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you buy produce from a supermarket, you’ll see a sticker containing a four- or
five-digit number. This number is called the Price Look Up code, or PLU code.
If you’re like most people, you just peel the sticker off, throw it away, and
think nothing of it. Believe it or not, the numbers on the sticker mean a lot
to your health.

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The next time you buy a
fruit or vegetable, take a second to check out its PLU. The code
doesn’t just determine the price of the item at checkout, it also tells you
about how the produce was grown. Since 1990, PLU codes have
been assigned by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS).
Why? To make inventory control and checkout easier, faster, and more accurate.

So What Exactly Does The PLU Code
Tell Us?

The numbers identify
the produce. Produce is grown from the ground and there are many ways to do
this, as well as tons of locations where produce originates from. PLU codes
distinguish things like size, growing method (i.e., organic vs. conventional),
type of commodity (e.g., apple), and variety (e.g., Fuji apple, Pink Lady
apple). A PLU code that begins with a zero, or is four
digits long, signifies produce that has been conventionally or traditionally
grown using common pesticides. (Ex: 03001 or 4011). The last four digits of the
PLU code give the name of the fruit or vegetable. Like 4011 is a common code
for Bananas.

What Do The Numbers Mean?

If the
sticker only has four digits and is in the 3000-4999 range, the item was
conventionally grown. Conventionally means in a traditional way according to
industrial agriculture, which includes: the use of pesticides, chemical
fertilizers to promote growth, and chemical herbicides for weed maintenance.

Produce with
the prefix 9 will have five digits (i.e., the 9 is tacked onto the beginning of
the four-digit identifier) and means the item was grown organically. A PLU code that begins
with an eight signifies that the produce has been genetically modified. (Eg:
84220). This shows that a genetically engineered seed has been used to grow it.
For example, a genetically engineered (GE or GMO) banana would be: 84011.

What If The PLU Code Has More Than Five Digits?

A sticker
with more than five digits also means that the number isn’t a part of the
internationally standardized system. For example, if the sticker is six digits
long, though it may have a label, there is no guarantee about where the item
came from or what the item is.

Conventional VS Organic: Which One Is Healthier?

There is
some pretty confusing evidence out there, but we do know for sure that
“organic” describes the way in which the food was produced. Some say that there
is no clear cut evidence that conventionally grown food is any less safe
or nutritious than
organically grown counterparts

studies show that organic food is more nutritious because it has higher levels
of antioxidants. Critics of organic food will argue there’s uncertainty as to
whether or not your body is able to use these extra nutrients and antioxidants.
The other side of the argument is that meta-analyses have shown organic food to
contain about four times less pesticide residue lingering on or in it versus
conventional food.

Bottom Line

We live in a
world where it’s virtually impossible to eliminate the possibility of consuming
pesticides from our produce unless it’s homegrown. And even then, it’s
important to know whether or not the seed was genetically modified.

“So, next time you go out to buy your favourite fruit from the
nearest mall, do make it a point to read what those little stickers say. After
all, it always pays to be well informed. 




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