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Understanding Produce Labels

April 26, 2010

Everyone wants to be a little more “green” these days and one way to achieve this is at the grocery store. But with all the different labels you see on produce, this can be challenging. The following are definitions of the various labels you may see on your produce in the grocery store.

All produce has a PLU # (price look up number), these identification numbers are on produce to aid the grocer with checkout and inventory. This number designates variety and cost. A four digit PLU means the produce was conventionally grown and is not a GMO (Genetically Modified Organism). A five digit PLU beginning with an 8 means the produce is a GMO.  A five digit PLU beginning with a 9 implies the produce is Organic. Also normally included on this label is the Country of Origin Label. Beginning September 30, 2008 all fresh produce sold in retail stores in the US must have a Country of Origin Label.

USDA Organic is another label that one is seeing more of in the produce department. For a product to have this label, it must be grown and/or processed in accordance with the National Organic Program (NOP) and the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA). The USDA has two different Organic Labels that can be used on fresh produce.

  1. 100 percent Organic –only organically produced processing aids and ingredients can be used to grow or process the produce
  2. Organic – 95 percent of processing aids and ingredients used must be organic. All remaining ingredients or aids consist of non-agricultural substances approve for use on the National List

A third label that can be seen popping up in the produce department is Natural. This label is something one should not put much faith in. There is no legal definition or regulation of the term Natural. Ideally anything labeled Natural should be produced without artificial or synthetic ingredients/chemicals.

Sustainable is another label that is not legally defined and regulated. But for a farm to be sustainable, the farmers typically strive to produce crops organically while balancing fair trade and fair wage cost of living factors.

Produce may also bear the Fair Trade certification symbol. This produce is generally grown and harvested under more environmentally friendly conditions, and yields fairer prices for the small grower, who takes extra care to grow and market this produce. A grower using the Fair Trade Certification must pass an annual inspection. The standards of this certification are management by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO).

With all these labels, it is best for one to try to purchase locally grown fresh produce. This is a great way for one to be more “green”.

One Comment leave one →
  1. goldeneagle permalink
    April 26, 2010 11:01 am


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