Mythbuster- Are PLU codes the way to determine the organic status of fresh produce?

Organic foods are delicious, nutritious and sustainable. With growing awareness on the negatives of conventional farming that utilises chemical-based pesticides and fertilisers, there has been an increase in demand for organic foods. However, the authenticity of organic food is a growing concern for the consumers and it has been thought that PLU (Price look-up) codes are the way to determine organic status of fresh produce. However, is this really the case?

What are Price look-up (PLU) Codes?

PLU Codes assigned by IFPS (International Federation for Produce Standards) are the 4 or 5 digit numbers that can be found on a small sticker attached to each fresh produce to tell you how they have been grown. It was first introduced in the U.S. and Canada but has spread to other countries like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Norway, Sweden and Mexico.

Picture adapted from: SAS Blogs

Generally, a four-digit code beginning with a “3” or “4” means the produce is conventionally grown while a five-digit code that starts with “9” means it is organically grown. While a five-digit code that starts with an “8” means the produce is genetically modified.

Below shows an example of how fresh produce are labelled with PLU codes:

Picture adapted from: Bamboo Core Fitness

Nevertheless, PLU codes are mainly used by supermarkets in some countries to make check-out and inventory control easier and faster. These codes are NOT the gold standard to determine organic status of your food.

More information regarding PLU code can be found on: https://www.pma.com/-/media/pma-files/supply-chain-standards/plu-users-guide_final.pdf?la=en 

How then should organic food be identified? The answer is always on its label or packaging:

One of the simplest ways to identify organic food is from the product name itself, as the term ‘organic’ is regulated in both Malaysia and Singapore. Food products that are labelled as “organic” have attained the organic certification from recognised organic regulatory bodies such as USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), SOM (Malaysia Organic Scheme), NASAA (The National Association for Sustainable Agriculture, Australia), ACO (Australian Certified Organic), EU (European Union), and more. Organic certification is achieved by having a third party audit internal processes to ensure the authenticity of organic produce, thus it cannot be counterfeited.

Organic certification is achieved by having a third party audit internal process to ensure the authenticity of organic produce, thus it cannot be counterfeited.

Here in ZENXIN Organic Food, our whole supply chain and all organic fresh produce are certified organic by Australian Organic Standards or NASAA, which is also one of the oldest organic certification bodies.

Find out more information about ZENXIN organic certification

Decoding ZENXIN Organic Fresh Produce Label

When a product is certified organic, consumers should be able to find the organic certification on their packaging or label. Take one of the ZENXIN organic fresh produce as example, Organic Ladies Finger.

As indicated in the picture, the NASAA certification with certification number can be clearly seen on the label (circled in green), in which the certification number is exclusive for the registered company. The number ‘8123P’ belongs to ZENXIN Organic Food Sdn Bhd.

This can also be counterchecked at NASAA organic website: https://nasaaorganic.org.au/organic-products/find-organic-producers-products/product-search/

Another important element in organic certification is the clear traceability of each and every organic fresh produce. Hence, you can see that each fresh produce is also labelled with a distinctive batch code (circled in blue). Traceability processes ensure that foods are traced and tracked throughout the supply chain.

For example, whenever an issue arises for a particular organic fresh produce, we will be able to check the batch code to trace back all the information of the produce, including total quantity of the produce, packing date, harvesting date, organic farm which it has been grown and harvested. With this, the quality-related issue can be rectified easily.

The next time when you do grocery shopping, do check for the organic certification on its label to distinguish conventionally grown and organically grown fresh produce.

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