Many people do not know, but grocery stores use a secret language to communicate the truth about their produce. And after reading this article, you’ll be able to join the conversation and know more about what they’re selling – and if you want to buy it at all. You already know the grocery stores slap produce stickers onto each piece of fruit they sell.
But the PLU code on the label reveals so much more than the price of the item. Besides telling the cashier what they need to know about how to ring up the item, the PLU code can also tell the buyer how the crop of fruit was grown. From the numerical code on the sticker, you can learn if the product is organic or a genetically modified mutant.
Four numbers in the PLU
When you read just four digits, the fruit in your hand was grown using pesticides. The sellers call this conventional or traditional farming, despite the use of modern technology to ward off bugs and pests. So if the bananas you want to buy have a code 4011, then know they were sprayed with poisons.
Five numbers in the PLU and starts with “8”
Warning. If the five number code starts with 8, then the fruit was genetically modified in a lab. Scientists tampered with the produce’s genetic makeup to make it bigger or more resistant to pests. If you’re trying to avoid produce that was engineered in a lab, then avoid produce with a PLU code that starts with 8. So if you’re buying bananas, a genetically modified version would have the code 84011.
Five numbers in the PLU and stars with “9”
Produce with a five-digit code that begins with 9 were grown organically. The farmer did not use pesticides and did not genetically modify the produce in a lab. An organic banana would be labeled 94011.
Because every piece of produce was slapped with a sticker, they used a food-grade adhesive. But the sticker itself is not technically safe to consume. Make sure you continue removing it before chomping down on the fresh apple or pear.
You care about the food your family eats. So it pays to take a close look at the produce stickers on the fruits you buy. They’re there and tell a story about where the particular item came from. But if you’re willing to buy organic food for your family, you should know that not every conventional item is loaded with pesticides.
The Environmental Working Groups has shared two lists that have helped people make wise choices at the grocery story while saving money. Their first list is called the Dirty Dozen. You should avoid these fruits and vegetables when they’re farmed using conventional methods. The reason is that they often have high water content, which allows the poisons to seep into them and remain when you eat it.
The dirtiest of the dirty dozen are strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, and celery.
But some fruits and vegetables naturally resist pests and don’t need as many pesticides. Or if they need the chemicals, the poisons don’t get stuck in the food itself. This list is called the Clean Fifteen. It is safe to buy these conventionally. The cleanest of the clean fifteen are avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, cabbage, frozen sweet peas.
The more you know about the food you buy, the better choices you can make for your family.