You know those 4 or 5 digit codes on produce in the grocery store? They are called PLU codes or “Price Look-Up” codes and they are found on most produce. While their purpose is to help suppliers and distributors and grocery store checkers figure out what the item is and how to price it, they can help you out too to make informed shopping decisions based on how the produce was grown.
While this quick tip post is not intended to outline all of the problems with genetically modified foods, as an Integrative RDN, I recommend that you avoid them. Nutrition labeling of genetically modified foods is working its way through the political system right now, but there is one way you can tell whether produce is genetically modified without the government mandating labeling.
Here’s how it works:
- If the PLU code is 4-digits, the produce was conventionally grown
- If the PLU code is 5-digits starting with an “8”, it means it was genetically modified (or GMO)
- If the PLU code is 5-digits starting with an “9”, it means it was organically grown
Here are some examples:
- 4101 – Braeburn apple, conventionally grown
- 83424 – papaya, genetically modified
- 94285 – grapefruit, organically grown
Here’s a caveat however, the use of PLU codes is optional. GMO foods do NOT have to be labeled starting with an 8. For some produce, the producers simply leave off the PLU code so they don’t have to label the produce as GMO since many Americans would not buy GMO foods if they were labeled. If you want to stay away from GMO produce, keep a close eye on Hawaiian papaya, zucchini, yellow squash, and corn. It is best to buy these foods as organic since organic foods cannot be genetically modified.