We decode the coding rules for fresh produce

Feb 14, 2020 by Mark Dingley

Choosing the right code for your product is a very easy way to ensure it arrives at the right place on time. This is critical when transporting fresh food, which has a far shorter lifespan than other products.

There are a number of coding standards to consider within the produce industry; some are mandatory whilst others are recommended. Generally, it comes down to what is best for your consumers and your overall supply chain.

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These are the five essential codes you must understand:

fresh food

1. Date codes

The most common form of code needed within the fresh produce industry is the date code or a use-by-date, often placed on plastic packaging. Food Standards Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) states that any packaged food with a shelf life of less than two years must be printed with a use-by-date on the primary packaging, and a best-before date is required for all other cases. These codes provide customers with a guide to the shelf-life of the food in terms of quality. This way they know how long they can keep the product before it deteriorates or becomes unsafe to consume.

Retailers will also require a date code on the secondary packaging of the product. This gives them information needed to improve their stock turnaround while avoiding food wastage. These retail date codes must be clearly visible and, by law, indelible. Matthews can help provide produce suppliers with printing and coding solutions that meet all legal requirements. Common technologies include thermal transfer overprinters (TTO) and label printer applicators (LPA).


2. Price Look Up (PLU) codes

A Price Look Up (PLU) code is a four- or five-digit number that is used to identify fresh produce items. They may appear on a small sticker on an individual piece of fresh produce, such as an apple or tomato. There are two PLU codes currently in use: global assigned and retailer assigned. A global PLU code is assigned to products that are traded on an international level, whilst retailer-assigned codes are only for national use. There are also ‘Australian Grown’ PLU codes that are used by national suppliers who sell to retailers within Australia, but these codes can’t be applied to any fresh produce that is exported.


3. National Global Trade Item Numbers (GTINs) for cartons and crates

The national GTIN is only used by loose fruit and vegetable suppliers to identify crates and cases (non-retail trade items). It is suggested that these be used alongside the GS1 logistics label, allowing trade partners to scan and trace the product as it moves through the supply chain. These GTINs are assigned and managed by GS1 Australia, so if there is a National GTIN that doesn’t exist for your product, GS1 Australia will allocate one for you.

Though this may appear simple, it isn’t as easy as you may think. In the long term, the fresh produce industry is campaigning for a move toward supplier or agent assigned GTINs, but only if where the supplier is also the brand owner. Some loose produce suppliers are currently doing this, whilst others are still making use of the national GTIN assigned by GS1 Australia. If you choose to assign GTINs to non-retail items (such as cartons or crates), then you must inform your customers so they can update their databases.

When trading pre-packaged produce, the standard GTINs apply. Once you have received your GTIN, you can then create your barcode.


4. Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC)

SSCCs are assigned to pallets or units of fresh produce, as occurs in any industry. This code then provides your logistics units with a unique reference, allowing them to be traced from manufacturing through to delivery.


5. DataBar

The DataBar is a group of barcodes that were rolled out in Australia in 2014. This small barcode is used to deliver more product information at the retail point-of-sale (POS), allowing retailers and suppliers to access information from products that could not previously hold barcodes, such as fresh produce. As a result, products can be quickly and accurately scanned at the POS. They can also be used to provide automated markdowns, improved stock rotation and reduced stock wastage.


Using the right codes

Once you have identified the best codes for your produce and application, finding a way to generate and track them is critical. With Matthews iDSnet, you can generate and manage codes whilst keeping a record of what has been printed. All codes will be stored in a central database alongside their product information. This streamlined system allows for quick and easy changes from a central location, ensuring you print the correct code onto the right product, each time.