when I removed the label.

It’s even worse with ripe tomatoes: there’s almost no way to remove the Dreaded Paper Tags without ripping the skin.

56 thoughts on ““You know what really bothers me?”

  1. Those labels are there so that you can self-check-out your fruit. Part of the relentless drive to automate away as many jobs as possible as quickly as possible. I agree, they are a nuisance.

    1. “Those labels are there so that you can self-check-out your fruit.”

      But doesn’t self-checkout post-date the appearance of these?….

      1. Maybe but the labels also identify the product to a human checker. They have to know, for example, if those tomatoes are “organic” or regular in order to know what to charge.

  2. It’s probably a negative consequence of self-checkout lines. Given that the public would probably not buy a fruit rather than hit the few buttons needed to look it up themselves at the register, the store puts labels on each individual fruit to help generate sales. The one that really gets me is labeling each individual banana in a connected bunch. Sure I understand why (people pull the bunches apart), but still, it seems completely unnecessary Label two in each bunch, that will take care of most splits.

    I have to admit, the labels are convenient for self check-out. Particularly if there are umpteen varieties (some of them “organic” i.e. more expensive) of the same fruit. However it’s certainly not necessary, and if we didn’t have them, we’d probably all get used to keying in the number from a list or from memory in a week or two.

      1. The kinda kosher lasers used to ignite wildfires?

        I eat a piece of fresh fruit most every weekday afternoon and haven’t been able to peel off the sticker without thinking about the first time you harped on ’em here. 🙂

  3. Sometimes the bagged / crated fruit lacks stickers.

    Produce too.

    BTW veggie wash – I used to ridicule it – now I’m all in. I recommend dispensing it from a foaming hand soap … dispenser.

  4. It’s always annoyed me that removing the sticker damages the item. How is that ok, and how has it gone on this long without an improvement in the technology, in our great capitalist world?

    1. I do find the stickers a minor irritation, but I’ve got no problems taking them off of the item without causing damage. The earlier versions were about impossible to get off without damage, too sticky, but they’ve long since evolved the design to where I can get them off quickly and without damage. Even on a ripe tomato.

      Usually it just takes one gentle swipe / rub with one finger tip to roll back an edge, grab it, and peel it right off.

      1. I believe I’ve noticed a change in the stickiness of such labels over time. I imagine it’s the fruit distributor who applies the labels. Perhaps it is just a matter of complaining to the supermarket chain who will pass it on to their suppliers, or choose different suppliers. Yeah, no chance of any of that working. Choose a different market?

    1. Supposedly, it’s edible. This need not imply that pesticides and fertilizers that were on the item beforehand and are now in the sticky glue, are OK to eat.

      1. Good to know but I was thinking more along the lines of wetting the label in order to loosen it and allow it to slide off the fruit without damaging the skin.

        1. I can tell you I have used “veggie wash” on them and they might loosen a bit, but not a lot. The wash seems not very high surfactants.

          If one rubs plain old cooking oil on a “Band-Aid”, it can come ofc without the sting.

          Have not tried that but its too messy / not worth it for this.

          But I’ll see next time…

  5. Stickers are one of the best options I’ve found. Otherwise you are stuck with grocery stores with look-alike fruit (sorry, I’m an elitist about my pears. There are the pears I will enjoy, and the pears I merely like.), especially now that some people are polarized about organic free-range fruit only dropped by virgin trees. Additionally, I have lived in countries, not only with no self-checkout, but where all produce had to be weighed, sealed, and labeled at a produce counter before going to checkout. Seriously, if I went to the store and decided to buy a single banana on impulse, I would have to wait behind three or four other customers weighing their fruit at the produce counter before I was allowed to check out. I’ve also seen two bananas together on a styrofoam tray, plasticwrapped and labelled. Stickers allow individual cashiers and automated checkout machines to process fruit quickly and reliably with minimal but non-zero waste.

    My ideal preference, though, would be laser-printing directly on fruit. In the aforementioned country, I’ve seen laser-printed eggs: imagine seeing the expiration date, size, and grade on each individual egg on your carton.

    1. In the UK we weigh at the till & I avoid a bag if possible. But who buys one pear? As it is pears are out of season. Think food miles…

      1. Much produce in US grocery stores is also weighed at check out. There are also scales in the produce area for customers to weigh their selections. Used to be almost exclusively sold by weight, but nowadays more and more produce is sold in pre-measured amounts, for example bundles of asparagus bound with a rubber band, individually tagged.

