PTI Labels 

On November 6, 2020, the produce company Tanimura & Antle Inc. voluntarily recalled all of their single packaged romaine lettuce with a pack date of October 15th and 16th as a preventative measure. This was due to possible contamination with a strain of E. coli.

Retailers and distributors were advised to not sell or distribute any romaine lettuce from that brand with these package dates and a specific UPC number. 

So how did Tanimura & Antle know to flag these specific products for recall?

The answer is PTI labels.

PTI labels are barcode labels used to track produce items from the farm to the retailer. By tracking these items, every member of the supply chain knows where the items are from and where they have been shipped to. In the event of a recall, affected items can be removed quickly and efficiently for the safety of consumers.

For something so important to the labeling process, there are quite a few components that formulate PTI labels. So let’s take a further look at PTI labels: what they are, what information they contain, and why they’re so important to the produce industry.

What is PTI?

So, what exactly is PTI? PTI stands for Product Traceability Initiative. It is an industry wide effort to label and track produce from where it originates in the field, through the packaging process, and all the way into the grocery store. The purpose of PTI is enhanced visibility and traceability in supply chain operations for food safety.

This voluntary program was launched in 2008 as a way to minimize contaminated produce items from further affecting consumers and speeding up the process of removing it from shelves. Small community operations all the way to major produce suppliers can benefit from joining PTI.

What Makes a PTI Label?

Because its purpose is product traceability, PTI labels use barcodes, typically a Code 128 barcode

This is an alpha-numeric, 1-dimensional barcode that must meet GS1 standards. GS1 stands for Global Standard 1, an international, non-profit organization that provides and registers barcodes worldwide. They help with supply chain standards and appoint companies a specific identification number for their barcodes. 

Each barcode must be unique as it will correlate with each specific case of produce on the exact day it was picked and packaged. This allows for each case of produce to be quickly and efficiently tracked with a single scan, and, in the event of a recall, all contaminated materials from that case can be easily flagged.

Why Are PTI Labels Important?

So, now that we know a little bit about what PTI is, the question remains: why are PTI labels so important?

Over the years, there have been many instances of foodborne illnesses wreaking havoc on public health and safety, leading to countless sick individuals, cases of hospitalizations, and, in severe cases, death. PTI labels are for food safety, reassuring consumers that measures are in place to protect them from harmful products.

With billions of cases of produce being handled each year, these industry labels limit the scope of recalls, allowing for less of a harmful impact on buyers, consumers, and businesses alike. 

For example, say there is a recall on fresh strawberries. Without PTI labels, companies and businesses would not be able to know if their stock is affected by the contamination. This would result in every company and business removing their entire inventory of strawberries from the shelf as a safety precaution, leading to an unprecedented loss in products and profits. 

By using PTI labels, the overall scope of the contaminated items is limited, meaning it will cost less to quickly remove harmful, affected items from the market and still allow for unaffected products to be safely sold and consumed.

More Benefits of PTI Labels

Using PTI labels gives full visibility and transparency of products and improves inventory management across the country. Since these items are tracked in real time, their location is always available which leads to more data for faster transportation and delivery. It also allows for accessible and electronic recordkeeping as products move between buyers and sellers throughout the supply chain. 

PTI labels can be used for multiple fresh food industries, not just produce. Some examples include:

  • Meat & poultry
  • Seafood
  • Deli
  • Dairy
  • Bakery

PTI Label Content Requirements

PTI labels require several sections of important information

There are quite a few elements that make up a PTI label. All of this information is required on the label for the product to be not only traceable, but to meet standard industry requirements.

  1. GS1-128 Barcode – The barcode of a PTI label combines 2 parts: the product GTIN and Lot Number. GTIN stands for Global Trade Item Number. It is a 14 digit unique identifier used to recognize the trade items of any given company, manufacturer, or retailer, who then decides how to structure the GTIN for packaging. The barcode also consists of a Lot Number. This is another number that is used to identify a group or quantity of products from a single supplier.
  2. Product Description – This information describes in detail the product being shipped, more specifically, the product commodity and variety. The commodity refers to a generalized description of the product (i.e. apples, tomatoes, lettuce, etc.)  and the variety refers to the exact type of product (i.e. fuji, roma, romaine, etc.). 
  3. Pack Size The pack size describes the quantity and weight of the container being labeled.
  4. Date –  This is the date that the product is either packaged and harvested on or the best by date. 
  5. Country of OriginThis tells the country where the product was grown, or originated from (i.e. Product of USA).
  6. Distribution InformationAll of the information from where the product was packaged and shipped from is printed here. This can include the company name, street address, city, and state.
  7. PTI Voice Pick CodeThe Voice Pick Code combines the GTIN, Lot Number, and pack date to form a 16-digit code number. The code is divided into a smaller two-digit number and a larger two-digit number printed on the bottom right corner on the label.

