Produce Detective

Written by Carmen Scott

Grocery shopping is something we all do several times a month. We all struggle to buy less processed food, and more locally sourced produce, in environmentally friendly packaging. I notice that many of us are heading to grocery stores armed with lists of what preservatives to steer clear of, and apps that tell us which ingredients to avoid.

I personally hesitate at the apple section in any grocery store, and wonder if I should purchase organic apples over conventionally grown apples. How do I know about the toxicity of whole foods? I wondered if there was a way to identify if the produce I was purchasing had been genetically modified, organically grown or grown conventionally.

After a bit of research, I had the answer to my question – PLU – Price Look-Up Codes. These codes are printed on small stickers that are found on all fruits and vegetables. The stickers have either a 4 or 5 digit number and depending on where the produce originates the PLU sticker may also contain the produce variety, country of origin, and logo. These codes are affixed to every piece of fresh produce which helps the supplier identify the product and allows the registers at grocery stores to scan them.

PLU Numbers on Produce Stickers:
• Organic produce has a 5 digit PLU number that begins with the number 9.
• Conventional produce has a 4 digit PLU number that begins with the number 4.
• Genetically modified (GMO) produce has a 5 digit PLU number that begins with the number 8.

The codes have been in use since the early 1990’s, and while it’s true that fresh produce in supermarkets is labeled with a code to help identify it; using an 8 to label GMOs is optional, and most companies don’t identify that their produce is genetically modified. Genetically modified foods are not regulated and as of yet, do not require labeling.

PLU Examples:

Fuji Apples
#94129 Organic
#4131 Conventional

Granny Smith Apples
#94017 organic
#4017 conventional

Gala Apples
#94133 Organic
#4133 Conventional

So the next time you go shopping and wonder about how the food you are buying has been grown, be a produce detective and take a look at the PLU code; they contain a little more information than you think.

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About the author

Carmen Scott

Carmen Scott is the owner and co-founder of Burnt Toast Projects; builder of community resource websites. She specializes in family dynamics and parenting issues for the very young, and the young at heart. With degrees in Psychology and Art Therapy, plus 15 years in the corporate world combined with life experience as a mom, and now as a caregiver to both her parents. This makes Carmen an expert in this “sandwich generation” quest for simplicity, health, and well being, as well as the importance of staying connected with the greater community. Carmen was the “on-air” parenting expert for the duration of CHEK TV’s Island30 show with a segment called PG-Parental Guidance. Carmen is never far from her laptop; writing, blogging, web surfing and working on Burnt Toast Projects.