Produce Stickers- More Valuable Than You May Think


You know those little stickers you peel off produce and can’t seem to get in the trash because they stick to your finger? Next time you peel one off your banana or apple, don’t be so quick to shake it off, take a look at it.

There is a lot of information packed into that little sticker. You’ll see a bar code and a few words and numbers. Fruits and vegetables have an identity code, or a Price Look-Up code, just like other foods you buy. (PLU codes are administered by the International Federation for Produce Standards). These were established in 1990 and contain either four or five numbers making claim to their identity.

One important piece of information that can be deciphered from these little stickers is if that piece of produce has been grown conventionally, or grown organically. Unless it is labeled ‘organic’ you cannot be sure it hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals, or know that it isn’t genetically engineered (genetically altered by scientists to produce bigger or faster growing produce. In other words, they contain genes and/or DNA that would not naturally be in them). Genetically modified foods are also called GMOs, or GM foods.

Here’s a way to know how your produce was grown:

Conventionally grown produce (sprayed with pesticides, weed killers and chemical fertilizers and are possibly genetically engineered) have PLU codes with four digits and begin with the number 3 or 4. (Example: 3111 is conventionally grown red fleshed papaya.)

Organically grown foods (without the use of chemicals) have PLU codes with five digits and begin with the number 9. (Example: 93111 organically grown red fleshed papaya.)

Currently there is no way of knowing if the produce you are buying has been genetically modified. It is not labeled. There is a PLU numbering system in place whenever, and if ever GM produce is required to be labeled. The PLU code will contain 5 digits and begin with the number 8 (source:

The majority of Americans polled say they would avoid GM foods, if they knew which ones they were. There is much controversy between the public and the Food and Drug Administration if the FDA should require agribusiness industries to identify products that contain genetically altered organisms. California’s Proposition 37 did not pass recently, which would have required food producers to inform consumers of GM content. Many big food companies in America have not supported this labeling. In fact, $44 million was spent on ad campaigns that won them the right to not label their GMO food (Source: Maria Guadagno, Dec. 7, 2012). Labeling GM foods would decrease their sales and therefore affect their bottom line.

Nearly fifty countries around the world, including Japan, Australia and Europe consider GMOs unsafe for public consumption and have restrictions or bans on the production or sales of GMOs. (Source: America has one of the highest levels of GMOs in their food chain with up to 85% of its pre-packaged and processed foods coming from genetic engineering. (Source: We, unfortunately, should assume that most of our food, at least partially, has been genetically altered.

According to The American Academy of Environmental Medicine, “Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with ingesting GM foods”, including infertility, immune problems, allergenicity, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system.

With a little information we can take some measures to avoid ingesting products with GMOs:

1. Read produce stickers/labels and choose produce that begin with the number 9 and are certified 100% organically grown.

2. Buy locally grown produce/ food from farmers’ markets, a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm, or a local co-op. GMOs are generally used by large multinational corporations who buy direct from large farms.

3. Grow your own produce using non-GMO seeds.

4. Become familiar with the most common GM foods and buy these foods organic - corn, soy, canola, rice, sugar beets, zucchini, squash and papaya and alfalfa. Ninety five percent of soybeans grown in America are genetically modified. Many packaged foods contain soy and therefore, more than likely, contain genetically altered organisms. According to a 2010 New York Times article, 80% of Hawaiian papaya is genetically engineered.

5. Purchase 100% grass-fed beef (as opposed to corn fed beef - the corn may be GM.).

6. If GM salmon is approved by the FDA, avoid it. AquaBounty, a U.S. company, is publicly seeking approval for a genetically modified animal that’s being raised to be eaten by humans. Genetically altered salmon would grow twice as big and twice as fast as nature made salmon, but are not natural to the environment, or to our digestive systems. Human safety and environmental impact are to be considered. (Source: The Denver Post. Dec. 9, 2012).

7. Look for products with the Non-GMO Project Seal. The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization with a mission of protecting the non-GMO food supply and giving consumers an informed choice. Visit for a list of non-GMO foods.

8. Equip your iPhone with the new app “ShopNoGMO”, or download non-GMO lists from Although helpful with pre-packaged products, these resources will not help you identify GM produce.

All this wealth of information began with a little produce sticker. Maybe they’ve been trying to stick to us for a reason – so that we’d pay more attention.

Nutritionist Darci Steiner provides nutrition counseling services in the Parker area and surrounding communities. For more information please visit LIKE us on Facebook at


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