Grocery Shopping Guide : PLU Codes
When you go inside a grocery store and walk to the produce aisle, you will see stickers with different shapes, sizes, and color schemes on most fruits and vegetables. I have to say, I used to hate these stickers until I found out what their purpose was. I remember distinctly ripping them off of my apples and wondering why they can’t just come stickerless. Little did I know, these guys have a meaning and a purpose - a really big one surprisingly. Let’s dive into what these stickers are called, what their purpose is, and the different types.
What are PLU codes?
You might think that PLU (Price Look Up) codes are pretty self-explanatory due to their name. You are right. PLU codes have been used for years to ensure the accuracy of check-out and inventory control and make it easier and faster for cashiers and consumers. Besides fruits and vegetables, PLU codes can also be found on nuts and herbs. Produce is categorized into different PLU groups based on its growing methodology, variety, commodity, and size. (1) However, it is important to note that PLU codes are NOT required, hence why you will not see them at some stores. PLU codes are assigned by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS) and are not regulated by the government. (2)
Growing Methodology and PLU Code Categories
Why are we emphasizing growing methodology? Why is this important? Well, we are paying special attention to it because PLU codes can tell us a lot about what we are eating and encourage us to make better choices.
PLU codes are 4- or 5-digit numbers that are randomly assigned. The individual digits have no meaning and their purpose is NOT to convey information. However, the digits combined create the PLU codes that are organized into 3 different categories :
- conventionally grown, or
- if the product is genetically modified (GMO). (3,4)
A five-digit PLU code that starts with a 9 means that the product is organic. This means natural fertilizers were used instead of chemical fertilizers, synthetic herbicides, and pesticides. (3, 4)
A four-digit PLU code that starts with a 3 or a 4 means the product is conventionally grown. This means that synthetic fertilizers and pesticides were used.
Genetically Modified (GMO)
A five-digit code that starts with an 8 means that the product is genetically modified. This means that the product’s genetic material has been altered in order to introduce a new trait.
Genetically modified (GMO) banana
*for illustrative purposes only