Supermarket Produce Labels

Have you noticed the little stickers on grocery store produce? We don’t pay much attention to these labels, but nearly all store-bought produce carries a small label with a bar code and number. There is a reason behind these tags – they’re not just meant to be an annoying thing to remove!

The main purpose of these stickers is to tag produce with price lookup codes, or PLUs. Today, over 1300 PLUs allow grocery stores, and cashiers specifically, to use a coded system to identify produce at the checkout counter. When ringing up produce, cashiers use PLUs to correctly price items. Beyond the counter, PLUs can be used for gauging sales and assessing inventory.

Most relevant to shoppers is the fact that you can distinguish between organic, conventional, and genetically-modified produce using PLUs. Conventionally grown produce always has a four digit code; these codes are universal for each produce variety. For example, all conventionally grown Anjou pears bear the code 4416. Or, as shown, in the image below, conventional plums carry the code 4040.

Organic produce has five digits: the same four digit code as its conventional counterpart, preceded by the number 9. Looking at the image below, you’ll see that organic plums carry the code 94040.

Genetically-modified produce also has five digits: the same four digit base code, preceded by the number 8. However, since very few genetically-modified crops are sold as fresh produce (most are used in processed foods, for livestock feed, or in non-food applications), you’re unlikely to come across a PLU that start with the number 8. Next time you’re at the grocery store, take a closer look at your fruits and vegetables to see if you can sort your produce by PLUs.

About Sheila Viswanathan

Sheila Viswanathan focuses on educating individuals on how to make healthier dietary choices. She received her doctoral degree in Nutrition and Public Health from Teachers College, Columbia University and is certified as a registered dietitian.
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One Response to Supermarket Produce Labels

  1. Peter says:

    Thanks for the information…it was very enlightening. I was looking at some labels on the processed foods at our local supermarket—it looked like a page out of my grandson’s chemistry book!!! There was no food there only a mixture of chemicals packaged in a box. They’re poisoning us.


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