Most of us ignore the tiny produce stickers placed on fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. However, if you see one of these labels, you may want to reconsider putting the food in your cart. Here’s why.
We live in a day and age when consumers are more health-conscious than ever before. That’s a good thing, considering all of the unnatural ingredients and processes that go into the production of our food. One easy way to know exactly what you’re purchasing at the grocery store, and subsequently eating when you get home, is to examine the produce stickers. These stickers are part of a grocery store “language” to help communicate information about each piece of produce.
According to The Rainforest Site, the PLU code on the label reveals more than just the price of any particular item. The PLU barcode tells the cashier what they need to know in order to ring up the item, but it also informs the consumer how that particular crop of food was grown. From the code on these produce stickers, we can learn if the product is organic or otherwise.
If the PLU sticker has only four numbers, then it indicates to the buyer that the product was grown with the use of pesticides. Bananas, for example, are marked with the four-digit code 4011, indicating that the produce has been treated with a pesticide, typically one that is approved for conventional or traditional farming.
However, some PLU codes have five numbers. If the code starts with an 8, then the fruit is identified as genetically modified, meaning that scientific methods have been used to manipulate the fruit in some way, either to make it bigger or to make it more resistant to pests. If you’re trying to avoid genetically modified foods, then avoid produce PLUs that begin with the number 8; for example, a banana code would read as 84011.
Produce with a five-digit code beginning with the number “9” is considered organically grown. This would mean that the farmer did not use pesticides or genetically modified practices. An organic banana would then be labeled as 94011.
While everyone should know what the labels on their food mean, not everyone can afford to eat more expensive organic produce. If you’re in this boat, the Environmental Working Group has identified fruits and vegetables that fall into two groups: the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen.”
Fruits and vegetables in the “Dirty Dozen” category have a higher toxins count due to pesticide use. Strawberries and spinach contain the highest amounts of pesticide residues. After strawberries and spinach come nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, and sweet bell peppers.
But some fruits and vegetables naturally resist pests and therefore do not need pesticides, or the pesticide does not stay on the food itself. This group, called the “Clean Fifteen,” includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, onions, frozen sweet peas, papayas, asparagus, mangoes, eggplants, honeydews, kiwis, cantaloupes, cauliflower, and broccoli. If knowing where your food comes from or how it was grown is important to you, this information can be very helpful in making healthy choices for you and your family.