The use of stickers so as to provide information on traceability, grades and prices is a common practice across the globe. Most of the stickers are applied directly on fruits and vegetable surfaces like apples, kiwis, oranges, mangoes, bananas, pears, bell peppers. However, in India, it has been observed that traders use stickers so their products look premium and sometimes also to hide any decay or defect on the products. Some common terms mentioned on these stickers are not really important or significant. A wide variety of adhesives are used on these stickers to paste them effectively. Safety of these adhesives is not known and they could contain harmful chemicals that can affect human health. We generally remove the stickers from the fruits and vegetables and consume them without thinking about the residues present on them. The risk of consuming these adhesives is high in case of fruits and vegetables consumed with their skin. Therefore, it is important to understand the safety of the stickers used directly on food products. This document will guide traders and consumers regarding the safety of stickers and best practices to prevent its ill effects.
- Consumers should check the quality of the fruits and vegetables before buying them. Presence of stickers on them does not guarantee their premium quality.
- Consumers must remove the stickers properly and peel the skin or cut the area where the sticker was applied before consuming the fruit or vegetable.
- Traders should use a function barrier to avoid direct application of stickers on fruits and vegetables. Some of the fruits can be packed in transparent thin films on which the sticker can be applied.
- Traders should discourage the use of stickers directly on fruits which do not provide any traceability or regulatory information
- As per the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 no food business operator shall store, sell or distribute any article of food which is unsafe.
Stickers are an important tool that provides information to consumers about the products in order to make a purchase decision. The skin of the fruits and vegetables is porous and absorb substances that come in contact with them. It is a common practice to apply stickers on the surface of individual fruits and vegetables with the help of “pressure sensitive adhesive.” These adhesives form a bond with the contact surface when the pressure is applied. A large number of chemicals are used in the manufacturing of adhesives whose safety is not known. These chemicals may migrate into the food or may be consumed along with the fruits and vegetables. Therefore adhesives used on the stickers shall not pose any adverse health effects on humans
Studies show that substances such as surfactants used in the adhesives are toxic for the reproductive system. Harmful chemicals present in the adhesives may come in direct contact with the food along with stickers and migrate into it. Heat from sunlight on the fresh fruits and vegetables sold in the open market may also increase the migration of harmful chemicals from adhesives into the fruits and vegetables.
Purpose of stickers
International scenario: Stickers are used to facilitate traceability and easy accessibility of the information. These stickers contain traceability information and Price Look Up (PLU) codes. The PLU coding system is voluntary, not maintained by any governing body. This type of coding system can be seen in the supermarkets of India on imported fresh foods.
Stickers used by traders do not contain any traceability information or other relevant information. Traders generally use stickers to make their products look premium and sometimes to hide any decay or defect on the product. These stickers generally contain ‘Brand name of Traders” or Tested Ok or “Best Quality” or “Name of the Product” printed on them which does not really provide any quality information.
Provisions under Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006
As per the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, no business operator shall store, sell, or distribute any article of food which is unsafe. Unsafe food means food whose nature, substance or quality is affected so as to render it injurious to health by the article itself or by the package, which is composed of poisonous or deleterious substances. Specific requirement for packaging of fresh fruits with reference to stickers or its adhesive is not prescribed under the Food Safety and Standards Regulations.
Advice for consumers
- Fruits and vegetables with stickers are not necessarily of premium quality. Consumers must check the quality before buying them.
- Stickers should be removed before consumption of these fruits and vegetables
- Consumers must peel or cut away the skin of the fruits and vegetables where the sticker was applied to prevent consuming the residues of the adhesive used on stickers
- Wash the fruits and vegetables properly with clean water before consumption.
Advice for traders
- Stickers without any relevant information such as traceability, grade, price, barcode, etc. should not be used
- The traders should avoid placing any stickers or labels directly on fruits
- If stickers are used, then the adhesive used on the stickers must be of a quality which should not cause any adverse effect on human health.
- A functional Barrier may be used to avoid direct application of the stickers on fruits and vegetables. Some of the fruits are the type that can be packed in the transparent film on which sticker may be applied.
The ink used on the stickers must be food grade quality and must not migrate into the food.