Cracking the Codes

Have you ever wondered what the numbers on the little stickers on your apples, bananas and other produce mean? It’s actually quite simple but very important for health conscious consumers to know, understand and memorize. After all, most of us ‘healthy’ shoppers spend our hard-earned money on slightly more expensive goods and we deserve the right to know what we’re getting, right? This article will show you how to read the price look-up (PLU) codes which are required for most produce nowadays.

The next time you go grocery shopping, be a detective! Don’t only look at the Nutrition Facts labels on your processed and boxed goods, but also look at the stickers and labels on your produce.

PLU stands for price look-up code and is an international numbering standard that identifies each type of produce. Most, if not all, grocery stores will use the PLU code to ring up the correct price on their cash registers automatically. The code also indicates whether the food is grown from a conventional, organic or genetically modified (GM) food crop or farm.

Codes are generally 4 digits long with a 5th digit added to the beginning of the number to indicate whether the food was grown in an organic or GM crop. Now, here’s the most important part to remember: If there is a 5 digit number that starts with a 9, the food is organic. If the 5 digit number starts with the number 8, then the food is a genetically modified product. Lock this number combination to your permanent memory stores and remember it every time you shop! If there is no PLU on the produce itself, check the sign which contains the price of the product, or ask a clerk or store manager to tell you the PLU code if you still can’t find it.

So, remember, when you shop for fruits or vegetables at your local “mixed” market (selling a combination of organic and conventional products), instead of just looking at the signs saying “Bananas $0.29/lb”, look at the actual stickers on the produce themselves. Many times, I have found the grocer mixing non-organic fruits in the organic fruit isle – possibly due to the fact that they don’t have enough space for the produce in the ‘regular’ food isle or simply because they are trying to slip one past shoppers that assume the organic isle is all organic. While this would be ethically and morally wrong, I wouldn’t put it past some companies to pull a stunt like that in order to increase their revenues.

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