But more and more as I attend farmer’s markets both in my home town and when I travel, I realize a secret most of the shoppers do not know: if you don’t know how to read a PLU sticker, you may be buying dangerous produce.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to farmer’s markets where consumers are flocking around the produce like a Kmart blue light special sale. (Do they even have those anymore?) I take one look at it and know this food is not something I want to put in my body. In fact, a “farmer’s market” can lull many consumers into a false sense of security. The tomatoes may look ripe, red, and shiny, the apples may have even been picked the day before, but beware. You may assume everything sold at a farmer’s market is without question the purest, healthiest food you can buy, but that’s simply not true. It’s the information revealed on the PLU sticker found on that product that you should become an expert at interpreting. This information will also help you at the health food store and your local grocery store as well.

So what is a PLU sticker? It’s that little sticker you find on produce–you know the one you often can’t peel off, so you sometimes just eat it?  That’s called the PLU sticker, or the “price look-up” sticker, and the numbers on it reveal the most important things you need to know about your precious food: was it organically grown, sprayed with toxic chemicals, or genetically modified?

The PLU sticker was designed by the Produce Marketing Association and the International Federation for Produce Coding not only as a way to facilitate food identification and source of origin, but also to enable a quicker check out. Most importantly, it tells you exactly how that produce was grown and that fact is imperative to good health. Here are the PLU code rules: (1)

Four digit number, usually beginning with a 4 or a 3 = conventionally grown, ie., sprayed with toxic synthetic chemicals including pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.

Five digit number, beginning with an 8 = genetically modified and can also be sprayed with the above toxic chemicals.

Five digit number, beginning with a 9 = organically grown; cannot be genetically modified and cannot use toxic chemicals of any kind.

For example, the sticker on the banana I just bought reads: 94011. If it were sprayed with chemicals, the sticker would say: 4011, and if it were genetically modified (and most likely also sprayed with chemicals) the sticker would read: 84011.

There is really only one rule you need memorize, and that rule is very simple: Only buy produce with a PLU sticker that begins with the number “9”. Do not waste your money or create health problems for youself and your family by purchasing and consuming any produce with a PLU sticker that begins with a “4” or a “3” or an “8” or any other number. “9” is the magic number for good health.

If the produce at your local farmer’s market is not stickered, ask the farmer if their produce is organic. You do not want to eat chemically sprayed food, even if it was grown locally.

If you always thought it was not that big of a deal to eat conventionally grown, chemically sprayed produce, take a look at the following:

Toxic chemical contamination:

Studies performed by the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) over the past few years, show adult human blood contains at least 171 pollutants and carcinogens. Fetal blood, measured via umbilical cord blood, contains 287 pollutants and carcinogens; 209 never found in umbilical cord blood before. Yes, even the placenta, commonly thought to protect babies in the womb, is no match for today’s dangerous chemicals. In addition to industrial chemicals, carcinogens, developmental toxins, and neurotoxins, 21 organo-chlorine pesticides, such as DDT and chlordane, were detected in the fetal blood.  Fourteen of these pesticides have been banned or phased out of use in the U.S. for decades. How can this be? Certain chemical pesticides are considered “persistent” in the environment and our bodies, and do not just go away once we stop using them.(2)

Note: These chemicals sprayed on our food, not only end up in our bodies, but also in the soil and water supply.

Nutrient content:

There are dramatic differences in the nutritional content of organic vs. non-organic produce. Studies show organically grown produce has a higher vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient (enzymes, anti-oxidants, and bioflavonoids) content, some up to 30% more.(3) Other studies comparing tomatoes, beans, beets, and peppers reveal the organic versions contained ten times more mineral content than the conventional varieties.(4) This is due to the superior soils in which organic food is grown. Enriching the soil through composting, humus, cover cropping, and crop rotation, as well as avoiding the use of toxic chemicals, keeps organic soil fertile and nutrient-rich season after season. Conventionally grown produce, on the other hand, is grown in depleted soils, lacking the important minerals and vitamins that plants normally draw from it. The resulting produce is lacking its proper nutrient content.


Although taste is an individual matter, many studies and polls carried out in several countries reveal that most people think organically grown produce simply tastes better.(5) Again, when the soil is healthy and rich in nutrients, this translates to the food. More nutrition means mouthwatering, superior flavor, the way Mother Nature intended. Even chimps at the Copenhagen Zoo were instinctively able to tell a difference, choosing organic bananas over conventional grown, chemically sprayed ones.(6)

Genetic modification:

Genetic modification (GM) of  food, brought to us by some of the same companies that make toxic pesticides, involves the human engineering of plant DNA by transferring genes and even crossing the species barrier by splicing DNA from a plant, or even an animal or microorganism, into another plant. For example, fish genes have been spliced into tomatoes, bacteria into corn and corn products, and viruses into fruit and squash– unheard of combinations that never would be found in nature. It is estimated 7 out of 10 processed products sold at your local grocery store are made from genetically modified ingredients.(7) Packaged products are not required to be labeled as containing GM ingredients. From soybeans, rice, and corn to rapeseed (canola) oil, tomatoes, and papaya, “frankenfoods” are in full force here in the United States and are also not required to undergo rigorous testing for their safety.  Interestingly enough, no genetically modified fruits or vegetables can be sold in the European Union (EU). The EU, consisting of 27 countries, has banned GM foods for human consumption.(8)

The superiority of organic crops in nutrition, taste, lack of toxic chemicals, and the fact they are not genetically modified should be all the inspiration you need to reach only for the produce marked “9” on the label at your farmers market, health food store, or even your grocery store. This is one more healthy step to keep you and your family safe and healthy for a lifetime.


1. http://www.plucodes.com/faqs.aspx

2.  EWG/Commonwealth Study #1, “Industrial Chemicals and Pesticides in Adults” http://www.ewg.org/sites/humantoxome/participants/participant-group.php?group=bb1, Body Burden — “The Pollution in Newborns: A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood” http://www.ewg.org/reports/bodyburden2/execsumm.php

3. Meyerowitz, Steve. “The Organic Food Guide: How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier,” The Globe Pequot Press, 2004. p.46

4. Meyerowitz, Steve. “The Organic Food Guide: How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier,” The Globe Pequot Press, 2004. p.45

5. “Organic Food Tastes Better, Claims New Poll” http://www.foodnavigator.com/news/ng.asp?id=62272

6. Meyerowitz, Steve. “The Organic Food Guide: How to Shop Smarter and Eat Healthier,” The Globe Pequot Press, 2004. p.51

7. http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/ge/ and



Fruits and Vegetables: No GMO’s in the EU


vol 27 Issue 4 page 12


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