JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Labels on fruit & other produce

You know those funny little irritating labels on fruit? The ones that tell you that, yes, you have picked up a Granny Smith or whatever? Well, they've got some seriously useful information on them, if you know how to translate the code.

They are actually called PLUs, that's Price Look Up in English. They are there to make things easier (and cheaper to run) for supermarkets, never mind that consumers really really don't want to have to remove little stickers from their apples. It's not much of a consolation to find that there are plans to overcome consumer resistance by branding fruit and vegetables with blueberry juice.

PLUs are numerical codes for loose produce, a sort of bar code for fruit and veg. All the numbers mean something - some for different types of fruit and veg, some for sizes, some for colour, some restrictive/geographic (to take account of both metric and imperial weights and measures). None of this needs consumer translation ... but there are two that do: they are both prefixes to four-figure numbers:

IF THE CODE STARTS WITH 9, the produce is ORGANIC

IF THE CODE STARTS WITH 8, the produce is GENETICALLY MODIFIED


You wouldn't believe how long it took to find this information - do you think they're trying to keep it secret from ordinary consumers? Or does that sound too much like paranoia? The reason I wanted to check it was to make sure that these two codes work everywhere in the world - and they do.

All over the world: 9 for organic, 8 for GM.

Just so's you know.

Full details of all the codes can be found at the International Federation for Produce Standards website. But those are the two you need (p 17 of the users' guide, which is a pdf). The examples they give, to be really clear, are: 94011 is an organic banana; 84805 is a GM vine-ripened tomato.

I mention this now, because fruit is such a good thing eat when you're out and about (check out Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's diet), and I often forget to take it with me, so I end up buying it in the garage or at corner shops. Lucius has just had his hip replacement operation, so I'll be back and forth between home and the hospital for the next few days ... & probably forgetting fruit as often as not. I've just phoned the hospital, he's awake and everything's fine. I'm off right now.

16 comments:

Jules said...

This is really interesting and something I've never realised before. I'll certainly be checking the labels on fruit.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

I hope Lucius has a speedy and uneventful recovery!
Thanks so much for this Joanna. Really useful info. I'll be checking.

Riana Lagarde said...

Hope that Lucius feels better soon and thank you soooo much for the info, i will pass it on too.

Mandy said...

Get well soon Lucius.

Cottage Smallholder said...

Thanks for this, Joanna. I had no idea what those numbers meant.

Get well soon, Lucius.

Toffeeapple said...

Best wishes to Lucius for a speedy recovery. Thank you for that piece of detective work, Joanna; how long did it take you??

David Hall said...

Good news about Lucius, get well soon. And interesting info too, I didn't know that at all!

Cheers
David

Anke said...

good everything went smooth at the operation. my hubby had an operation last year and I remember how anxious I was until he finally woke up...

the info on the fruit codes is priceless... cause the one thing I don't want is GM...

Michelle said...

Glad to hear that Lucius is doing well after surgery! Thanks for the handy tips - I have heard of the organic/nonorganic code before, but I had forgotten the details...and so interesting about branding with blueberry juice - I've never heard that!!

KJ said...

Thanks for this useful info. I will be checking. All the best for Lucius.

Joanna said...

Thanks for all your good wishes. I'll be interested to see if they actually do the blueberry thing - I should think there'd be at least as much consumer resistance to that as to the little labels.

The interesting thing about the IFPS website is that they are so completely upfront about why they have separate codes for organic and GM - because there's such a huge price differential in the two types of produce. And yet food industrialists weren't very keen to label GM in ingredients lists on ready-made foodstuffs when there was no price imperative.

The lesson is: If you want to be sure of what you are eating, you've really got to read the labels, even if you're doing most of your own cooking.

Joanna

Cameron said...

What about code prefixes, 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7? (I know that 4 means conventionally grown—pesticides, etc., but what about the other prefixes?)

Joanna said...

Cameron, you need to click on the link in my post to the International Federation ...- all the information is there, because they're in charge of the system. I only put 8 and 9, because they were the ones I was most concerned with at the time I wrote that post - still am, really: I'd always prefer to eat organic if possible, and would always want to avoid GM foods

Anonymous said...

I knew about the 9 for organic, but not about the 8 for GMO's. Does anyone know what a 3 at the beginning means? I think a 4 is conventionally grown....

Joanna said...

Hi Anon ... I am afraid I've forgotten, I just use 8 and 9 as my guides ... and I'm also afraid that I don't have time to look this up for you, as today is the last posting day for Xmas cards, and I've only just begun (!) ... but if you follow the link in the post, you'll find the huge and somewhat confusing document which will give you the answer. The truth is, they need to be able to say that fruit and veg are clearly labelled, but they'd rather you didn't actually understand the labelling. At least, not without a huge effort. Sorry if this sounds cynical

Good luck (and get back to me after Xmas if you're still in doubt)

Joanna

web designer, web design India said...

Thanks ur information