Have you ever wondered why grocery store produce is plastered with bothersome stickers and what those haphazard numbers really mean? The price look-up code, otherwise known as PLU, is a system used by the majority of produce distributors to allow us to recognize the differences between conventional, organic and genetically modified produce.
We have witnessed the cashier at our favorite supermarkets type in the codes from those vexing stickers found on fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and sometimes nuts; perhaps you have even found yourself typing these codes in when taking advantage of the automated self-checkout systems at the larger box stores. But have you ever stopped for a moment to mull over what these codes truly meant, why they are there and if they really impact your health?
On July 29, 2016, President Obama signed the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law, ascertaining a nationwide benchmark for disclosing the presence of all food ingredients from GMO crops. This decree made it compulsory for all states to adhere to an identical labeling system in hopes to better educate the public on the safety hazards of the foods we had been mindlessly purchasing. While this law has taken quite some time to implement into every distribution company, the expectation for adherence is no later than July 29, 2018.
For years, we have been bombarded with clean eating propaganda identifying the effects of GMO produce; however, many within the United States are still uncertain as to what qualifies as GMO. According to the NonGMO Project, GMO foods are genetically modified plants, animals, microorganisms or other organisms whose genetic makeup has been modified in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology. This generates amalgamations of plant, animal, bacterial and virus DNA that do not arise in nature or through conventional crossbreeding practices. Such damaging mutations will inevitably have long-term effects on the environment and basic human evolution; thus it is critical to be knowledgeable when considering your product options.
How to understand PLU codes in 5 easy steps:
Conventionally grown produce with the use of pesticides will be signified with a PLU code that is only 4 digits in length and begins with a 3 or 4. The last four digits merely refer to the type of product you are purchasing.
A 5 digit PLU code that starts with a 9 signifies that your produce was organically grown without the impacts of pesticides or other hazardous chemicals.
A 5-digit PLU code beginning with the number “3” means the produce was electronically pasteurized or exposed to minute radiation; this is called food irradiation.
All GMO produce will contain a 5 digit PLU code that begins with an 8. These fruits and vegetables will also have a boost in color, size, and aroma to tempt you into purchasing them.
You may come across products that do not offer a PLU sticker; this can be very deceptive for the everyday shopper and should be avoided at all cost. Typically found with imported fruits and vegetables, these items have minimal processing information so chances are the sticker has been removed.
Some may say that understanding PLU codes can be your secret weapon as a savvy shopper; however, in today’s market, it is vital to be an educated and engaged consumer.