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Know your Produce - What the Heck are These Pesky Stickers on my Produce?

Updated on June 27, 2015

Understanding the stickers on produce - What are PLU numbers?

PLU numbers-The price look-up (PLU) code system , are the stickers that you see stuck on your produce. They tell you a lot about what kind of produce you are purchasing and it does classify qualities such as how food products were grown. You will see these mostly on produce that aren’t in bags and you picked individually. Look at the avocado, the apple the banana, the orange or pear you have purchased and view the sticker on it. This will make it so clear to you.

PLU codes are 4 or 5 digit numbers which have been utilized by grocery stores since 1990 to make check-out and inventory control easier, faster, and more precise. They also confirm that the correct price is paid by consumers by removing the need for cashiers to identify the product. But the fact is, the use of PLU codes is still optional today. So many produce items you might not see the sticker on due to the fact it’s not required to be adorned with a PLU sticker. Additionally, PLU codes were developed for the benefit of suppliers and retailers to assist them in sorting and pricing produce, not to offer information to the end buyer (that’s you , the consumer).

Is it required by law for them to let me know when I am buying a GMO food product?

No, It is not required for a GMO (genetically modified organism)to say it’s a GMO either; however this is in legislation at the moment to change this. This is an extremely heavy debated subject and with good reason! If you shopped in the health section of your grocery store or at a health store recently you are bound to see products bearing the label "GMO-free" or “non-GMO”. This means those foods products have not been altered at the gene level.

What do those numbers on the stickers that are stuck on my produce mean?

I am going to break this down as easily as I possibly can.

  • The standard sticker for a yellow banana is #4011. This means it was grown conventionally (using pesticides). Also note its 4 digits used commonly for conventionally grown produce.
  • Now, if the # 9 prefix is added to a PLU, this indicates that an item is organic; therefore #94011 is the code for an organic yellow banana. Also note its 5 digits.
  • Lastly, is the # 8 prefix is added to a PLU this will indicate that an item is genetically engineered (GE or GM-genetically modified); therefore #84011 is the code for a genetically engineered yellow banana. Also note its 5 digits.

Here is a simple trick to remember these codes.

  • If the PLU code has 4 digits, it was a chore to spray the crop. (4 and chore rhyme-and you know the crops have been sprayed).
  • If the PLU code begins with a 9 prefix then it is fine with no chemicals on it (9 and fine rhyme and you know no chemicals were used on it, it’s organic).
  • If the PLU code begins with an 8 prefix then I hate because it’s not a natural food, it’s been altered. (8 and hate rhyme and I like my food natural not genetically engineered).


  • 4 is a chore
  • 9 is fine
  • 8 we hate

Just as a side note, GMO-based food suppliers think consumers won't want to knowingly buy their genetically modified corn, for example, so they can simply decline to tag it with PLU codes and if the store’s price is no different than conventional corn they aren’t required by law to label it a GMO as of yet. They can just use the 4 digits and not put the “8” on it. That’s right and NOT put the 8 on it. So I recommend if you want to avoid buying a genetically engineered food, it’s safest to buy organic if that’s your preference. If you only want organic produce, look for items that are explicitly labeled as "Organic"; if you want the assurance to avoid any GMO produce, simply purchase only items that are certified as "100% organic" (which cannot by law be produced from GMOs).

Were you aware of what the numbers on produce stickers identified?

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Briefly can you help me understand the difference between conventional and organic food?

In organic production, the use of pesticides and fertilizers are restricted. Organic food practices a distinct farming system, which will avoid the usage of man-made fertilizers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives. In other words, no synthetic anything to assist in the growth of the food. Instead, the agricultural methods depend on natural ways of growing and farming by utilizing crop rotation, fertilizing with animal and plant manures, using hoes, mulch, hand weeding and biological pest control. To me, this is a much healthier way to grow food.

It’s the” process of production” of the food that defines whether our food is organic or conventional. Now when crops are grown conventionally they are allowed to use synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. They can use synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics in livestock, plus they have allowance of food irradiation and have acres and acres of mono crops.

The conventional farmer most likely would use herbicides to control their weeds but, the organic farmer would rotate crops every new growing season, till the dirt, mulch and hand- weed rather than spray his plants with herbicides. A conventional farmer’s procedures would be he’d spray synthetic chemical fertilizers to encourage plant growth, but an organic farmer instead would simply, apply natural fertilizers like manure or compost. This nourishes the soil and the plants in a much healthier way to entice growth. The conventional farmer would spray their insecticides for pest control; however the organic farmer would utilize the beneficial insects, birds or special traps to eradicate the pests.

Can you see the difference of why perhaps organic farming is a much healthier way to produce our foods? We are consuming that food in our stomachs and don’t want to ingest all those chemicals being used on the plants and in the soil.

Have you ever grown organic produce?

Yes, indeed! I have grown an organic garden for over a decade and I can assure you my grape tomatoes are the sweetest tasting things compared to a grocery stores. My strawberries are ruby red and juicy, my sweet peppers are vibrant in color and sweet to taste, my zucchini is mouthwatering and my red leaf lettuce grows abundantly and is beautiful. I grow many herbs and other vegetables as well with never ever using a chemical. My tender loving care, rotating my crops, plus my labor and my compost (nutrient rich) grows me such a prosperous healthy organic garden. However, I especially need the sun and rain from nature and this has given my family, friends and neighbors beautiful healthy produce. It feels so good to give others food for their health for free! So next time you are in the grocery store pay attention to those PLU stickers on your produce and use the rhyming trick I shared with you for your preferred purchases. It’s empowering to be an educated consumer!


Please note that I am not a medical doctor so I cannot offer medical advice nor diagnose or cure, please always consult your physician when in question. However I’m happy to offer you suggestions for possible enhancements to your health per my research and what I have learned as a Health Coach. I want to educate you the best possible way so you can be equipped with superlative information and make healthy decisions for yourself as you see fit, for this is my sole purpose.


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    • Organic Susana profile imageAUTHOR

      Susana Danielle 

      3 years ago from Newark, DE

      Hello Gail....thanks so much for taking time out to write! I am so glad you learned something from this. It's good to know what those stickers mean on our produce and I am happy it helped you!. Have a Happy Healthy Day Gail!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      How could I not know this! Wow! I will be checking my produce from now on! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and tips. Well done!


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