Food Labeling: How to Identify Conventional, Organic and GMO Produce

| November 20, 2012 | 6 Comments
  • 6 Comments

What can you tell from those numbers on fruit and vegetable stickers?

The price look-up (PLU) code system used by most produce distributors has the side benefit of allowing consumers to identify conventional and organic produce at the grocery store. Even though the defeat of Proposition 37 means that genetically engineered information will not be added to labels at this time, PLU codes do have the potential to identify genetically engineered produce. This video shows you how to read PLU codes to unlock the information that is already right at your fingertips.

How to Use Price Look-Up Codes on Produce

    Using Price Look-up Codes (PLUs), the Nutshell:

  • PLU codes are four digit numbers that identify different types of produce. For example, #4011 is the code for a standard yellow banana.
  • The number 9 prefix added to a PLU signifies that an item is organic. For example, #94011 is the code for an organic yellow banana.
  • A number 8 prefix added to a PLU signifies that an item is genetically engineered (GE). For example, #84011 is the code for a genetically engineered yellow banana.
  • PLU codes and their organic prefixes are in wide use but GE codes are rare at best.
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About the Author ()

Mike Kahn is proud to be a Project Supervisor for KQED Presents, helping independent film producers distribute their programs nationally to public television. He has the pleasure to help distribute programs like Food Forward and Joanne Weir's Cooking Confidence (examples hand picked for you foodies out there!). Mike holds degrees in Sociology (U.C. Berkeley) and Interactive Media Design (Art Institute of California - San Francisco). Mike loves to learn about environmental sustainability and to share that knowledge with others through photography and multimedia projects. He's a Bay Area native and has been a lacto-ovo vegetarian for 15 years. His personal claim to fame is riding his bicycle across the U.S. from California to Maine, alone.
  • http://twitter.com/dethbird dethbird

    I’m still not sure why genetically modified producers don’t want their products identified. If your product is that great wouldn’t you want it showcased?

  • Mike Kahn

    That’s an interesting question. I think the general perception, at least as it was raised by Prop 37, has been that labeling GMOs would calls attention to them as a warning as opposed to a benefit but I could see how others would say otherwise. I wonder if Prop 37 would have been looked at differently if the labeling requirement put the information into the ingredients list instead of calling it out separately on the front of packaging. Thoughts?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000872559122 Alex Summers

    I look at some of these fruits and just wonder. I’ve already made up my mind on some, but it sure would be nice to know for sure what is causing them to look so sickly. I never thought I’d have to worry about the stuff that comes out of the ground, but after years on a farm it’s easy to see something is seriously not right.

  • atwerwerew

    I’ve never seen a PLU with an 8 prefix in the grocery store. Has anyone investigated that conventional may also be GMO? Or are the bagged unmarked produce the actual GMO?

  • Lynette Ellis

    What about foods labeled with just four digits starting with the number 4 or the number 3. I heard that 4 digit PLU’s starting with a number 4 means the produce is organic, but just not USDA Certified Organic, and that four digit PLU’s starting with a number 3 were non-organic. Anyone else heard this?

  • Warren Lauzon

    There is no such thing as an 8xxxx code, never has been.