What Grocery Stores Don't Tell You About The Stickers On Produce

What Grocery Stores Don't Tell You About The Stickers On Produce
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By Sara Wylie 

You know those little stickers that come on your produce and seem to stick to everything when you pull them off and cause more irritation than anything? 

Those little stickers actually have more to say than you might think. 

While the PLU number is meant to help price check and identify the fruit or veggie, it also helps you know how your produce was grown. It’s coded, but this code is easy to break, and once you can break it, you’ll always be able to know if your produce was genetically modified, grown with pesticides, fertilizers, fungicides and herbicides, or if it was grown naturally and organically.  

Where did your produce come from?

Here’s how to decode the PLU numbers and figure out where your produce came from:

  • If the PLU code contains only 4 numbers, then that means it was grown traditionally or conventionally with the use of pesticides. These four numbers simply indicate what sort of fruit or veggie the produce is and that there were no special or non-conventional measures taken during its growth. For example, a conventionally grown banana would be labeled 4011. 
  • If there are 5 numbers and the number starts with “8,” this means that the produce was genetically modified. This means that the fruit or vegetable was tampered with and altered in an unnatural way, typically with the intent to enlarge the produce, expand its shelf life, etc. For example, a genetically modified banana would be labeled with 84011. 
  • If there are 5 numbers and the number starts with a “9,” this means that the produce was grown naturally and organically. Organic produce has not been genetically modified or altered and wasn’t grown with the use of any pesticides or other chemicals. For example, an organic banana would be labeled 94011. 

Clean 15 vs Dirty Dozen

If you want to deepen your knowledge about which fruits and veggies have been treated with chemicals and which have not, the Environmental Working Groups (EWG) have compiled two different lists, the “Clean 15” and the “Dirty Dozen” to help people know which produce is cleaner and safer to consume and which produce is most often tampered with. They keep these lists up to date and always available for whoever would like them. 

Here are the current members of the Clean 15 list – these are the produce that are typically the cleanest and most likely to be organic:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn 
  3. Pineapples
  4. Cabbages
  5. Onions
  6. Sweet peas frozen
  7. Papayas 
  8. Asparagus
  9. Mangoes
  10. Eggplants
  11. Honeydew melons
  12. Kiwis
  13. Cantaloupes
  14. Cauliflower
  15. Broccoli 

And here are the current members of the Dirty Dozen list – these are the produce that are most often treated with chemicals and genetically altered: 

  1. Strawberries 
  2. Spinach
  3. Nectarines
  4. Apples
  5. Grapes
  6. Peaches
  7. Cherries
  8. Pears
  9. Tomatoes
  10. Celery
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sweet Bell Peppers


If you’re someone who isn’t strict about buying all things organic or isn’t able to all the time due to pricing, these lists can also help you know which foods are the best to buy organic since some foods absorb and hold onto chemicals more so than other foods. It also helps you know which foods aren’t as hazardous when they come in contact with pesticides or other chemicals. If you’re only able to get some produce organic, be sure it’s the produce on the Dirty Dozen list.


If it were up to us, we recommend buying all your produce organic if you can, just to stay on the safe side. But we also very much understand some people need to prioritize for the sake of their grocery budget.  

Were you aware of how informative PLU code stickers on your produce are? What are your thoughts? Any additional tips or questions? Let us know, we’d love to hear from you and help support you however we can. 

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