  6. I read somewhere that these need to be non-toxic because people sometimes eat them. So, yes, it seems stupid. But yesterday (for the first time) I found the stickers very useful indeed, as they made my self-checkout seamless at the grocery store. Without the sticker I’d have needed a SKU number or would have had to go to the end of a long line to wait for a human cashier.

    I saw a local TV add (also yesterday) describing how some of the grocery carts at Albertson’s (a supermarket chain in the northwest) have built-in electronics that use these stickers to calculate cost and allow you to pay without going through any line at all—either self-checkout or a cashier. That’s where we’re heading.

    1. You can get the sku from the self checkout machine via the lookup button. So it would just take a few button pushes to go without the labels. Surely you can give a few button pushes for the environment, eh?

      For the record, I think they’re convenient too. But I wouldn’t complain overmuch if they disappeared. Maybe the compromise is to treat them like plastic bags and charge for them – if you buy tagged fruit, pay an extra cent per label. Or you can buy untagged fruit and remember/lookup the sku code for free.

      1. > it would just take a few button pushes to go without the labels.

        Consider how many kinds of similar-looking fruit you find at a grocery store. I have been in stores with produce from six continents, tomatoes (*) from Spain, Argentina, the US, China, Egypt, and Australia. Some are organic. Some have toxic pesticides. Not only do I not want, as a customer, to be required to find which specific tomato I am purchasing, I know how difficult it is for store owners to verify which fruit is really being sold and what inventory to restock; owners can not necessarily trust customers to be honest and diligent in self-reporting. How do you want to ensure inventory control without either labelling items or packaging them to ensure correct labels?

        Funny story: I was buying tomatoes in Asia, and saw a shelf of them labelled (in English) ‘Produce of the Netherlands’; looking closely at the packaging, I saw (in Dutch) ‘Produce of Spain.’

        (*) Yep, tomatoes are fruit.

        1. Yes I know. Apples are a good example; my local store probably has 5-10 varieties of a similar ‘light/patchy red’ color, plus you the ‘organic’ (expensive) versions of the same varieties.

          But look, we’re talking about a pretty small effort/mental lift here. Put the sku number on the sign where you pick up the apples. People can then memorize the number, remember the apple type they selected, write it down, or snap a picture of it with their phone. Four different ways to do without the tag on the fruit! Or if that’s just too difficult for the American public, they could put a roll of tags next to each variety, and customers can take one tag for their purchase and put it on their hand, on a bag, on a piece of paper, on the fruit, wherever. That’s still a whole lot better, both for people like Jerry who don’t like tags on their food and better in terms of paper/plastic waste.

          1. All of your suggestions assume there are no … bad apples … willing to say they are buying cheaper fruit than they really are (free upgrade, amiright?). I’m afraid that’s still too trusting. Large stores generally warn cashiers to look out for ‘sticker switching’. In this case, it’s just too much for cashiers to figure out – and especially now with automated checkouts. How could a ‘shrink manager’ (store detective) prove that a customer is paying for the wrong apples?

            1. Sure it assumes that. But the whole self-checkout system depends on some level of trust. So the fact that they are a present and growing part of the checkout systems indicates that the stores aren’t experiencing large amounts of theft from them.

              And of course if they’re really suspicious about it, you pilot it at a few scattered stores, see how it goes, and implement it only if it works well.

    2. … these need to be non-toxic because people sometimes eat them.

      Guess it beats putting a warning sticker on the fruit saying “do NOT eat the barcode sticker.”

      1. Then there would be the risk that people would eat the warning sticker. So you would need another warning sticker. Infinite regress. Warning stickers all the way down. Long tails of them hanging off each grape.

      2. Recently saw a commercial touting edible stickers as a “benefit.” While I was searching to remember the product, I just discovered that those stickers are consumable and regulated by the FDA. And being promoted for children. Parents (apparently) are supposed to paste fun stickers on healthy foods like carrots, to make kids more likely to eat them.

        “StickyLickits are edible stickers. Wait!…. What? Yes, No kidding!
        No sugar, No gluten, No GMO, No soy, No dairy, No peanuts or tree nuts. No artificial ingredients whatsoever. StickyLickits make eating healthy snacks more fun for kids of all ages! Sticky Lickets: stickers you can eat!

