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Understanding Produce Labels: Coffee Shoppe Eats


If you're anything like me, then you're likely totally and completely obsessed with food. I think part of it comes from my Italian roots. Many of my most vivid memories of my grandmother involve food in some way. Food is deeply woven into culture, necessary for human life and often delicious to boot! While I love a wide variety of foods and enjoy various aspects of food from growing it myself to baking and cooking, I have learned along the way that there are certain things I do not love about food.

I'm personally not a fan of foods full of added chemicals or of genetically modified foods. High-fructose corn syrup and MSG in all of its forms make me shake my head when I see them on a label. When I saw that the non-dairy creamer I was using for my morning coffee (OK....and my afternoon and evening coffees) not only contained corn syrup but also milk derivatives (I can't handle dairy well) I cringed, and then immediately switched to an almond milk creamer which I find much more delicious. I have learned that MSG gives me headaches among other issues and I'm not the only one.

While part of my issue with food additives stems from how they make me feel, or perhaps the worry of future health issues, my main complaint is that they aren't labeled in an adequate way to inform the average consumer of what they are purchasing. The creamer I used to use? It said non-dairy and wasn't. MSG? It has well over a dozen names that you would have to memorize and then search for on a label if you wanted to be 100% sure you weren't buying products containing the ingredient. Who has the time to read every single label in the grocery store? While I certainly try to make an effort, I'm not perfect and I can't say that I do it with the utmost diligence.

One area though, in which we can make better choices in a far less painful way is within the produce section. Produce often has a small label sticker if it is without a package (tomatoes, bananas, apples, etc.) and those labels contain a code that you can easily read to know whether or not what you're buying is organic, GMO, or conventional.

  • CONVENTIONAL - produce that has a PLU code that starts with a 4 or a 3, are considered to be conventionally grown. This means that while it is likely grown with pesticides, that it is not genetically modified (GMO).
  • GMO - produce that has a PLU code that starts with an 8 are considered to be genetically modified (GMO). They are also grown with pesticides.
  • ORGANIC - produce that has a PLU code that starts with an 9 are considered to be organic. Chemical pesticides are not used.

 I personally strive for organic produce whenever it is possible. Unfortunately there are times in which I cannot find a particular fruit or vegetable and in those cases I opt for conventionally grown produce. I never purchase produce that has a GMO label code. Another great guideline is the dirty dozen list published by the Environmental Working Group. This list compiles the produce considered to be the dirtiest in terms of pesticide usage. Alternatively, they also offer a "clean fifteen" list as well.




 The grocery store can be both a magical and overwhelming place. I hope that this post helps to alleviate some of the confusion and help you to become a more informed consumer! I very much welcome respectful discussion in the comments! Please share any tips and advice you might have as well! I would love to hear it. :)


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