decoding plu stickers

You know those little stickers on the fruits and veggies we buy? The annoying plastic-y ones that are nearly impossible to peel off of things like tomatoes? I've never really paid much attention to them except to see the origin of the item, where it says in small print "Product of Mexico", for example.

Recently I've been considering going back to school for integrative nutrition, and while poking around the Hippocrates Health Institute website, I came across this interesting article about PLU codes and what they really mean. A link to the article can be found here, and it discusses in depth the risks associated with consuming food that has been chemically or genetically treated. Allow me to provide you with the main points.

According to the article "The PLU sticker was designed by the Produce Marketing Association and the International Federation for Produce Coding not only as a way to facilitate food identification and source of origin, but also to enable a quicker check out. Most importantly, it tells you exactly how that produce was grown".

To summarize: If you care about eating food that has been grown free of chemicals or pesticides, the number to remember is 9.  If you'd rather not eat something that has been genetically modified (and my dear, I hope you wouldn't), you should pass on anything that starts with an 8.

Here are the rules:

1. Four digit number, usually beginning with a 4 or a 3 = conventionally grown, ie., sprayed with toxic synthetic chemicals including pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.

2. Five digit number, beginning with an 8 = genetically modified and can also be sprayed with the above toxic chemicals.

3. Five digit number, beginning with a 9 = organically grown; cannot be genetically modified and cannot use toxic chemicals of any kind.

The article provides a good example using a banana.

94011 - organic banana
4011 - banana has been sprayed with chemicals
84011 - banana has been genetically modified (and most likely also sprayed with chemicals)

I know I was surprised by what I learned on the Hippocrates site, not just in this article. I definitely encourage clicking through and reading some of their resources.

On a related note, one of my favorite resources on eating the best produce possible is the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen list, found on Environmental Working Group's site here


Steph said...

Thanks so much V! This is great info. Check out the recent Fresh Air Podcast on genetically modified tomatoes. Creepy, creepy.

Robyn Marie said...

This is great, Vanessa. It will change the way and shop!