For about 2 weeks during my teenage years I worked in a grocery store. I really disliked the job, but I did learn a couple things during my short stint as a cashier. For example, the sticker on your apple is not just a price code, but it actually holds a lot more information about the product itself. These 4 or 5 digit codes are called Price Lookup Codes (PLU codes) and they actually tell you how your produce was grown. These codes are used by stores to identify produce and to distinguish between conventionally-grown, genetically-modified (GMO) and organic products.
Here’s what you should look for:
- A five-digit number that starts with a 9 means the item is organic. The four digits that follow the 9 are there to represent the fruit or vegetable.
- A four-digit code beginning with a 3 or a 4 means the produce is probably conventionally grown (with the use of pesticides).
- A five-digit code that starts with an 8 means the item is genetically modified (it has genes from other organisms). You won’t see many of those because only genetically modified versions of corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, papaya, and squash are now widely sold. And because PLU codes aren’t mandatory, companies can label those items as conventional. The problem is that although an estimated 60 to 70 percent of food items sold, including packaged goods, have genetically modified ingredients, little is known about the long-term effects of consuming them, and concerns have been raised about an increase in allergies and other health issues.
It’s that simple. Using these codes you can make sure you really are getting what you pay for.