Produce Labels Explained

Understanding Produce Labels

Have you ever wondered why all of the produce that you bring home from the grocery store has to have those annoying little stickers on them?  While they can be a little irritating they do serve a purpose for grocery stores, and can serve pretty useful to us as well. The information contained on those labels is called a PLU number, or a Price Look-Up number. The International Federation for Produce Coding standardizes these codes for grocery stores, making it easier for the stores to charge appropriately when you check out. But the stickers can be advantageous to the consumer as well. They make it easier to know what we are putting into our shopping carts, by differentiating fruits and veggies. Here’s how:

Conventional fruits and vegetables are labeled with four digit numbers that begin with a 3 or a 4.  For example, a conventional Granny Smith Apple has a PLU of 4017.  Conventional means that it is grown on a farm that uses harmful pesticides and chemicals.

Organic produce has five digit PLU numbers that begin with a 9. For example, an organic Granny Smith Apple has a PLU of 94017. Organic produce is grown on farms using natural fertilizers and without the use of harmful pesticides and chemicals that can be harmful to our bodies.

Genetically Modified (GM) produce also have five digit PLU numbers, but these begin with an 8.  For example, a GM Granny Smith Apple will have a PLU of 84017. GM means that the produce’s DNA has been modified through engineering, causing possible safety concerns. Many pre-packaged and processed foods contain GM foods, such as soy or corn oils, but fortunately today GM fruits and vegetables in their whole form are rare (besides Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash).

Ideally, we should purchase most of our fruits and vegetables from local, organic farms and farmer’s markets so we know exactly where our produce was grown and how. But, for most of us, this is not realistic (especially in the colder months) and we have to shop in conventional supermarkets. Supermarkets usually designate organic produce with signage, but do not usually do so for genetically modified foods. Often, the PLU sticker will include the country or state of origin, helping us identify how far our produce has traveled as well.  So now you know, when perusing the produce section of your favorite supermarket, if you are unsure if something is organic, conventional or GM, all you have to do is look at the PLU!

Have no fear though, you don’t have to purchase all organic produce.  Check out the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) website where you can view the “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen” lists with loads of other helpful information.  You can even download the “Dirty Dozen” app for your smart phone for convenience while shopping.  Sweet!

By the Conscious Connection’s Resident Holistic Health & Yoga Expert, Lauren Forney, HHC, RYT

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