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What You Should Know About Those Little Stickers on Fruits and Vegetables

by Amiee Aristotelous on July 17, 2020

You know those annoying little stickers found on fresh produce that can destroy the skin of a delicate peach, or leave a sticky film on your apple? There is some very useful information found on these PLU (price look-up) codes that can be very beneficial to your health. Of course they are used for grocery store workers to easily scan for price but they also identify the type of produce as organic, conventional, or genetically modified organism (GMO) but why is this important? Organic produce is treated with natural fertilizers and is free of the most detrimental toxins found in conventional pesticides used on crops. Conventional items have been sprayed with an array of toxic pesticides to fend off bugs and rodents. GMO fruits and vegetables have been genetically modified to be able to withstand being sprayed with Monsanto’s Roundup and if you’re not sure exactly what that means, keep reading on.

Some of the most consumed crops in our food supply are genetically modified so they can be strong enough to be sprayed with Roundup, which contains glyphosate. The glyphosate is severely toxic to bugs and rodents so they steer clear from the crops, and the crops are genetically modified to survive the spray. Glyphosate, the most widely-used herbicide in the world has been categorized as a “probable human carcinogen” by the World Health Organization. Non-organic corn, papayas, canola, potato, sugar beet, and a variety of other produce have been genetically altered to tolerate direct spraying of the herbicide, and items like wheat are also treated with glyphosate containing Roundup right before harvest to get the wheat to sprout at a faster rate, resulting in many grain-based food products to be left with a glyphosate residue. Wheat, corn, and canola are some of the most prominent ingredients in our food supply as they are used in a variety of products such as breads, cereals, crackers, pastas, oils, and numerous packaged foods.

There are some concerns that glyphosate, found in Roundup could be correlated with a variety of serious ailments such as celiac disease. Many studies have also indicated that glyphosate exposure may cause DNA damage and cancer in humans. A terminally ill California man was awarded $289 million as a result of a jury concluding that Monsanto’s glyphosate-containing Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The use of the herbicide on genetically modified crops such as corn, soy, and wheat has increased 100-fold since it was introduced in 1974 so further studies may need to be conducted to determine the outcome of this exponentially increased use.

To avoid GMO foods, look for products labeled as “certified organic” as these items are not allowed to contain genetically modified organisms. Moreover, produce is labeled with PLU (price look-up) codes which are located on the sticker, found on the piece of produce. To guarantee you are not buying a genetically modified food that is likely to have been treated with glyphosate, choose the codes that begin with the number nine—this means the food is organic! And just so you know, conventional items are labeled with a code that starts with the number four and GMO produce is labeled with a code that begins with the number eight, however, due to GMO lobbying, they won’t necessarily be labeled to signify the GMO status. The safest bet is to always look for the PLU code that begins with number nine since those are definitely organic!

If you're concerned about the prices of organic produce (it can be costly!), below is list of the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean 15" as categorized by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) They gather pesticide residue data each year and label the fruits and vegetables with the most pesticides versus the ones with the least. This way you can pick and choose which foods you may spend a little more on based on the risk of pesticide contamination.

The EWG “Dirty Dozen” list includes:

  • Strawberries
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Peaches
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes

The EWG “Clean 15” list includes:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapple
  • Onions
  • Papaya
  • Frozen Sweet Peas
  • Eggplants
  • Asparagus
  • Cauliflower
  • Cantaloupe 
  • Broccoli
  • Mushrooms
  • Cabbage
  • Honeydew Melon
  • Kiwi 

I hope you have found this information regarding produce helpful. Fruits and vegetables should make up the foundation of anyone's diet due to the macro-nutrient content. Especially during these times of the pandemic it is best to consume the least amount of toxins while getting your adequate vitamin and mineral intake. Stay safe!

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