        Not satire. Check out the advertisement yourselves: StickyLickits . com

  7. It also allows fruit to be bought without extra bagging. Since the bagging is almost always single-use plastic, that’s probably quite a big incentive at the moment.

  8. How’d the damn things become A Thing in the first place?

    Is all they’re for is making the cash register jockey’s job easier than weighing them all – which they still have to do anyway a lot of the time?

    Does anyone/anything actually USE them?

    Oooo, they got NUMBERS, and CODES… but what the hell, precisely, are they for?!?!

    1. Chiquita bananas have them – not sure what that means, but bananas are bunches, and the sticker goes with the peel.

      … pineapple gets a tag…


      … this is going to be my next Sherlock Holmesian mystery to solve, I dread..

        1. The plastic isn’t bad. It’s just not compostable. Single-use plastic is ideal for a lot of things. This is one of them. I think the adhesive engineers did a good job coming up with stickiness that is sticky enough to keep the label attached to a wide variety of textures during transit but still lifts off easily from most things without tearing or shredding. Maybe not plums…

          My wife, who used to work in this area, tells me that the information on the stickers also identifies the individual farm or plantation the fruit/veg came from, which is helpful to the public health and food safety authorities in investigating outbreaks of food-borne disease. Even if you didn’t save the stickers—of course you didn’t—they can trace the information through receipt and inventory management systems. They just have to ask the sick people where they bought the kumquats.

  9. I have forgotten to peel it off an apple, then accidentally sliced through it, and now have to peel off two mushed pieces plus what’s stuck to the knife.

  10. Not only do the stickers help the cashier check things out faster, the barcodes/product codes are extremely useful in automated inventory control. When specific stocks are running low, alerts are issued to re-order merchandise and produce. All in the name of productivity.

    1. I am a supermarket cashier. The scanner at the checkout keeps track of how many items you scan per minute. The goal is 18. If you fall too far below that, the computer at the home office sends a notice to your boss, who is then required to tell you to work faster, and you have to sign the notice confirming you had the discussion. Anything that speeds up the job is appreciated. Yes, you soon learn the most common codes, but there are countless items, including multiple varieties. If you have to pause to figure out what kind of onion or tomato you are holding, it slows you down.

      1. If every item is bar coded, I can see 18 items per minute. And I suppose if you mostly buy processed foods, most are. Maybe I am weird, but over half the items I buy are fresh produce – mostly they just have a product number that the checker has to find and then enter manually into the cash register. No way 18 per minute. Exception: virtually everything at Aldi is bar coded. At a ‘main stream’ supermarket, I’d shudder if I was behind two carts filled to the brim; not at Aldi, where it would take less than half the time as ordinary super markets. And the prices are really low. Of course, you have to bring your own bag and bag your own groceries, but big deal.

        1. At my supermarket, we do sell a lot of fresh produce. Hardly anyone actually sells 18 items per to minute, but that’s the goal. Of course, most of the cashiers are teenagers and have faster reflexes than I do–I’m in my 60s, so I’m measured against people young enough to be my grandchildren. (I had to start over after the place I worked for over 30 years was closed by Covid. So it goes.) Excuse my rambling.

  11. The industrial strength adhesive is designed to keep consumers from swapping out labels that start with 9 (organic and more expensive) with labels from conventionally grown (less expensive) produce.

  12. I find them useful. If there is a recall I don’t have to remember what country the fruit came from. Also useful in teaching kiddos where their food comes from. Still they are kind of annoying but they won’t send me over the edge. A lot more important things to focus on.

  13. There’s a technology (in Japan? Germany maybe…) I heard about a few years ago whereby lasers engrave/burn the info into the skin of (some) fruits. The logic was to save the resources of the little tags that (the boss is right) are annoying while still getting the info.

    The info isn’t completely useless though – reminds us where our food comes from.
    I’m generally into labelling as much as possible but I objected to a recent Maine (? New England somewhere) law mandating whether a food was “GMO or not”. Which is unfortunate legitimation for the anti-GMO fanatics and ignoramuses out there.

