Coding and labelling: decoding the rules for fresh produce, Part 2

Choosing the right code is a basic way of ensuring your product gets to the right place, at the right time. This is vital for fresh produce, which has a shorter life-span than other food products.

In Coding and labelling: decoding the rules for fresh produce – Part 1, we talked about the rules for labelling fresh produce, especially focusing on the country-of-origin legislation. As with labelling, there is a range of standards for coding to consider for fresh produce as well — some mandatory and some recommended. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what’s best for your customers and your supply chain as a whole.

There are 5 essential codes you need to understand for fresh produce:

1. Date codes

The most common coding needed in the fresh produce industry is date coding, or use-by dates, on plastic packaging. In Australia, the Food Standards Code states that packaged foods with a shelf-life under two years must have a use-by date on the primary packaging, and a best-before date in most other cases. The intention of date coding is to give consumers a guide to that food’s shelf-life in terms of quality. So they know how long a food can be kept before it begins to deteriorate or becomes unsafe to consume.

Retailers also require date code information on secondary packaging. This gives them the information they need to improve stock turnaround and avoid food wastage. Retail date codes must be clearly read and easily visible to the end consumer. Because it’s law to have that date, the code must be indelible. Matthews helps fresh produce suppliers with printing and coding solutions to meet legal requirements. The most common technology used by companies is a thermal transfer overprinter (TTO). Date codes are also applied with label printer applicators (LPA). 

2. Price look up (PLU) codes

“Price look up” (PLU) codes are four or five-digit numbers used to identify fresh produce items. They might appear on a small sticker on an individual piece of fresh produce. There are two types of PLU codes: global assigned and retailer assigned. Global PLU codes are assigned to items that are traded on an international level (click to see the global PLU list here), while retailer-assigned codes are for national use only. There are also “Australian grown” PLU codes that should be used by national suppliers who sell to retailers within Australia (these codes are not to be applied to fresh produce that is exported). GS1 Australia has managed a central list of PLU codes since the early 1990s.

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

The national GTIN is strictly for loose fruit and vegetable suppliers to use to identify cases and crates (known as non-retail trade items). It is recommended for use alongside the GS1 logistics label we talked about in Coding and labelling: decoding the rules for fresh produce – Part 1, allowing trading partners to scan the label and trace the product through the supply chain. These GTINs are managed and assigned by GS1 Australia, so if you find that a National GTIN does not exist for your product, GS1 Australia will allocate one.

However, this is not as simple as it might first appear. In the long term, the fresh produce industry wants to move towards supplier/agent-assigned GTINs — but only if the supplier is deemed the brand owner. Some loose produce suppliers are already doing this, while others are still utilising the national GTIN number assigned by GS1 Australia. If you do assign GTINs to non-retail trade items, it’s important to inform your customers so they can update their databases.

For any pre-packed produce, the standard rules of GTINs apply (you can read more about them in Matthews FAQs). Once you have a GTIN, you can create a barcode for your product.

4. Serial Shipping Container Code (SSCC)

As in any industry, an SSCC should be assigned to pallets or logistics units of fresh produce. This code provides your logistics units with a unique reference that can be used to trace products from manufacturing through to delivery. Find out more about SSCCs in the Matthews FAQs.

5. DataBar

 The DataBar is a new group of barcodes being rolled out in Australia in 2014. This small barcode will be used to deliver enhanced product information at retail point-of-sale. The main advantage for retailers and suppliers is that DataBar can be used on small or hard-to-mark consumer items that could not previously hold barcodes — such as fresh produce.

This means products can be quickly and accurately scanned at point-of-sale. It will also provide for automated markdowns, improving stock rotation and eliminating stock wastage. Visit the GS1 Australia website for the latest information on GS1 DataBar.

How to get the right codes

Once you’ve identified the best codes for your fresh produce, finding a way to generate and keep a track of them is critical. Matthews iDSnet can help you do that. iDSnet can generate and manage codes as well as keep a record of what is printed. All codes are stored in a central database along with the product information. With a streamlined system, message changes for the printers are quick and easy to do from one central location to ensure the correct code is put on the right product at the right time.

Need to discuss your coding and labelling needs for fresh produce? Contact Matthews for more information and advice. We also recommend you visit www.foodstandards.gov.au to stay up to date with the latest changes to the Food Standards Code.

Mark Dingley
Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 25 years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile
Mark Dingley

by Mark Dingley

Mark Dingley is Chairman of the Australian Packaging and Processing Machinery Association (APPMA) and is the CEO at Matthews Australasia. With 25 years of experience in the product identification industry and the wealth of knowledge gained from working closely with industry associations in developing and implementing standards & best practice, Mark is able to assist manufacturers with a range of issues from getting real-time visibility of their production line, improving automation, establishing quality assurance using machine vision to selecting the best fit technology for coding and labelling applications. Mark Dingley's LinkedIn Profile

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