Decoding the Codes

Ever wonder why there are those tiny stickers on your produce?

The stickers on your produce are not there simply to be an annoyance, they actually have a universal purpose. Each sticker has a PLU code printed on it, which stands for Price Look Up code. The PLU number identifies the type of produce and variety, creating a global system managed by the International Federation for Produce Standards. For example: a regular kiwi has a PLU code of 4030. These codes make check-out and inventory control easier for the grocery store. It's easy to assume the purpose of the stickers ends there, however they can also help the consumer identify how the produce was grown.

The codes are normally seen as 4 digits, but there is a voluntary fifth digit that can prefix the 4 digits. This optional prefix can be either a "0", "8", or "9". Below is some info on what these prefixes represent:

"0" - often omitted from the PLU. Means the produce has been grown under conventional standards, often including the use of fertilizers and pesticides.

"8" - the produce has been genetically modified.

"9" - the produce has been grown organically.

I've read some discussions online about whether these codes truly educate the consumer, particularly in regards to the dreaded number "8". The system is meant to serve the farming and retail businesses, where retailers might not want consumers to know which items were genetically engineered. The prefix "8" can easily be omitted because including it is voluntary, thereby leaving the consumer in the dark. 

It is always important to know how our food was grown, and it should really be the consumers choice about the type of produce they want to eat. It's unfortunate the PLU system doesn't incorporate consumer priorities in addition to those of the producers and retailers. It seems the only way to be absolutely sure is to only purchase produce with the prefix "9". What do you think, should including all prefixes be a mandatory practice?

Did you know? - The adhesive on the produce PLU sticker is considered edible. The actual sticker itself, however, is not. So under the occasional chance that you bite into the sticker, might want to make sure you spit it out.



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