Label Application Types

Since PTI labels are used for fresh produce, there are several application types to consider. As produce is picked and packed for movement and shipping, they are put into different containers, from cases to boxes to pallets. This also means that label size can be affected as they will vary depending on the type of container the product is placed in.

  • Reusable Plastic Container (RPC) – Because they are manufactured for repeated use, RPCs utilize labels with a certified adhesive and substrate that peel off easily. These labels, called IFCO labels, are made to meet requirements from the food industry before they are applied to RPCs. During the wash process, IFCO labels dissolve off of the reusable containers, leaving a clean surface for new labels to be applied.
  • Polypropylene PTI Labels – These can be used to prevent errors caused by paper material, such as wrinkling due to humidity. Issues like this can cause the label to be unusable.
  • Disposable Cases – Cardboard or corrugated boxes fall into this category. Labels with a standard label adhesive, like general-purpose, can be used here as the containers will be discarded after use.
  • Hybrid Pallet – These labels combine barcodes and human-readable text and must be printed on a minimum size of a 4×6 thermal label. Like the name says, they are applied to outbound shipping pallets to identify the entire contents being shipped.
  • Corner Labels – Corner labels are large enough to span two sides of a box or pallet for more visibility. They can be used to describe multiple items within one case. Hybrid labels can also be corner labels.


PTI labels are applied to wooden crates

Because of the multiple environments PTI labels endure as well as the varying containers they are applied to, a durable label material, like polypropylene, would be the best choice for printing them on. This will also help prevent scratching, smudging, and fading, and enable barcodes to be easily scanned at each junction within the supply chain. 

Those looking into using PTI labels will want to consider a synthetic label material or a coated facestock to perform well in damp conditions and temperature changes.

Application Surfaces

  • Corrugated boxes
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Waxed & unwaxed cartons
  • Wooden crates
  • Styrofoam containers
  • Plastic containers

Application Environments

  • Fields
  • Warehouses
  • Distribution Centers
  • Cold Storage

Who Can Print PTI Labels 

If you are a company that’s considering joining PTI, you will want your labels to be PTI compliant, durable, and high quality. There are a few options to consider when it comes to how your labels will be printed.

Printing Your Own PTI Labels 

If you are a farmer or seller and would prefer to print your own PTI labels, you will require a thermal label printer. Depending on the amount of labels you’ll print daily, you will want to use either a thermal desktop printer or an industrial printer. 

Direct thermal or thermal transfer labels can be used for PTI labels. However, we would recommend the use of thermal transfer labels as they are more durable than their direct thermal counterparts and print better on synthetic materials, like polyester and polypropylene. If you plan on using thermal transfer labels, make sure you also purchase a thermal ribbon for printing

Along with this equipment, you will need a software program that creates and prints PTI labels. These can be purchased through businesses that specialize in barcoding software or there are some free options available online.

Pre-Printed Labels 

If printing your labels is not an option, you can purchase preprinted labels from a buyer like Smith Corona.  Interested in buying preprinted labels? Fill out this custom label form

PTI is a case-level traceback system, therefore each case must have its own unique label. This also applies to pallets. 

Labels We Offer

Need help finding the right labels for your PTI needs? You can email us at or give us a call at 1-800-875-7000.

Direct Thermal Labels 

Thermal Transfer Labels 

Companies Involved with PTI

Even though it is not a requirement, many companies have voluntarily joined PTI to ensure consumer safety and the reputation of their brand. It is important for them to have customers trust that they are getting fresh and healthy produce from a reliable business. Some companies involved with PTI include:

  • Whole Foods
  • Associated Wholesale Grocers 
  • California Giant
  • Dole Food Company
  • Publix Super Markets
  • Sun Pacific
  • Consumers Produce, Inc.
  • Walmart
  • Dawson Orchards, Inc.
  • The Kroger Company
  • Tanimura & Antle
  • Liberty Fruit Company
  • Frontera Produce
  • Del Monte Fresh Produce Company


We hope this article has cleared up some confusion surrounding PTI labels and given you more insight into why they are useful and necessary to the labeling process.