The numerical codes we see labeled on produce like fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, and dried fruits, or on bags containing these items, are known as Price Look Up (PLU) codes. Codes are assigned by the International Federation for Produce Standards (IFPS), an internationally joint organization that ensures efficiency along the produce supply chain while standardizing identification of the different produce. Currently, PLU codes are not mandatory and are voluntary. However, we often see apples and oranges with labels because they help retail cashiers to identify the items that are being purchased with better accuracy and efficiency.
Typically, the codes have either 4 or 5 digits. The codes are randomly assigned to the commodities with different varieties, sizes, and growing methodology. For example, a small Honeycrisp apple is coded 3468, while a large Honeycrisp apple is coded 3283.
The 4-digit codes are numbers within the 3000 to 4000 series, which define these commodities to be conventionally grown. In other words, they are farmed with chemicals and pesticides.
The 5-digit codes, typically starting with a 9 and followed by the 3000 to 4000 series number, signify the commodity to be organic. For example, an organic small Honeycrisp apple would have the code 93468. By organic, it means that the produce is grown naturally, without chemicals and pesticides.
With an increasing amount of variations in commodities, the IFPS has decided to expand the PLU coding system. The prefix 8 will be used in the future. Previously, the number 8 was used to signify genetically modified items, but it was rarely used within the retail setting. Hence, if the current prefix 8 is followed by the 3000 series, it codes for conventional produce; whereas the prefix 8 followed by the 4000 series corresponds to organic produce.