How to read produce labels

Just about every piece of fruit has a little sticker on it, and every vegetable has a scanning label associated with it. The numbers on that sticker are code for the way the produce is grown.

Thanks to the miracle of proliferating information on the Internet, I learned through a casual email how to read a produce label. Here’s something that has flown under my radar in the past even though I’ve been aware for a long time of existing confusion about produce labels. It would be remiss not to tell you that the labeling system is optional, and there are ways for grocers to get around full disclosure, but for the most part, I think the following is good information.

Just about every piece of fruit you pick up has a little sticker on it, and every vegetable has a scanning label associated with it, but I never really realized the numbers on that sticker are code for the way the produce is grown. For anyone trying to eat consciously or who wants to choose between options, here’s the way to tell what you’re getting by the specifics on the Product Look-Up Number (PLU):

FOUR DIGIT NUMBERS (they all begin with 3 or 4) denote conventionally grown, non-GMO produce (that is, grown with chemical pesticides and fertilizers and not genetically modified)

FIVE DIGITS BEGINNING WITH AN 8 means the produce is GMO, genetically modified

FIVE DIGITS BEGINNING WITH A 9 means it is ORGANIC

If you want to know more about this, here’s an blog post from Marion Owen who has a free ezine called UpBeet Gardener. Another interesting related topic is country of origin labeling (COOL). Check out information on the United Fresh Produce Association site.

Beverly Spicer