Designed to speed things up at checkout, these tiny labels can also give valuable insight into the origin of your produce.
The four- and five-digit numbers you see on the stickers of bulk produce items are known as PLU (price look-up) codes. These codes, assigned by the Produce Marketing Association through the Produce Electronic Identification Board, are indeed used by checkout clerks to identify and price fresh fruits and vegetables. But in addition to being used for inventory purposes, these sticky tags also indicate how the produce was grown: conventionally, organically, or through genetic modification.Here's how to read the stickers: Items that are conventionally grown have four-digit PLU codes that begin with the number 3 or 4, while their organically grown counterparts have codes that are five digits long and begin with the number 9. For instance, a conventionally grown banana is labeled 4011, while an organic banana is labeled 94011. Genetically modified fruits and vegetables are rare finds but can be identified by five-digit PLU codes that begin with the number 8. For instance, genetically modified bananas would be labeled 84011.
*From Cook's Illustrated, Published March 1, 2005.