We all have definitely seen them little stickers on the fruits we buy from supermarkets. Apart from the bright logos on them, the numerical codes printed on those sticky little fruit and vegetable labels can reveal a lot of information to us consumers. Once you know the codes, you can look at that little label (also known as PLU, or “price lookup” label) and know whether the product you’re about to buy or eat was treated with insecticides, genetically modified, both, or neither.
We at Epic Universe decided to tell you all about how to recognize what these numbers mean and the secrets they contain.
First of all, let’s talk about the stickers themselves,
What Are Those Stickers Made Of?
Depending on their manufacturer, those PLU stickers can be made of plastic, paper, or even vinyl. The FDA considers the adhesive on the stickers to be a food-grade additive. The stickers are inedible but digestible, simply meaning they will pass through your digestive system if you happen to accidentally eat one. But, don’t expect to get any dietary value from them.
A four-digit code starting with 3 or 4
This indicates that your fruit was grown conventionally, which includes the existence of pesticides. Not to worry, though: the insecticide levels are so low they aren’t harmful. Knowing how to properly wash produce also helps remove any residue as well as bacteria and germs.
A five-digit code starting with the number 8
When you see this sticker, the fruit has been genetically modified as part of the growing process. Yes, that’s right. This is the GMO food that continues to cause so much controversy. Research shows that melons, bananas, and papayas are the types of fruit that are genetically modified the most often.
A five-digit code starting with the number 9
If you see this code, it means the fruit was grown using the old school farming techniques of our ancestors: with their own hands and without any chemicals. Basically, these are organic products.
If the fruit has no PLU code.
Most people try to find fruit without stickers. But this could actually be unsafe: fruit that’s imported from abroad should always be labeled in this way. If there isn’t a label, the chances are it’s been removed for a specific reason – and one that isn’t likely to be to your advantage as a consumer.
While this information is related to PLU codes issued by the International Federation for Produce Standards, it is important to note that the PLU system is voluntary and not mandated by any governing body. This article serves as a guideline, but your best resource will always be the grocery store itself, which keeps a catalog of PLU codes and their indications.