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Organic vs. GMO: Cracking the Produce Codes

Have you ever looked at two bins of apples, one labeled 'organic,' and the other 'conventional,' and wondered if the apples might not be the same? I have. And since discovering a little secret of the produce industry, I've found that you really have to be a detective in the aisles these days.

The secret is the price look-up (PLU) codes. They're an international numbering standard that identifies each type of produce, so that computerized cash registers can ring up the cost of fruits and vegetables automatically. They're also a powerhouse of information for savvy shoppers. The code indicates whether the item is a conventional, organic or genetically modified (GM) crop.

The codes are based on four-digit numbers for conventional produce, to which an extra digit is added to indicate organic or GM status. If the number is five digits beginning with a 9, then the item is organic. If the item is five digits beginning in 8, then it is a genetically modified crop.

For example, the PLU code for bananas is 4011. If the PLU sticker on the banana bunch reads 94011, then they are organic bananas. If the PLU sticker reads 84011, then the bananas are a genetically modified variety.

There are PLU code stickers on virtually every piece of fruit, banded around every head of lettuce or bunch of spinach, and stamped onto the bag of every bag of organic salad greens. But that doesn't prevent certain confused grocers from mislabeling them. I've discovered conventional Fuji apples (4129) in the 'organic Fuji apples' (94129) bin many times. It's strange that I've never found organic apples in the conventional bin.

In any case, knowing the codes will ensure that you get what you intended to get every time you shop.

This article can be found HERE

Comments

( 25 comments — Leave a comment )
shortsweetcynic
May. 26th, 2008 12:27 am (UTC)
now this is cool. :) thanks!
ilyeana
May. 26th, 2008 12:41 am (UTC)
But organic stuff CAN be genetically modified sometimes, right? (That's what I've heard anyway.) So I wonder what they do if something is both organic AND genetically modified...
reallybadnews
May. 26th, 2008 02:37 am (UTC)
If it's USDA certified, GMO seeds or innoculants are prohibited. Other than that, GMO is usually not considered organic.
suzycat
May. 26th, 2008 12:55 am (UTC)
But, what if there is no sticker?

There often isn't, you know.
mix3d3m0ti0n5
May. 26th, 2008 01:09 am (UTC)
you look on the bin or on the pricing information. it's there somewhere.
mix3d3m0ti0n5
May. 26th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
and that's meaning in larger retail situations....
freyaw
May. 26th, 2008 01:24 am (UTC)
Well... the places I shop have the grower information there (farm name, state, sometimes town or suburb, certification status) with the information about organic-ness and variety. Does that count?
elainastone
May. 26th, 2008 06:33 am (UTC)
Oh my! Your icon is lovely!! Can I snag it?
freyaw
May. 26th, 2008 07:09 am (UTC)
Of course! The artwork is by ursulav of www.metalandmagic.com, the animated .gif by itrasbiel.
chiyo_no_saru
May. 26th, 2008 03:50 pm (UTC)
I LOVE Ursula Vernon! She was one of my favorite artists when I was younger, but I lost track of her name and website... Thanks so much!
freyaw
May. 26th, 2008 01:18 am (UTC)
*nods* Only place I see stickers on fruit here in Adelaide, Australia, is the supermarket, and wherever possible I don't buy fresh produce from supermarkets because it's not worth the premium price tag. I buy from the Farmer's Market at the Showgrounds (a short tram ride away on Sundays), Wilson's Organics in the CBD (further up the tram line), or the Adelaide Central Markets (across the road from Wilson's). Chances are pretty good that whatever glue they use on the stickers, it's not organic anyway.
mix3d3m0ti0n5
May. 26th, 2008 01:14 am (UTC)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Price_Look-Up
http://www.plucodes.com/

In case anyone wanted to know more.... the later is the industry itself. PMA (produce marketing association) is the trade organization for produce marketers.

4800 is native/homegrown tomatoes. if you download the spreadsheet,it'll show you a brief description of what's considered say a vine-ripe tomato.
mix3d3m0ti0n5
May. 26th, 2008 01:18 am (UTC)
and to the op... usually the packing houses put the PLU on at the point it is prepared for shipping. Sometimes that's directly in the field, packing shed or a re-packer. THat's of course, unless the produce worker in the retail store didn't place i nthe right area. Most the items I've delt with it's completely contained in the packaging. Stores don't want any more work than they have to with that.

Or you could have some gov't drone like that has to research the list and decide what's the best fit for a grower. I help assist produce folks in my state with these types of items and prepare the info for them so farmers can spend time farming, rather than wade through bureaucracy.
hollsannfree
May. 26th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
Is this an international thing? If it is that's really useful. Thanks for posting!
mix3d3m0ti0n5
May. 26th, 2008 01:21 am (UTC)
actually, I think it is.... http://www.plucodes.com/ is the industry place for the info
briar_witch
May. 26th, 2008 01:30 am (UTC)
Great to know, thanks!
agraciado
May. 26th, 2008 01:48 am (UTC)
I found this out a few months ago. I headed to my local grocery store and couldn't find ANYTHING that was GMO. It surprised me. My little brother and I looked at every piece of produce and found nothing!
itealaich
May. 26th, 2008 01:55 am (UTC)
...you just gave me dangerous knowledge in the self-scan area. Damn all!
trip_tych
May. 26th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
I've thought about using non-organic codes at self-scan to get a lower price (my little brother used to do this in the bulk candy department...) but if they don't see the organic produce codes ringing up, they won't know that we want organic in the store. They do track the codes to see what is in demand.
slippage_rust
May. 26th, 2008 02:23 am (UTC)
thank you for the info!
hollsannfree
May. 26th, 2008 02:54 am (UTC)
I just found the strawberries I have are GM. I'm glad I hadn't dug in yet. I should have known though, my mom got them from Sam's Club. I shouldn't be eating strawberries yet anyway since they're not in season here.

Thanks again for the info. I've been trying to commit it to memory since I'm so bad with numbers. I've been repeating "9 good, 8 bad." I'm not sure I'll remember because I think 8 is a much better number than 9 in some intangible way.
chiyo_no_saru
May. 26th, 2008 03:52 pm (UTC)
Well... nine is a perfect square, which is kind of nifty! Does that help? :D

< /number nerd >
glueandglitter
May. 26th, 2008 02:43 pm (UTC)
WOW. I knew about 9 for organic, but that 8 for GMO pretty much changes my grocery shopping life! Thank you so much!!!
goth_kittykat
May. 27th, 2008 05:36 pm (UTC)
at whole foods, you can go up to the produce people and they will willingly tell you this. i was told this about apples when i asked about them last year.
bella21414
Nov. 7th, 2008 02:07 am (UTC)
unknown PLU
Can someone help me?

I have a 'perfectly ripe packham pear' here with PLU 15968. What does it mean if it starts with a 1?

Any answers would be most appreciated!
( 25 comments — Leave a comment )

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