What Do PLU Codes Really Mean

(BeWellBuzz) The bar code sticker or PLU label on your favorite fruit is not just a group of random numbers. It gives you important information about how the fruit was cultivated. That is, whether it was genetically modified, cultivated conventionally, or grown organically. Read on to know how to decipher PLU codes.

What is a PLU code?

Price look-up codes or PLU codes were first introduced in 1990 by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS), a regulatory body associated with the Produce Marketing Association (PMA).

A coalition of national produce associations of different countries, IFPS aims to improve the distribution of the fresh produce industry by introducing, implementing, monitoring, and managing consistent international standards. The introduction of PLU codes was a step in this direction.

The purpose of PLU codes was to cut down on the checkout time in supermarkets and make inventory control easier. They are used only for identifying bulk produce such as fruits, vegetables, herbs and nuts. A cashier in the supermarket can tell whether a product is conventionally grown or organically produced by looking at the PLU code pasted on it. This, in turn, helps in speeding up the checkout.

How is a PLU code useful to an average customer?

A PLU code is either of 4 digits or 5 digits. A 5-digit PLU code has an additional number, 8 or 9, in front of the four digits.

A PLU code tells you if:

  • The product is conventionally produced
  • The product is GMO or genetically modified
  • The product is organically produced

A 4-digit PLU code indicates that the product is conventionally produced. All conventionally produced bulk products and related items have a 4-digit PLU code.

A 5-digit PLU code starting with number 8 means that the product is a GMO or genetically modified. All GMO products have a 5-digit PLU code, with the first number being 8.

A 5-digit PLU code starting with number 9 means that the product is organically produced and safe to consume. All organically produced products have a 5-digit PLU code, with the first number being 9.

For example, let’s consider small pears. The code of this product is 4024. This code indicates that it was conventionally produced. If the code is 94024, it means you are buying an organic pear. The PLU code 84024 indicates that the product is genetically modified.

Safety ratings

The safety ratings of organic, conventionally, and genetically modified products are as follows:

  • Organically-produced items – An organic product is the safest of the lot. Although IFPS standards are not as stringent as the ones some organic farmers follow, a product with a PLU code starting with 9 is still completely safe to consume.
  • Conventionally-produced items – Such products are likely to have traces of harmful chemicals such as pesticides and should be avoided. Conventionally-produced products come second on the safety scale.
  • Genetically-modified items – These products contain unnatural genes and can be harmful to your health. You should avoid consuming GMO produce.

What a PLU label may not tell you

Although a PLU label can come in handy when determining how safe a product is, there is a slight problem with this numbering convention. Not only is adherence to PLU convention voluntary, but putting the additional fifth number, where applicable, is also voluntary.

In other words, a retail grocery store may or may not choose to list the fifth number on the PLU label. So, in effect, it is possible that a product containing a 4-digit label may be organic or GMO instead of being conventionally cultivated.

While there is no harm if a fruit with a 4-digit label is organic instead of conventionally produced, you may be at a significant disadvantage if the 4-digit product you buy turns out be a GMO, although this rarely takes place. Due to the possibility of this discrepancy, it is recommended that you confirm whether the product you are buying is indeed conventionally produced and not genetically modified (while purchasing a 4-digit PLU product).

Some facts about PLU standards

  • At present, there are over 1300 universal PLU codes in effect.
  • At present, the range of PLU codes is between 3000 and 4999.
  • PLU codes are used only for loose products such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and herbs.
  • Most packaged or containerized products do not fall under the scope of PLU standards because they follow another standard called GTIN (global trade item number). However, there are some exceptions. For instance, grapes packaged in a plastic bag may have a PLU code instead of GTIN.
  • Products that have been additionally processed, such as stuffed vegetables, do not fall under the scope of IFPS’s PLU standards.







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