Learn how to decode produce stickers to know of your orange is organic, GMO or conventionally-grown.
Have you ever seen a little sticker on your apples, bananas or cilantro with a 4- or 5-digit number and wondered what it means?
The digits are referred to as the produce look-up code (PLU). PLUs are the way that the produce industry manages inventory and pricing. There’s a 4-digit PLU code assigned for almost all items sold in the produce aisle, from fruits and veggies to herbs and spices and even some nuts and dried fruit.
Several websites have reported that certain PLU codes will help you detect genetically modified items However, to date, no one is using the “8” to indicate a GMO product. Probably because companies aren’t required tell us if their product contains genetically modified material.
Since proposition 37 failed to pass last November in California, it will probably be years (if ever) that foods made with genetically altered material will be labeled as such. For now, PLU codes are the only way to tell what you’re eating. But since it’s a voluntary program, don’t expect too many produce suppliers to put stickers indicating GMOs.
The PLU for bananas is “4011” a GMO banana would be 84011. On the other hand, the symbol for organic is the number “9” in front of the 4-digit PLU code so 94011 would indicate an organic banana: you’ll see plenty of 94011-labeled bananas in supermarkets.
–Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD