While there are no bar codes on individual fruit and vegetables sold at your local supermarket, there are little stickers. The number on this sticker is a PLU – price look up – for the benefit of the guy or girl at the check out. But the sticker is also useful for you the consumer.
It is the first digit that provides the most information
The PLU gives you a clue about the fruit or vegetable you're purchasing. Most PLUs are only four digits long but some are five. When the PLU is 4 digits it means that the fruit or vegetable has been commercially grown. A "9" means that the item is organically grown, free from harmful pesticides and fertilizers. An "8" indicates that the item is a genetically modified plant and that may be something you do not want to eat if you have strong feelings about GM plants and crops. At the moment, GM foods are not required to be labeled and this is something that many in the USA are campaigning to change. We all know that often organic produce may cost more. But there are certain organic fruit and vegetables that you should buy rather than the commercially produced version. This is because these need extra pesticides in order to reach the store.
They are often called the dirty dozen
1. Nectarines – 97.3% of those sampled were found to contain pesticides.
2. Celery – the figure was 94.5%
3. Pears – 94.4% of pears samples were found to contain pesticides
4. Peaches – with this fruit the figure was 93.7%
5. Apples – one of the most popular of all fruits stood at 91%
6. Cherries – 91% of cherries sampled were found to contain pesticides
7. Strawberries – the figure for strawberries was 90%
8. Imported grapes – 86% of imported grapes were found to contain pesticides. One of the countries of origin was Chile.
9. Spinach – this popular green vegetable had a percentage of 83.4% so should definitely be bought organic or even better grow your own.
10. Potatoes – 79.3% of potatoes sampled were found to contain pesticides.
11. Bell Potatoes – 68% of these sampled were found to contain pesticides.
12. Red Raspberries – the last of the dirty dozen stood at 59%.
Fruit and vegetables that you can more safely buy even when they are non organic.
This is mainly because many have thick, inedible skins which protect the fruit from any pesticides. They include: asparagus, avocados, bananas, broccoli, cauliflower, corn (as long as it is not GM but remember that most are), kiwi, mangoes, onions, papaya, pineapple and sweet peas.
Very soon it might be “goodbye sticky labels, hello tattooed fruit”
This is because the FDA have been asked to approve the laser-etching of fruit and vegetables with the necessary product information instead of using sticky labels. According to Jan Narciso a research microbiologist with the US Department of Agriculture's Citrus and Subtropical Lab in in Winter Haven, Florida: “The laser beam penetrates the outer layer of the fruit or vegetable's cells, exposing a bit of the pith. What this does is just penetrate the few cells of that colored layer and exposes the underlying layer.” To make sure the technology was safe, the lab tested it on foods painted with pathogens and disease organisms to see if they would infect fruit that had been labelled with lasers. Apparently the fruit and vegetables remained unaffected. Jan Narciso went on to say: “The laser zaps the tissue, and it makes kind of like a callus, so that nothing gets through there. It's really very, very clean, and you can eat it."
She also said that their tests of the technology showed that it can print on just about any fruit and vegetable. You can expect to see this new technology in labeling in your local store in the future. I do not know what information the label will give us though or what the reaction of the customers is likely to be.
Other new technology regarding fruit and vegetables
PlantLab has succeeded in growing plants without the sun shining on them. Their laboratory in Den Bosch has
apparently produced healthy plants such cucumbers, beans, corn, peppers, zucchini, tomatoes and even strawberries using red and blue LED lights with a saving of 95% water and without the need for pesticides. We wait to see how this progresses and what the implications are for you and me.