Stickers on Your Produce: What Do the Numbers Mean?

You have probably given very little thought to those little stickers on the fresh produce you buy at the grocery store.

Indeed, they are of little use to you unless you are a store wanting to track exactly which produce is being purchased, and how much.

Known in the industry as PLU (Price-Look Up) codes, these numbers have been developed by the International Federation of Produce Standards (IFPS).

In the United States, PLU codes must have certified FDA compliant adhesives for direct food contact. PLU codes identify fruit and vegetables according to four factors:

  • commodity - kind of produce, such as a standard onion
  • variety - more details of a kind of produce, such as a Vidalia onion
  • growing methodology- organic or non-organic
  • size - large or small

What does a PLU code mean for you, the consumer?

  • The biggest trend in local produce is to identify something is organic. PLU codes that are 5 digits long, beginning with the number 9, indicate a product is organic. 
  • PLU codes no longer indicate whether items are non-genetically modified (non-GMO), although US Department of Agriculture requires that any item listed as 100% Certified Organic must also be non-GMO.

    Non-GMO does not necessarily mean organic. Non-GMO fruits and vegetables may be treated with conventional pesticides and therefore not meet the USDA 100% Certified Organic requirements.

    There are guides available to help you navigate not only companies but also specific foods, including fruits and vegetables, that are non-GMO. A PLU code will not help you decipher a non-GMO item.
  • It is also important to remember that not all retailers use PLU codes. If you are searching for organic fruits and vegetables, looking for PLU codes can be unreliable. However, retailers recognize the growing market in organic fruits and vegetables and often place the organic produce in a separate, easily identifiable section.

Keeping you’re health as your number one priority begins with eating healthy. You can optimize your food choices by selecting organic and non-GMO foods. The Environmental Working Groups provide a comprehensive list of typical fruits and vegetables, typical agricultural pesticide use, and recommendations on organic fruits and vegetables.

If you don’t have these resources at your finger tips on your next grocery shopping trip, just head for the clearly labeled organic section of your produce department or check for the 5-digit PLU codes.

Contact your local Metabolic Medical Center for guidance on incorporating organic fruits and vegetables into your individualized weight management plan.

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