Organic vs. GMO: Cracking the Produce Codes
Jay Weinstein, Forecast Earth Food Correspondent
Have you ever looked at two bins of apples, one labeled 'organic,' and the other 'conventional,' and wondered if the apples might not be the same? I have. And since discovering a little secret of the produce industry, I've found that you really have to
be a detective in the aisles these days.
The secret is the price look-up (PLU) codes. They're an international numbering standard that identifies each type of produce, so that computerized cash registers can ring up the cost of fruits and vegetables automatically. They're also a powerhouse
of information for savvy shoppers. The code indicates whether the item is a conventional, organic or genetically modified (GM) crop.
The codes are based on four-digit numbers for conventional produce, to which an extra digit is added to indicate organic or GM status. If the number is five digits beginning with a 9, then the item is organic. If the item is five digits beginning in 8, then it is a genetically modified crop.
For example, the PLU code for bananas is 4011. If the PLU sticker on the banana bunch reads 94011, then they are organic bananas. If the PLU sticker reads 84011, then the bananas are a genetically modified variety.
There are PLU code stickers on virtually every piece of fruit, banded around every head of lettuce or bunch of spinach, and stamped onto the bag of every bag of organic salad greens. But that doesn't prevent certain confused grocers from mislabeling them. I've discovered conventional Fuji apples (4129) in the 'organic Fuji apples' (94129) bin many
times. It's strange that I've never found organic apples in the conventional bin.
In any case, knowing the codes will ensure that you get what you intended to get every time you shop.
Jay Weinstein's blog posts are provided by LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company.