What’s a PLU Code? How to Shop for Organic Produce

What Are PLU Codes?

PLU codes, also known as produce codes are unique, four or five digit numbers that grocery stores use to control and manage their inventory of fruits, vegetables, and herbs. The codes also help cashiers identify the produce being purchased to ensure accurate prices at check out. Although PLU codes were designed for retailers and not the consumer, you can benefit from knowing how to read them.[1]

The International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS) is a global organization comprised of national produce associations from around the world. They’re responsible for deciding which codes are assigned to which foods. There are currently 1,400 PLU codes used worldwide. The IFPS assigns codes using the 3000, 4000, 83000, 84000, 93000, and 94000 series.

Common PLU Code Misconceptions

PLU codes are relatively straightforward, but there are a few common misconceptions to clear up.

PLU Codes Are Required By Law

Although PLU codes are an industry standard that most medium and large-sized stores use, their use is not mandatory or required by law. Food labeling is completely voluntary, and retailers can label items as they choose. For example, many people are unaware that genetically modified vegetables are often labeled as conventionally grown.

PLU Codes Can Identify Genetically Modified Food

There is no distinct code for genetically modified foods, and many types of conventionally grown produce are genetically modified. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are plants, animals, and microorganisms whose DNA has been altered through genetic engineering. According to a 2013 report by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, 70 to 80 percent of foods contain GMOs. Although research on the health effects of GMOs is controversial, there is reason to believe they may have negative health consequences.[234]

A survey in the International Journal of Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine found that people who reduced or eliminated their consumption of GMO foods experienced an improvement in digestion, food sensitivities, and energy levels.[5]

Needless to say, it would be helpful to have a PLU code that identifies GMO-based produce. Unfortunately, this does not exist. Although the prefix “8” was previously reserved for genetically modified food, its use never caught on with food producers.[16] The best way to avoid genetically modified food is to shop for organic food.

Is There a List of PLU Codes?

The IFPS has a searchable database that’s extremely helpful for finding and verifying PLU codes. It allows you to search by category, commodity, type, and variety of produce. Their website is also a resource that provides up-to-date information for new codes.[1]

Easy Ways to Remember PLU Codes

With over a thousand different PLU codes in use, it’s difficult to memorize every single one. However, knowing their basic structure can be just as helpful.

Conventionally grown produce is assigned a four-digit PLU code starting with a 3 or 4. Organically grown produce has a PLU code starting with 9 followed by a four digit PLU code within the 3000 or 4000 series. For example, the PLU code for a conventionally grown Granny Smith apple is 3071. The PLU code for an organically grown Granny Smith apple is 93071.[1]