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PLU: The Tiny Sticker That Tells A Big Story

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PLU: The Tiny Sticker That Tells A Big Story

Every apple and avocado, peach, pear and plum has a history. With one quick glance you can learn how produce was grown. The label that reveals all is that tiny PLU (Price Look Up Code) sticker found on individual fruits and vegetables sold in grocery stores.  The coded sticker not only helps the cashier to identify produce accurately and quickly, but assists you, the shopper in determining how the produce was grown. With the mounting concern over genetically modified foods (GMOs), and the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides on food crops, it is essential to read the label on fresh produce. An informed shopper can make wiser food choices.

Here’s how to read the PLU coding:

Codes are displayed as a four or five-digit number.  When shopping, look at the first number in the code as it identifies how the produce was grown.

Conventionally Grown
A “3” or “4” as the first digit indicates that the produce was conventionally grown. Synthetically manufactured chemical pesticides and weed killers were used during crop production.

In their annual report, The Environmental Working Group found, “Pesticides have been linked to cancer, hormone disruptions and abnormal brain and nervous system development.” Their report also stated, “Conventional farming with pesticides is the number one source of drinking water contamination in the US. It also harms wildlife and farm workers.”

Genetically Modified
An “8” first digit refers to genetically engineered produce, (also referred to as GMOs), indicating that man disrupted the natural process by manipulating the genes in the fruit or vegetable to achieve a desired outcome: larger size, brilliant color, or to make food crops more tolerant of pests. However, according to the EWG, we now have super-weeds highly tolerant to chemicals, thus prompting producers to increase the usage of chemical herbicides and pesticides in crop production.

The Environmental Working Group reports, however, that there are very few GMOs in the produce section, most are found in processed foods. Since the government doesn’t require GMOs to be labeled as such yet, it is unlikely to see an “8″ on fresh produce. To avoid genetically engineered crops shop for organically-grown foods or items bearing the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. For more detailed information, click here.

A “9” first digit indicates that the produce was grown organically. Organic farmers must meet state requirements and standards established by the National Organic Program and qualify annually to retain organic certification. The organic label does not guarantee that the fruit or vegetable was grown without pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers.

To learn more about the standards established by the USDA National Organic Program, visit the web site here.

The “Clean 15”
If organic produce isn’t readily available in your area, shop for fruits and vegetables that are typically grown using little or no pesticides. The Environmental Working Group publishes an annual report and listing of the “Clean 15.” The current list of conventional produce with the least amount of pesticide residues includes:

Sweet Corn
Frozen Sweet Peas
Sweet Potatoes

Cleaning Produce
It is important to rinse all produce under running water before slicing or consuming to remove residue of pesticides and bacteria.

To make your own produce cleaning solution, mix 3 cups of filtered water and 1 cup of vinegar in a spray bottle and spray on fresh produce.  Or, pour the solution into a bowl and plunge produce into the solution. Give produce a final rinse under running water and dry before storing or consuming.


1 Price Look Up Code | Lincoln 55+ Seniors Paper { 12.06.15 at 8:50 pm }

[…] Source: PLU: The Tiny Sticker That Tells A Big Story – Farmers’ Almanac […]

2 Julie { 12.30.14 at 1:39 pm }

I’ve been eating as much organic food as possible for almost 12 years now. I have no health issues. I haven’t gotten sick in years. No colds or flu and I work in the hospital setting. Those labels or stickers are accurate. My partner is a produce manager for a major groceries store chain. I’ve ask him to see if he can order the organic produce and he does. His sales has gone through the roof. No one can eat 100% organic but if you do as much as possible you will notice a difference. Now the only way to get organic produce is ask if they can order it. Which the can but may say no because it’s expensive and doesn’t sale enough. Organic food has really gone down in prices in the last 5 years.

3 JOYCE { 10.13.14 at 11:42 pm }

I am more confused than ever after reading article and all the comments. I hope someone will better research this and present facts

4 Barbara Godshall { 10.10.14 at 7:13 pm }

Things like corn, onions (sticker fall off with the skins), cucumbers, squash are usually on a register PLU chart.

5 Barbara Godshall { 10.10.14 at 7:10 pm }

Some numbers on like varieties if I remember correctly could also designate size (count per box) and origin like East or West Coast. It’s been years since I cashiered but I do remember some things.

6 Toasted Spleen { 10.10.14 at 2:34 pm }

Umm, check snopes. The GMO code is not right.

7 Pat Smear { 10.10.14 at 1:29 pm }

So, we are not supposed to eat the stickers, then what is the point of this article.

8 Lynn { 10.10.14 at 11:52 am }

Will continue to research this but it doesn’t sound right to me.

