Everyone has probably noticed the bar code and number stickers found on produce also known as the price look-up code (PLU code). While the bar codes are used for pricing the products, the numbers hold a different meaning. The information is particularly of interest for consumers interested in selecting organic or GMO-free foods.
What is a PLU Code?
All of the PLU codes have a four-digit base. According to a report published on the Don’t Waste the Crumbs website, the code numbers are the same for each individual type of produce regardless of the fact that the items might originate in different geographical locations. So, all summer squash have the same code, and all zucchini have their own code.
The codes of all grown fruit begin with a 3 or a 4. However, different types of the same fruit typically bear slightly different numbering in the last three numbers of the code. For example, the last three numbers on a red delicious apple are generally different compared to a Granny Smith apple.
What Do Five-Digit Numbers Mean?
Some produce have five digit codes. If the code begins with an 8, the number denotes a product that was genetically modified. When the code begins with a 9, the product is organic. However, grocers or vendors may not always use the numbered denotation.
Is the PLU Code Labeling Reliable?
According to an article in the “Statesman Journal” the USDA does not require grocers or vendors to differentiate between regular and organic products, which leaves the coding process up to the desires of the grocer or vendor. A business owner charging the same price for both products would not desire to denote the difference. Businesses use the codes for pricing and ordering purposes. If a business owner sees that a particular type of product is popular, they reorder more of that product based on the four-digit code.
Some grocers may not code their produce. That is their prerogative. Some foods might simply be labeled GMO-free or 100 percent organic. Despite studies to the contrary, the government does not consider genetically modified food as being different than traditionally grown food. So, while the five-numbered code beginning with 8 does exist, actually seeing this code is unusual.
While genetically modified foods might be found in different departments of a supermarket, there are not many produce items sold under this category. Fresh produce that might fall under the GMO category include corn, Hawaiian papaya, yellow squash and zucchini.
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