  14. Where I live there is no self checkout lucky there are supermarkets! The stickers are very useful for identifying the difference between similar looking varieties of fruits as the shops lump them all together as they think that one plum is just like another or one orange is just like another. I can’t even find out what variety of potato I am buying and have to rely on shape and skin texture to know if it will fry, boil or bake well. I have eaten a lot of blackened undercooked chips(french fries for those less fortunate individuals).

  15. When you consider it, there are not many fruits that are damaged by these annoying sticker-trackers. I can think of: tomatoes, nectarines, apricots, plums…can’t think of any others. The items not affected are onions, garlic, avocados, citrus, cukes, squash, items in plastic like lettuce and herbs and bulk items…anyway, most produce items are perfectly acceptable to have these tracking labels. The good outweighs the bad, imo.

  16. It’s safe to bet that if the stickers exist, they are useful to someone in the food chain industry, and several commenters have offered good reasons. Technology makes analysis of information possible that wasn’t before. It’s almost narcissistic to posit that just because I can’t see any reason for them, that means someone dreamed them up just to annoy me. Why would a business go to the trouble of putting stickers on fruit if there wasn’t some economic or food-safety benefit? Automatic inventory control and replenishment (smokedpaprika) is enormously beneficial all by itself.

    Some of us are old enough to remember when retail businesses had to close for two days every year “for inventory”. Two days of lost sales frozen in time while we counted every box of staples, every yard of oilcloth, every pound of chocolate kisses, every spool of thread, every 45 rpm record in the whole store, reconciled by hand against new stock received that year to figure out if we were making any money net of what the shoplifters and dishonest employees got. The greengrocers had it harder because their stuff spoils.

    In the early years of point-of-sale inventory reconciliation the cashier had to key in a many-digit SKU number, not just a sticker price, and there was a several second delay while the system updated the stock and decided whether to order more of whatever widget the customer had just bought, before it would print a receipt and open the till, even for a cash sale. It annoyed her (and the queue behind her) to wait, money in hand, while the store did that back-office function on her time. Now it is transparently instantaneous and stickers on fruit are part of that transformation.

    It is too bad they tear plums, though. No doubt they are working on it.

  17. Several people have suggested that the stickers are a consequence of the move to self check-out systems. This may have made them more ubiquitous but I believe stickers of this kind were in use well before self check-out became a thing. On some fruit and veg – bananas and some citrus spring to mind – there have been stickers on fruit for as long as I can remember. There are probably several reasons involved then. Of course one of the reasons suggested with respect to self check-outs, namely being able to distinguish correctly between different variants of the same type of fruit (organic/mon organic, different varieties and countries of origin etc) is also beneficial to the employees working on manned check-outs. If they see the different fruits and vegetables many times a week they no doubt get pretty good at recognising them but there will still be some very similar looking varieties where a label is helpful.

  18. In Britain, we now have “smart shop” or equivalent. There’s an app on your mobile phone that you use to scan items and the shopping list is downloaded to the cash register when you check out. When you go round the shop, you scan each item and put it directly in your bag to take home. There’s no need to empty your shopping trolley at checkout to scan all the items – saves a lot of time.

    Anyway, if you want to buy loose fruit or vegetables (sold as items, not by weight), e.g. I often buy single loose lemons, the bar code is fixed to the shelf and there’s no label on the fruit.

  19. Field research observation :

    GreenPoint (www.greenpointdist.com)
    Product of Mexico

    Sticker about the size of a poker chip, shaped like a thumbprint. Covers some 3% or so of the eggplant surface.

    Comes up with some aggressive scratching. Veggie wash is no help. Eggplant undamaged.

    Once up, comes off super easy. Adhesive feels unlike tape – maybe like a weak sticker. sticks to itself very well.

  20. Thank you for highlighting one of my pet peeves. I absolutely _hate_ those awful stickers, which deface most of my fruits and vegetables. They also introduce adhesives of which I have no idea their toxicity or other health issues to the skin, and I also do now know how much of them I’ve consumed over time.
    Incidentally, I also hate self-checkout. I want someone else to manage that task, and it offers the chance for a casual human interaction. Now, grocery checkout enters the same realm as the ATM machine, and I find that sad.

    1. i’m not fond of self check-out either. It obviously saves money for the supermarket but from the customer perspective I find it is less convenient as almost invariably something (e.g. an age-restricted item) goes through the check-out that requires intervention from a human and I am then left waiting till someone is available to come and get me going again.

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