Did you know that the stickers placed on fruit and vegetables at grocery stores do more than tell the checkout system what the price of your produce is? The PLU code, or price lookup number printed on the sticker, also tells you how the produce was grown. By reading the PLU code, you can tell if the produce was grown conventionally with the use of pesticides, organically grown, or genetically modified.
The stickers on produce all contain either a 4 or 5-digit code that tell you the following:
- 4-digit code: The produce was conventionally or traditionally grown. Example: Conventionally grown yellow squash is labeled with the code 4782.
- 5-digit code and begins with an 8: The produce was genetically modified and is not organic. Example: Genetically engineered (GE or GMO) yellow squash is labeled with the code 84782.
- 5-digit code and begins with a 9: The produce was organically grown and is not genetically modified. Example: Organic yellow squash is labeled with the code 94782.
In case you were wondering, the adhesive used to attach the PLU stickers to produce is considered food-grade, but the stickers themselves are not edible.
The PLU system, which is voluntary, is administered by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS), a global coalition of fruit and vegetable associations, that was formed in 2001.