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We’ve all seen those (annoying) stickers on our fruits and vegetables from the grocery store, but have you ever looked at them--noticed they have numbers--and wondered about their purpose?
PLU codes, or Price Look-Up codes, have been in use since the 1990s and are four- or five-digit numbers (the last four digits within the 3000 and 4000 range) that identify bulk fruits and vegetables in grocery stores and supermarkets (similar to a barcode).
There are now more than 1300 PLU codes in use internationally. (In addition to numbers, produce stickers may also include details such as grower information, company logos, and country of origin.)
The important thing to know about these numbers is this: If you are specifically looking for organic produce, as I do, look for a 5-digit number starting with “9.”
If you are looking for or to avoid GMO food (genetically modified organisms), look for a 5-digit number starting with “8” (although let me note that I have yet to see a code indicating GMO produce--this is a controversial issue and using an “8” to identify GMO food is optional as far as I understand).
Here is an example: Conventional watermelon is coded #4340 while organic watermelon is coded #94340.
Other than the organic indication, there really is no reason for you, the consumer, to pay attention to these numbers. They are primarily for stores to identify, inventory, and price produce.
If you’re really interested in knowing what each of those four- or five-digit codes mean, you can check out this site by the Produce Marketing Association or this fun site. For more information about the types of produce (conventional, organic, and genetically modified) see this site.
Here’s a tip: I never assume a fruit or vegetable with with a PLU code starting with “9” is organic (sometimes there are two stickers on the item or the wrong sticker accidentally lands on the wrong item). And I never assume the produce I grab out of an “organic” bin is organic without looking at the number. I always double check the signs, the bins, and the codes on each piece of produce to make sure I truly am buying organic. (And please note that buying organic automatically means you’re buying non-GMO food.)
And of course, if you buy fresh produce right from a or a farmer or grow your own, you don’t have to worry a thing about deciphering codes!