Do You Know What The Numbers On Your Produce Mean?

Feb 28, 2016

Organic. Non-GMO. Locally grown. Farm fresh. We use a lot of adjectives to describe our produce, but it can all sound like a bunch of gibberish to the uninformed shopper. Our food, and how it's grown, is something that people get really passionate about - and for good reason. The U.S. agriculture industry provides our nation with around 1.5 million jobs that help the world stay fed. It's their duty to provide us with the best fruits and vegetables possible, and they work hard at it each and every day.

But, when you have an industry as big as agriculture, you're bound to have people who believe things should be done differently. Corporations like Monsanto believe that GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are the future of food. They are the world's largest supplier of genetically engineered seeds and herbicides. By genetically modifying seeds, crops can be grown year-round, maintain a longer shelf life, and cost far less than non-GMO foods. Sounds great, right? Unfortunately, many have expressed their concerns that GMOs may be harmful to our health in the long run. If the purpose of the agriculture industry is to nourish the world, shouldn't we be sure that the food it's producing isn't doing more harm than good?

The jury is still out on how GMOs affect our health. There are plenty of studies that say they have no negative effect, citing years and years of data, while others maintain that the modified crops can lead to a host of health issues down the line. How you interpret this debate is up to you, as it may be a long time before we have a definitive answer as to whether or not GMOs are bad for us. For those of us who are wary of GMOs and produce that has been treated with chemical pesticides, there are tons of organic options available at just about every supermarket. How do you tell which fruits and veggies were grown which way? Sure, there are big signs that say "Organic," but some shoppers might want a little more certainty when it comes to choosing what they will serve their family. That's where PLU codes come in.


These short, four- or five-digit codes can be found on most produce at the grocery store. PLU stands for "Price Look Up," and cashiers use it to make sure they know exactly what type of produce you wish to purchase so they can charge you the correct price. In fact, you may have entered one of these yourself while using the self-checkout.

Michelle Cesare

While they're useful for determining price, PLU codes have a lot more to tell us about how our produce was grown.


There are three main types of PLU codes: zeroes, eights, and nines.



A PLU code that begins with a zero, or is four digits long, signifies produce that has been conventionally grown using common pesticides. (Ex: 03001 or 4921)


A PLU code that begins with an eight signifies that the produce has been genetically modified. (Ex: 84220)

Sharon Mollerus

A PLU code that begins with a nine signifies organic produce. (Ex: 93857)


Currently, PLU codes are not required by law, which means they aren't always the most reliable way to tell whether or not your produce has been treated with pesticides or genetically modified. Additionally, suppliers have been known to avoid labelling their produce as genetically modified by omitting the "eight" from their PLU code, as long as the price is the same as the non-GMO produce. If organic produce is something you want, keep an eye out for anything labeled "Organic." Or, to take it a step further, anything that the USDA has certified as "100% organic" is guaranteed to be free of any GMOs. If you'd like to learn more about PLU codes and the produce you're purchasing, check out this helpful video below:

H/T: Sun Gazing

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