The best way to know about the quality of the produce you eat is to grow it yourself. In these busy and challenging days, this isn’t always possible. There are some ways to better understand the produce at your grocery store although there are some caveats thrown in too that make this system less satisfactory. You may notice a 4 or 5 digit code on the produce you buy. This is a PLU number or ‘price look up’ number. This number is not mandated by law and is therefore used voluntarily by the entities that bring your food to your store. A four digit code means the produce was grown conventionally. An example might be a melon with ‘4317’. Pesticides were used. Some codes have five numbers. If the first number is a 9 this means it was grown organically. If the first number is an 8 then it has been genetically modified (GMO). The problem here, according to Snopes, is that no GMO companies have yet actually put an 8 out front. Remember this is a voluntary action. They are just using the four digit codes, leaving out the explicit digit that would tell you it is GMO, but it is worth looking at least. Organic bananas, for example, would be given the designation of 94011. If an apple sticker said “96584” it would have been grown organically. An apple with “86584” would be genetically altered.
Barcodes on Produce
There is some information being passed around that the first three digits of the barcode (not the PLU number) tell the country of origin. It would be great if this was true and it may be true in some parts of the world, but unfortunately the very countries we would be worried about often misrepresent themselves. A company may have a headquarters in one country but the particular produce in your hand was grown, packaged in another. Another current problem is that produce can be grown in one country (i.e. grown in the USA) and then sent overseas for packaging. This is apparently happening with much of the frozen vegies now, and all too often that country is China where hygienic standards are sadly lacking. Many items are repackaged in China, including honey. Garlic is another product that is important to know in terms of its origin. Garlic is actually grown in human excrement in some places. (Sorry to even write this, but I think you would rather know than not.)
What does Organic Actually Mean?
Now we need to explain what the designations for produce actually mean in the real world:
Organic means that only 95% of the ingredients must be organic, leaving the remaining 5% open to ‘allowable’ substances from the USDA’s National List of Allowed substances and include such things as:
– Synthetic substances allowed in organic crop production.
– Synthetic inert ingredients as classified by the EPA for use with non-synthetic substances or synthetic substances used as an active allowed crop or livestock pesticide ingredient.
– Non-synthetic substances prohibited for use in organic crop, livestock production and processing.
– Synthetic substances allowed for use in organic livestock production.
– Nonagricultural (non-organic) (both non-synthetic and synthetic) substances allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as ‘œorganic’ or ‘made with organic (specified ingredients or food group(s)).’
– Non-organically produced agricultural products allowed as ingredients in or on processed products labeled as organic or made with organic ingredients.
‘Made with organic ingredients’ means that only 70% of the ingredients have to be organic. The other 30% contain non-organic ingredients and synthetic substances normally allowed in conventional food and fiber production. Products with less than 70% organic ingredients have to list only the organic ingredients on the ingredient panel rather than the primary panel.
So the label ‘organic’ now means less than it used to and you need to be aware of this.
Grow Your Own
We are starting to get more serious about growing more of our own food here at home. As we move forward, we will let you know how it’s coming and offer any insights we have. Once grown, it is important to be able to know how to store your produce so it can be there for you when you need it.
Mother Earth magazine had a very good article on various methods that you may find helpful: Six methods of food preservation:
(you may have to copy and paste)
The Mother Earth website is a wonderful cornucopia of information on many topics .
Another helpful list comes from the Berkeley Farmers Market. I will attach a .pdf file if you want to open it up. It tells how to store many different kinds of produce. (you may have to copy and paste)
We are just scratching the surface here but if these hints seem helpful, we will continue to send them to you. Food is primary to life and we must feed ourselves and our families with quality foods to have quality lives.
I would probably be remiss to leave out a wonderful local business for those of you who eat meat. They offer high quality meats and their beef is grass fed. I know they are a bit up the road, but if you eat meat it is probably worth it.
The Organic Chef Foods Country Market
13450 N Hwy 301 Citra, Fl.
In the split of 301 & 441 North of Ocala
15 mins & 25 mins South Of Gainesville