9 Stacy { 10.10.14 at 1:32 am }

The stickers are Not meant to be eaten, I can tell you that. I worked for a company who made them and trust me you do not want to eat the sticker

10 Stacy { 10.10.14 at 1:31 am }

I worked for a company that made the stickers and they are a pain to make

11 Carolyn { 10.09.14 at 10:23 pm }

Thanks, for letting us know what to check on the labels. We all know things are not right now that so many drugs are needed for all the problems with our health these days. Years ago we had our own beef, pork and chickens. We ate the lard, drink our own milk, had our own gardens—————we were healthier and worked hard which kept us in better health. Guess we need to get back to the basics like our Great-Great Grandparents who did not have all these health problems. Good Luck with all the shopping in these modern markets who buy for the $$$ to make profit rather than for the health of Americans.

12 bear { 10.09.14 at 5:20 pm }

That sticker is made to be eaten.

13 Willow Moon { 10.09.14 at 2:27 pm }

How can you possibly continue to list corn and papaya in the clean column, when CLEARLY almost all of it is GMO… That is NOT clean to me, Please correct your information…

14 Nat { 10.09.14 at 11:13 am }

As a grocery store employee who shops at other grocery stores, I can tell you that these codes are universal. Example: conventional green bell peppers is PLU# 4065 at Walmart, Kroger, Trader Joes, Target, Publix, Food Lion, etc.. There can also be more than one code for each item. Example: conventional Fuji apples, PLU# 4135 & PLU# 4129. I don’t know what the difference is between the two, only that my employer has carried both, even at the same time. I also know that PLU# starting with 5 are “genetically engineered” (example: grapples-apples that taste like grapes) and PLU# starting with 8 are “genetically modified” (apples that resist bruising). I know that PLU# starting with 3 mean that the product is being sold as a “local” or “regional” product. I have never sold nor purchased a PLU# starting with 8.

15 Lynn Jepson { 10.09.14 at 10:21 am }

Another urban legend. Has anyone compared one store’s produce labels to another to see if they match up?

16 Real Science { 10.09.14 at 10:20 am }

You may want to do a better job with your research. EWG is a propaganda source. Just a few quick facts:
– modern pesticides are not carcinogens at normal use rates
– 99% of the carcinogens you ingest are natural (Bruce Ames, UC-Berkley)
– low yielding organic production (generally 25-50% lower) leads to a need to farm more acres for the same amount of food which means less land for wildlife
– organic production requires tillage for weed control. This leads to more erosion and increase fuel use – global warming. http://whyentrepreneurs.wordpress.com/page/72/
– organic production does not allow the uses of inorganic nitrogen, the land is often rotated into a legume crop just to build N. This is good, but removes more land from production and will again result in more environmentally sensitive land being farmed.
– Be aware that organic farmers do use pesticides approved for their use, such as iron sulfate, copper sulfate, manganese sulfate, rotenone, pyrethrin, and nicotine-(that’s like forcing cute innocent insects to smoke cigarettes)
– large independent studies have shown organic food to be no healthier than conventional

An interesting verse, “In Balance with Nature”: http://paradigmsanddemographics.blogspot.com/2009/01/in-balance-with-nature.html

17 John K { 10.09.14 at 10:08 am }

Not a word about what an absolute pain getting those ridiculous little stickers off of every fruit I buy! And are they biodegradable?? I hate them!

18 Michelle { 10.09.14 at 8:18 am }

This is incorrect! And should not be on the farmer’s almanac page. All produce, to some degree, is gmo. The corn you sow is different then the corn that was around with the Indians. Also, organic does not mean healthier-just more expensive and you must be careful because organic means natural fertilizer and other natural pesticides or fertilizers were used. So if the fertilizer is put on incorrectly people get sick with e-coli.

19 Shirley Benson { 10.09.14 at 8:16 am }

he organic label does not guarantee that the fruit or vegetable was grown without pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. This being considered what does organically grown mean?

20 Susan { 10.09.14 at 7:33 am }

Thank you for this very informative write-up! I am beginning to juice some meals and have been shopping at my local farmers market. Wonderful food and so fresh but, I haven’t inquired to each vendors growing practices [if they grow organic]. The raw foods stay fresh for weeks in the fridge or cool storage and I do love that! Again, thank you for the great info. I’m printing and keeping on my kitchen bulletin board. Peace!

21 betty coker { 10.09.14 at 7:32 am }

sweet corn is NOT one of the clean 15 foods unless you grow it yourself from heirloom seeds and is not grown around field corn.

22 palmbaylou { 10.09.14 at 7:29 am }

As the food is genetically modified so will we . We are what we eat.

23 Gary A. Seidletz { 10.09.14 at 7:28 am }

I’ve yet to see any labeling on fresh sweet corn in any store including Wal-Mart.

24 Trish K { 10.09.14 at 7:11 am }

Sweet corn is on the Clean 15? You’ve got to be kidding me! It’s one of the worst offenders for GMO and pesticides, including being engineered to manufacture it’s own pesticide. And papayas? If they come from Hawaii they are GMO. This list is not reliable.

