Understanding the Meaning Behind Produce Codes
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Understanding the Meaning Behind Produce Codes

Posted on Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 at 1:52 pm
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We’ve all had experience with those little stickers attached to fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. For most of us, it’s just something we have to peel off before consumption. For cashiers, these stickers are necessary in order to ring up the product and add it to your total grocery cost. Each sticker has a special “PLU code,” which not only identifies the type of produce you are buying, but can also tell you how that item was grown. PLU codes, or price look up codes, are universal, so the number on a banana in California is the same number you’ll find on a banana in New York.

Understanding more about PLU codes can help ensure you buy organically grown produce. Here is a quick and handy guide to understanding how your fruits and veggies were grown:

Four Digit Code: An item with a four digit code indicates that the product was grown the conventional way. This means pesticides or herbicides were used in the farming process. For example, the universal PLU code for a banana grown the conventional way is 4011.

Five Digit Code Beginning with the Number 8: Any produce bearing a sticker following these guidelines contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It could mean that the product itself was genetically modified, or the farmer started out with a genetically modified seed. Either way, if you’re looking to eat an organic diet, you probably want to stay away from genetically modified organisms. For example, the PLU code for a genetically modified banana is 84011.

Five Digit Code Beginning with the Number 9: Any fruit or vegetable boasting a sticker that follows these guidelines are grown organically. This means that the product was grown without harmful pesticides or genetically modified organisms. If you’re following an organic diet, keep your eyes peeled for any 5-digit code beginning with 9. For example, the PLU code for an organic banana is 94011.

However, consumers should note that these codes won’t always indicate when an item is genetically modified. While the PLU codes may be universal, the requirement for all grocery stores to use them is not. Most store owners are only concerned with using the code to help them identify cost. Whether or not a product was genetically modified probably isn’t a huge concern for them. If you are looking to go GMO-free, stick to buying organic produce. You can also talk to the produce specialist in your local grocery store to learn more about where the fruits and veggies come from.

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