The little round stickers on the fruits and vegetables in the produce section of your local grocery store are more than inventory control. They are issued by the Food and Drug Administration for “substances generally recognized as safe in food.” If you look carefully, you’ll see a series of numbers whether four, five or six, and they tell the consumer a story, if the customer knows what they stand for. Here are several things the codes will tell you.
• The PLU or Price Look Up codes are administered by the International Federation for Produce Standards, which is supported by countries all around the world.
• PLU codes have been used since 1990 to identify bulk items for inventory and expediting checkout.
• A produce item has a four or five digit PLU code that tells what the product is whether it is an avocado or a banana, where it was grown and how it was grown, meaning was it grown conventionally with pesticides or organically with no chemicals added?
• Five digit codes with a nine as the first number lets the consumer know it was organically grown. “The prefix of ‘9’ creating a five digit code would indicate organic,” says the IFPS.
• The use of PLU codes is strictly voluntary; it is not regulated by the United States government.
The present system consists of a database of over 1,400 PLU codes for loose produce and nuts. PLU codes are an established method of inventory and communication and is accepted by the majority of retail stores across the country.