What are PLU codes?
Let’s discuss PLU codes. The stickers found on fruits and vegetables at markets contain 4-5 digit numbers known as Price Look-Up (PLU) codes. These codes have been around since 1990 and are used by stores to identify bulk produce (and related items such as nuts and herbs). They help to distinguish between conventionally-grown, genetically-modified (GMO) and organic products. This system is administered by the International Federation for Produce Standards, an affiliate of the Produce Marketing Association. There are currently over 1400 PLU codes issued.
PLU codes make the check-out and inventory control processes easier and more accurate by eliminating the need for the cashiers to identify the product on their own. It takes the guesswork out of whether or not each item is conventionally or organically grown and ensures that consumers pay the accurate price.
Be a stickler and know what you are consuming. Here is what you need to know about those pesky PLU code stickers on fruits, veggies, nuts and herbs.
Below is a guide that will teach you the significance behind the labels found on the produce you are buying.
What do the codes mean?
- 4-digit PLU code starting with 3 or 4 (3xxx or 4xxx) = conventionally-grown
- 5-digit PLU code starting with 9 (9xxxx) = organically-grown
- 5-digit PLU code starting with 8 (8xxxx) = genetically-modified
Some examples include
- 4129 = conventionally-grown Fuji apple
- 94129 = organically-grown Fuji apple
- 83111 = genetically-modified papaya (hypothetical)
Example of PLU codes on fruit
The 5-digit PLU code starting with an 8
The 5-digit PLU code starting with an 8 was created to help retailers distinguish between a GMO and a non-GMO produce for price or inventory purposes. It is rare to see a fruit or vegetable with this PLU code because most individuals are familiar with the dangers behind GMO food products. Food manufacturers recognize the global awareness of GMOs and understand that many people would not buy a fruit or vegetable that is labeled as a genetically modified organism, so they often choose to forgo the labeling of such products.
Update on the 5-digit PLU code starting with an 8
Since this article was written, the prefix ‘8’ has now been added to the PLU code database, but this time, not for GMO products. Here is an excerpt taken directly from the IFPS website which explains the new changes:
PLU Code Transition – Leading Digit ‘8’ by cdallacco:
“As the adoption of price look-up (PLU) codes gain further traction in the produce industry, the IFPS has committed to transitioning the previously unused prefix ‘8’ to accommodate an increase in varieties of fresh produce items as they enter the market. Please refer to the press release (English, Spanish and French) for further information. Additional information can also be found in this article which is an extract from the October 2015 Fresh Magazine issue published by PMA.”
In the announcement, the IFPS repots that although the ‘8’ prefix (83000–84999) was once reserved for GMO produce items, the prefix was never used in retail. Taking away the prefix of the GMO designation will provide 1,000 additional PLU numbers to be used in the future. The IFPS does not anticipate issuing PLUs in the newly released ‘8’ prefix series for some time.
If you have questions about PLU codes, here are some resources that will provide you with answers.
1. Search PLU codes online
- You can search all Price Look-Up (PLU) codes for fruits and vegetables sold in produce departments by visiting the International Federation For Produce Standards/Produce Marketing Association (IFPS) website. Their PLU database allows you to search for any PLU code.
2. Email the IFPS
- For further information or questions regarding PLU codes, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What do you think?
So there you have it: the nitty-gritty behind those sticky, annoying labels found on many fruits and vegetables!
- What are your thoughts?
- Do you pay any attention to the stickers found on your produce? Why or why not?
- Will my graphic help you navigate the produce aisles in your grocery store?