The entire Guide to Good Food series has been developed to help you get to know your food, but here’s an easy tip to help you when shopping. This will apply mainly to grocery stores, not to farmers’ markets where you’re buying your food direct.
As you look for fruits and vegetables, especially now at the end of summer when stores will be overflowing with farm produce, look for the labels found on the food. For small items like mushrooms or green beans, look for the numbered label on signage or the container they’re placed in. These numbers are PLU (price look-up) codes and are used on food that’s sold loose, by bunch, by weight or individually.
To know what kind of food you’re buying –
- – A four-digit number means it’s conventionally grown. (Or possibly a five digit number if the first one is a 0.)
– A five-digit number beginning with 8 means it’s genetically modified.
– A five-digit number beginning with 9 means it’s organic.
What this means
1. Conventionally grown – the produce was most likely grown on a large industrial farm that uses chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The food was most likely picked before it was ripe and shipped a long distance to get to the store. (The average conventionally-grown item travels 1500 miles to land on your dinner plate.) Farms such as these can contribute to ground and water pollution through chemical runoff.
2. Genetically modified – Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are very controversial and are banned in many countries due to the lack of sufficient testing to determine their safety. A GMO is created by taking the traits, or genes, of one plant and inserting them into another. This is different than traditional cross breeding where two similar plants are combined to create a different variation of the food. The genes can come from completely different species – such as inserting flounder genes into a tomato – and not enough is known about the long-term ramifications of this gene manipulation on human health or the environment.
3. Organic – The food was raised without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides (though some natural pesticides can be used), it cannot be treated with sewage sludge, and is not genetically engineered or irradiated. The fruits and vegetables can still be shipped long distances so finding a sign that says both local and organic is an even better option.
Why this is good
Do you ever go shopping for organic produce and wonder if it really is organic? Searching for the 9 on the PLU label on the food will help you know that your apple wasn’t accidentally tossed in from the conventional side.
Also, if you’re on a budget and have to make choices, knowing which foods are genetically engineered and which are not may help you with your decision. Avoiding PLU codes that start with 8 means you are steering clear of GMOs.
With everything we need to remember in order to buy the healthiest food for ourselves and our families, this is a quick and easy tip to know what’s conventional, what’s organic and what’s genetically engineered. If you want to learn more about PLU Codes, you can read their Users Guide.
Thanks to Ideal Bite for getting this information out!
(Diane Hatz is the Founder of Sustainable Table, Executive Producer of The Meatrix movies and co-Founder of the Eat Well Guide. This is the 21st installment in her series, Sustainable Table’s Guide to Good Food.)
Change Food is a nonprofit whose mission is to connect and transform the food we eat, the people who produce it, and the world in which it is grown. To read and learn more, visit The Guide to Good Food blog.