If you are new to the organic produce world you may be wondering how to tell conventionally grown fruits and vegetables from organic. Sure some stores have organic produce clearly marked with special signage but what do you do it you are faced with a cornucopia of fruits and veggies that are not clearly labeled? Enter the mighty PLU code.
What's a PLU Code?
Like UPC code, PLU codes are used by stores to manage the checkout process at the cashier. PLUs are used to identify bulk and random/variable weight produce (and related items such as nuts and herbs). PLU numbers are typically printed on a small label attached directly to individual produce items and consists of a four or five digit number. We all know these stickers and I'm sure more than one of us has taken the Chiquita Banana sticker and secretly put it on a friend's back.
How it works for Organic produce.
Here's the trick for organic PLU codes – four digits identify conventionally grown produce items. A "9" added to the beginning of the four digit number indicates that the product is organically grown. (E.g., 4011 identifies a conventionally grown banana and 94011 identifies an organically grown banana.) This really comes in handy if you are looking at reduced produce in a store that offers both conventional and organic produce. I've nabbed many a bunch of organic bananas from the reduced produce rack (great for banana bread) and I've been confident they are organic by checking the PLU code.
What about Genetically Modified (GM) foods?
From what I understand, the number "8" at the beginning of the four digit PLU code indicates a GM product. The only problem is; growers and distributers do not have to indicate if a product is GM or not so the absence of a number "8" does not guarantee a product is GM free. Here's an interesting article by Jeffery Smith from the Huffington Post on the subject. Personally, I've never seen a piece of fruit or vegetable with a PLU code starting in the number "8". Gee, I wonder why…