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Here’s The Truth About The Labels You Find On Produce At The Grocery Store

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Most people would be quick to tell you that it’s almost always a good idea to eat fruits and vegetables. After all, they’re full of nutrients, and they keep us healthy rather than filling us with unnatural fat and sugar.

This all has to work under the assumption, though, that these foods are safe to eat. As with any other food, eating the wrong fruits and vegetables can be hazardous to your health.

Looks can be deceiving, but luckily, learning where your food comes from can be easier than you may think. The secret lies in those codes found on food labels…

Most grocery stores have stickers on their fruits and vegetables with bar codes called PLU codes, which stands for “price lookup.” These codes help the store keep track of their inventory, but they’re useful for consumers, too. Not only does this tell you what kind of food it is and how much it costs that day at the store, but it can also be an indicator of where the food comes from and how it was made or grown.

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PLU codes can tell you what kinds of chemicals your food was produced with (such as pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides, and herbicides), as well as letting consumers know whether or not their food was genetically modified. Here are some tips to identify them!

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If the PLU only has four digits, that means that the food was grown “traditionally”—as in, pesticides were involved. The numbers indicate which fruit or vegetable it is; for example, all bananas are labeled 4011.

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If the PLU has five digits, and the first digit is “8,” that means that the vegetable or fruit was genetically modified. This might not necessarily mean that it’s unhealthy, but it is unnatural. A banana labeled “84011” would be genetically engineered. To be fair, though, everything you eat today has been, technically, genetically engineered. The fruits and vegetables likely wouldn’t be recognizable (or edible) if they weren’t!

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If the PLU code has five digits, and the first digit is “9,” the fruit or vegetable was not genetically modified, and was instead grown organically. A naturally grown banana, for example, would be labeled 94011.

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It should be noted that the stickers used on fruits and vegetables are used with food-grade adhesives, although the stickers themselves are not edible. There are also resources available to help you learn which foods tend to be treated with pesticides.

7-plu-codesFowsgks001 / Wikimedia Commons


The five “cleanest” kinds of produce are avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, cabbage, and frozen sweet peas. The five “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables include strawberries, apples, nectarines, peaches, and celery.

8-plu-codesCGP Grey / Wikimedia Commons

It’s always important to know where your food comes from and how its made, so this is definitely helpful information for just about everyone. Here’s more information to help you read PLU codes in your own life!

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Knowing where your food comes from isn’t just important for fruits and vegetables, but for everything that you consume. Not all food is created equal!

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