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  • Nancy Boudreau, RYT, CHHC

PLU Codes on Fruits and Vegetables

[DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I earn a small commission if you make a purchase using the link at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.]

Do you ever wonder what the little numbered stickers on fresh fruits and vegetables mean?

Those stickers are called Price Look-Up or PLU codes, randomly assigned to fruits and vegetables by the International Federation of Produce Standards.

These 4- and 5-digit numbers are used to categorize types of fresh produce and assist retailers with inventory control and pricing.

The PLU number identifies the type of produce (apple), variety (Macintosh or Delicious), growing method (conventional, genetically modified, or organic), size (small, large), and price (each or per pound).

PLU Codes Demystified

A four-digit code beginning with 3 or 4 means it’s conventionally grown.

Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables use synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to help promote growth and prevent weeds and disease.

A five-digit code beginning with 8 means it’s genetically modified.

Genetically modified (GMO) fruits and vegetables are grown from lab-created genetically modified seeds.

These plants are engineered by introducing genes that resist pests and mold, increase their size, and have a faster growing time than the original plant.

A five-digit code beginning with 9 means it’s organic.

Organic fruits and vegetables are non-GMO and grown mainly using natural fertilizers such as compost and manure. Natural methods like crop rotation are used to promote growth and manage weeds, insects, and diseases.

For a product to be certified organic by the US Department of Agriculture, the soil it’s grown in must be free of synthetic fertilizers for at least three years.

Are Organic Fruits and Vegetables Healthier than Conventionally Grown and GMO?

Some studies suggest that organic produce may contain more nutrients than conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. I suspect most people buy organic produce for what’s not in them—namely, pesticides.

Pesticides are known endocrine disrupters. Exposure to pesticides has been linked to health problems like cancer, infertility, neurological issues, ADHD in children, and increased risk of cardiovascular and Alzheimer’s disease.

GMO crops have been around for more than 20 years, and there’s still much debate surrounding their safety. Some animal testing has shown allergic reactions and toxic effects on organs, while other studies have shown no difference between consuming GMO and non-GMO produce. Although the FDA says GMOs are generally considered safe, the long-term effects of eating GMO fruits and vegetables are still unknown.

While health advocates recommend eating organic whenever possible, does this mean you should never eat conventional fruits and vegetables? The short answer is no and here’s why:

  • Most of us aren’t eating the daily recommended amount of 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables. Getting a wide variety of these nutritious foods, regardless of whether they’re organic or conventionally grown, is priority number one.

  • Organic fruits and vegetables aren’t widely available. Depending on where you live, you may not have access to various organic fruits and vegetables. By limiting yourself to only organic, you’re missing out on a wide variety of nutritious options.

  • Organic still tends to be more expensive and might not be an option for everyone’s budget.

So, what’s a health-conscious consumer to do?

There are a couple of consumer guides that can help you make an informed decision on which types of produce to buy organic without breaking the bank.

Which Fruits & Vegetables Should I Buy Organic and Which Conventionally Grown Are Okay

Some conventionally grown fruits and vegetables contain more pesticide residue than others.

Use these guidelines to help you choose which fruits and vegetables you should try to buy organic (if your budget allows) and which conventionally grown options have the least pesticide residue.

How to Wash Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

No matter what you buy, it’s essential to wash all fruits and vegetables before you eat them, even the ones that will be peeled. Washing produce doesn’t remove all the pesticide residue, but it does significantly reduce it. Washing also removes dirt and bacteria.

  • Wash your hands with warm soapy water before handling produce.

  • Wash fruits and vegetables BEFORE you cut into them. This will prevent transferring bacteria and pesticides from the skin or peel to the flesh.

  • To wash fruits and vegetables, rinse them under cold running water for at least 15 to 20 seconds. Don’t use soap as fruits and vegetables are porous, and the cleanser could remain in the flesh. No need to buy special produce washes since they aren’t shown to be more effective than plain water.

  • For produce with tougher skin like apples and potatoes, use a vegetable brush or rub them with your hands.

  • For softer produce like grapes and tomatoes, gently rub them while rinsing.

  • For delicate produce like berries, put them in a colander and gently spray them with water.

  • For leafy greens, rinse and dry in a good salad spinner to remove excess water.

That’s it!

Now you know which PLU codes are for conventional, organic, and GMO fruits and vegetables.

Choose organic if possible to reduce your exposure to pesticide residue.

Wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly to remove dirt, bacteria, and as much pesticide residue as possible.

Where you live, what’s available, and your budget ultimately determines what you buy. Unless you grow your food, you only have so much control over your options.

Like I always say, don’t make yourself crazy. The goal is to eat a wide variety of delicious, nutritious fruits and vegetables daily.

You got this!


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