25 Peggy sue Bourbon { 10.09.14 at 4:29 am }

Thanks for the info

26 Joyce B. { 10.08.14 at 10:05 pm }

Any hybrid seed has been modified in some way, usually to increase the yield, increase resistance to plant diseases, to extend the growing season, etc.. Unless you buy heirloom seed varieties, even if you grow your own food, you are getting something that’s been modified in some way. With life expectancies up in the 80s, it’s not likely that some modifications in foods make all that much difference.

27 Andy { 10.08.14 at 9:04 pm }

I hate to tell everyone but there is more GE food out there than we will ever know. Even the so-called organic food has some type of GE going. There’s no getting away from it. Enjoy your food!!

28 Brenda { 10.08.14 at 5:28 pm }

Tessa, I am a grocery store cashier. At our store, produce that does not have a sticker on it indicates that it is locally grown.

29 Cindi { 10.08.14 at 4:36 pm }

That would mean one could not eat broccoli. Broccoli is a genetic engineered vegetable.

30 Deborah Tukua { 10.08.14 at 4:29 pm }

The Environmental Working Group reports that there are very few GMOs in the produce section, most are found in processed foods, Since the gov’t doesn’t require GMOs to be labeled as such yet, it is unlikely to see an “8” on fresh produce. To avoid Genetically engineered crops shop for organically-grown foods or items bearing the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label. For more detailed information, http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary.php

31 Mary McIntosh { 10.08.14 at 3:06 pm }

Very interesting that you finally have come forth with a concern for GMO’s. As a Master Gardener, it has been of great concern for a long time and one that I wish more people understood. We just MUST be more selective and responsible about what we are doing or allowing to happen. As an FYI: In searching for new carpeting I recently discovered that some carpet is now being made of – corn – ??? Reviews are not too favorable.

32 Greta { 10.08.14 at 3:06 pm }

People are citing articles from 2010. From a more recent source:
“If there are five numbers in the PLU code, and the number starts with “8″, this tells you that the item is a genetically modified fruit or vegetable. A genetically engineered (GE or GMO) banana would be labeled: 84011”

GMO’s make our produce more pest-resistant, hardy, etc.

33 Vivian Goldberg { 10.08.14 at 3:03 pm }

Everyone start growing your own food whenever possible

34 Greta { 10.08.14 at 3:00 pm }

@Stephanie – cut and paste the URL onto your FB page – it will post the article.

35 bryanjames { 10.08.14 at 2:57 pm }

It has been known for years that PLU codes do not identify GE crops.
It is a voluntary system and those associated with GMOs don’t want you to know what is in your food.
That’s why there is a big push right now to get mandatory labeling in the USA.

36 Ron { 10.08.14 at 12:23 pm }

I live in Omaha, which has been identified as having the fifth worst municipal water in the country, so I would suggest not rinsing under water from the tap. It would seem pointless to use the cleansing solution and then negate its benefit by rinsing from a source less than ideal for lack of contaminants.

37 L Redmond { 10.08.14 at 12:09 pm }

Come on guys I expect better from the Farmers Almanac… To Publish a Myth that was proven wrong years ago??? Get with the program. Keep promoting untrue Tin Foil Hat Garbage and you will lose your following.

38 l. kennedy { 10.08.14 at 12:04 pm }

Very informative. Thank you.

39 Sally Davison { 10.08.14 at 11:54 am }

Great info1 I wrote it down on a 3 x 5 card to carry in my wallet whhile grocery shopping.

40 Tessa Dick { 10.08.14 at 11:16 am }

most of the produce in our grocery store does not have any stickers or labels — what does that mean?

41 joseph linguini { 10.08.14 at 10:35 am }

Just buy it and eat it.

42 delia davenport { 10.08.14 at 10:11 am }

This was very informative information as to the growing of our fruits and vegetables since so many people are algeric to certain chemicals, and these things could have bad side effects on them.

43 Ali { 10.08.14 at 9:56 am }

I hate to be a wet blanket, but read this:


As Jeffrey Smith of the Huffington Post reported:

“Let’s put a rumor to rest. No, the 5-digit PLU codes on produce do not tell you what is genetically modified or natural. This urban legend has circulated long enough, even on the best of websites. It’s time to take it down.”

He continues:

“Those that run PLU-universe figured that someday some retailer might want to distinguish between a GMO and a non-GMO for price or inventory purposes. So they created a convention of 5 digits starting with an 8, just in case it catches on. But it hasn’t. No one uses that number 8 as far as we can tell. And why would they? Most Americans say they would avoid GMOs if they were labeled.”

44 Judy { 10.08.14 at 9:22 am }

Stephanie, you can. I did on my page. Just highlight it, right click, hit copy, then go tom your facebook page, go into the post part, right click, hit paste. Then hit post. Will post on your page.

45 Stephanie { 10.08.14 at 8:59 am }

Thank you for the easily understood rundown on this! I’d love to share this on Facebook but don’t see any links to do so…sad.

46 Lorraine C { 10.08.14 at 8:58 am }

Thanks so much for this article! Very helpful.

47 JOAN { 10.08.14 at 8:57 am }


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