You know those little sticky labels on your fruit, the things you have to remember to peel off or they get annoyingly stuck between your teeth? The ones with a little number on them? Ever wonder what the little number is for?
Those are PLU numbers -- product look-up numbers. They're 4-digit numbers established by the International Federation for Produce Coding, and each number corresponds to a particular kind of fruit. The grocery store codes them into the price scanning system, so all the clerk has to do is type in the number and voila, the system spits out the price-per-pound of your navel oranges or Bosc pears.
Every now and then, however, you may run across a 5-digit number, and that's where things get a little more interesting. If the first digit is a 9, that's a code for organic produce. They get their own special digit because, as we all know, the stuff costs more so the organic Gala apples get a higher price in the system than the grown-with-pesticides Gala apples. If the first digit of the 5-digit number is an 8, what you've got is genetically-modified produce. So if that's an important bit of information to you, now you know.
Many of the 4-digit codes are listed on the Fruit Labels Site, which is a site for people who collect those pesky little stickers as a hobby. Wow, who knew?