Plu Codes: What Numbers You Need To Know Before Buying Produce

Jan 06, 2014 @ Project Juice

If you find yourself meandering the fruit and veggie aisle of your supermarket, you are on the right track for making healthy choices! The next step is understanding how to tell if your produce is conventional (covered in pesticides), certified organic (pure) or genetically modified (part of a science experiment). Most healthy foods tell their story right on the outside of the package with a USDA seal or Non-GMO Project symbol. However, fruits and vegetables are left naked with only a small sticker to tell you what you need to know. Here is how to understand the story these small produce stickers are telling you.

5-Digits Starting with  9 = ORGANIC 

What 5 digits starting with 9 should mean to you: Buy it!

When you but organic produce, you are getting the most nutrient dense food that nature offers, without the unwanted dose of pesticides which comes with conventionally grown produce. organic produce has been reported to deliver more antioxidants than conventionally farmed produce. A 2011 article by Gene E. Lester and Robert A. Saftner, published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, reference two separate studies that demonstrated organic vegetables to have between 15 to 25 percent higher levels of some antioxidants than their conventional counterparts.  

5-Digits Starting with 8 = GENETICALLY MODIFIED (contains GMO’s) 

What 5 digits starting with 8 should mean to you: Avoid it!

According to the Non-GMO Project, “…genetically modified organisms are plants or animals that have been genetically engineered with DNA from bacteria, viruses or other plants and animals. These experimental combinations of genes from different species cannot occur in nature or in traditional crossbreeding.” Doesn’t sound healthy to me. While research is conflicted in regards to the long term health effects of consuming GMO’s, I say – why risk any potential health detriments when it comes to your health?


What 4 digits on the label should mean to you: Know your source.

The vast majority of conventional produce is grown with massive quantities of pesticides. However, there are some small farms which do not earn certification but practice sustainable farming.  You may find these sources at your local farmer’s market.  

If you opt to purchase conventional produce because it is all that is available, be sure to avoid the “Dirty Dozen” list of the most toxic fruits and vegetables. The Environmental Working Group  puts out this list every year in order to inform consumers about the most toxic conventionally grown foods. You can greatly lower your pesticide intake by avoiding these 12 toxic conventional foods. If fresh organic is not an option, opt for frozen before turning to conventional!

  1. Apples

  2. Celery

  3. Tomatoes

  4. Cucumbers

  5. Grapes

  6. Peppers

  7. Nectarines

  8. Peaches

  9. Potatoes

  10. Spinach

  11. Strawberry

  12. Kale/ Collard Green

These are only a few simple tips & guidelines to help you navigate your grocery aisle. Paying attention to the labels and packaging used on your foods is instrumental to helping you make smart decisions about your health. 

Photo credit: julesjulesjules m via / CC BY

Author: Project Juice

Co-Founder of Project Juice, Marra also holds a certification from Long Beach Dance Conditioning as a Pilates instructor, and is also a certified personal trainer from the Academy of Sports Medicine, a certified Gyrotonic instructor, a certified nutritional consultant and a Level 2 Reiki Practitioner. When she is not coaching people through Project Juice, she is a highly recommended personal trainer and Pilates instructor.