By Debbie Schmidt, RD
What’s a PLU code? These are the price-look-up codes found on small round stickers on the produce (ie bananas have a PLU code of 4011), or printed on the bag of the produce (broccoli crowns 4549).
While the codes provide the digits that make grocery store check-out much easier, they do more than get you the price: they reveal how the food was grown—conventionally, with pesticides and chemical fertilizers; genetically modified; or organic, which signifies it was made without pesticides, antibiotics or growth hormones, sewage sludge, bioengineering, or irradiation.
How will the code help you?
It depends on how many digits. If four, it is conventionally grown. If five digits, it is either genetically modified or organic. It depends on the FIRST digit.
Use a banana as an example:
4011—CONVENTIONALLY grown produce will always be a 4-digit number, like 4011 for bananas. Remember, this signifies conventional farming with added chemical pesticides and fertilizers. These can be toxic to children and anyone who consumes them on a regular basis so clearly these are a concern.
Are you familiar with the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) guide that lists the top 12 dirtiest foods? I was surprised at the number one dirtiest food. Check out the list at http://www.foodnews.org/ or a summary blog
Dirty foods may be used in baby foods, as part of frozen dinners, soups, restaurant fare, etc which means foods may be contaminated with unacceptable pesticides/carcinogens.
For example, the EWG found that of the baby foods tested, 53% were found to be contaminated with at least one pesticide. The worst baby foods? Plums and peaches. And what was found in the baby food? According to the EWG’s press release, “Iprodione (Rovral), classified as a probable human carcinogen by the EPA, was found more often than any other pesticide with eight detections, followed by thiabendazole with seven detections, botran with six, and permethrin with five.” Plums and peaches contained Rovral. For more info go tohttp://www.ewg.org/node/7582 .
84011—that same number with an “8” in front would be from GE or GMO seed and is GENETICALLY modified. A GMO banana would have the “8” before the 4011 as would any produce. Since this is not a mandatory labeling system, rarely are GMO foods identified.
94011—If you are looking for ORGANICALLY grown produce, the important number is a 9 that precedes the four digits. When possible, but especially if you are choosing between a dirty dozen contender and an organic one, select the organic food. Reports suggest you will obtain one-third fewer pesticides than conventional. There are additional benefits listed below. In most cases, cost is justified, but when it comes to the clean 15 (the cleanest produce by EWG), I would stick with conventionally grown.
1. Organic milk has significantly higher quantities of vitamin E – a key component that contributes to the shelf-life of milk – than its conventional equivalent, say Danish researchers, who suggest that this is due to the difference in the feed of the animal. 2004
2. Organic crops contained significantly more vitamin C, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus and significantly less nitrates than conventional crops.. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2003
3. More vitamin E, vitamin A, and carotene in eggs. Mother Earth News reports (8/05): “Tests of eggs from four free-range flocks found that, compared to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrient data for eggs from confinement production systems, the eggs from chickens raised on free range were much more nutritious – up to twice as rich in vitamin E, up to six times richer in beta carotene (a form of vitamin A) and four times richer in essential omega-3 fatty acids. And, the free-range eggs averaged only half as much cholesterol as the USDA data indicates for confinement-system eggs.”
4. More lycopene in organic ketchup.Testing 13 commercial ketchup sources – organic and different colored varieties – scientists at the US department of agriculture found that the organic versions excelled, with one brand containing 183 micrograms of lycopene per gram of ketchup, about five times as much per weight as a tomato, reports the New Scientist. 2005
5. There are more antioxidants in organic apples than conventionally grown apples (http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Organic-apples-beat-conventionals-on-antioxidants).