On a recent trip to the grocery store with my 9-year-old daughter, she reminded me of something I rarely think about these days.
I asked her to grab a couple of lemons. I noticed she was taking quite some time while turning the lemon in her hands and reading the sticker on each one. I asked her if she needed help, to which she replied, “I just want to make sure these are organic”. She proceeded to explain to me that she was looking for the organic seal AND the PLU code on each lemon. She said to me, “it must begin with a 9 in order for it to be organic.”
Most produce sold in stores is numbered with a code. This code is usually in the form of a sticker called a PLU (price look-up code). The code helps cashiers to differentiate the variety and growing methods of the produce. There have been many discrepancies on the validity of the meaning of the produce codes. In my research, I have learned that looking for the organic seal is perhaps the best way to distinguish between organic and conventionally grown.
Over the past few years, there has been talk that the stickers that begin with the number 8 indicate that the produce has been genetically modified. I have always questioned this as companies are not required to label GMO’s. However, organics are required to be labeled. Looking for the USDA certified organic label is the most reliable way to determine if an item is organic. This can also be verified by looking for the 5 digit PLU code that begins with a 9. Since organic produce is grown without the use of GMO’s, this is perhaps the best way to avoid potentially GMO produce. 4 digits beginning with a 3 or 4 indicate the produce it conventionally grown.
Upon further research, I have learned that the PLU codes will be changing in the near future. With this information, the most effective way to verify that produce is non-GMO is to purchase certified organic. Until then, look for the sticker that has 5 digits beginning with a 9, or even better, the USDA certified organic seal.