What’s the little sticker on my fruit and veggies telling me  ?

By Dr. Alan Kadish NMD

Want to know if the produce in your hand was treated with pesticides, genetically modified, and more ? That little sticker on your produce reveals more info, with a simple code.

Some simple decoding will get you answers:

There are two types of codes on the stickers, those that are 4 digits and those that use 5 digits. These codes  that begin with a 3 or 4 indicates that the product was grown conventionally. Conventionally grown products are defined by the FDA as those that can be grown with synthetic chemicals (fertilizers, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones) or genetically modified organisms.

For the five digit codes there are currently two options, those begin with a 9 means that the item is grown in accordance with the USDA organic standards.  If you see a label’s code having five digits that begins with an 8, it’s a product thats been genetically modified . Often referred to as a GMOs or from genetically modified organisms.

Also U.S. law states that all produce must use Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) to inform us of where our food was produced. There are two options, either the country appears on the sticker, or via a sign next to the produce bin or display.

And if your wanting to really know what the type of product and more details the PLU database is easily searchable. 

What are the labels made of ?

Those little stickers can be made of plastic, paper or vinyl and no you should not place them in your compost, as they do not break down. So peel and discard in your trash. And for the curious crowd, the adhesive is FDA approved as food-grade. Food grade only means that you will theoretically not get ill from ingestion. What does that really mean ? The adhesive can be composed of a number of nasty items including colors, preservatives, rubber derivatives and various types of polymers and more. So cleaning the surface after removal is probably a good idea. Want a listing of the nasties, see : 21CFR175.125 

Conventional pesticide levels, a concern?


It would be one sided to not suggest that according to the FDA when they studied multiple  foods and pesticide levels they found low levels that met the legal requirements overwhelmingly. This included fruits and veggies, however their information is limited to information from 2016 and prior years.  The Pesticide Data Program (PDP) which is a national pesticide residue monitoring program claims to produce the most comprehensive pesticide residue database in the U.S. If you want to look up an item start with their user guild and then go to the actual database. There is no lack of info and testing from our tax dollars.You might recall that recently there were a number of reports of disturbing findings for pesticides in the fruits and vegetables in baby foods. The question you might ask is, does it matter. Thats debatable dependent on who you believe and what level of risk you want to consider for you and your family. One of the misconceptions in toxicology is the much bantered, its the dose that determines the toxicity. This concept has been disproved time and again as each of us has a very specific unique makeup that determines if we can efficiently excrete a toxin,  at what rate and under what circumstance and this is just the start of the conversation. For a much deeper dive into toxicology a great free e-book written by  is available at: A Small dose of Toxicology, by S. Gilbert

Many people will also refer the the Environmental Working Groups (EWG)  dirty dozen list of most commonly contaminated foods and the “Clean 15” list of those with the least amount of contaminants. You could/should consider a commercial vs organic product and still be eliminating the majority of toxic exposures using the 15 list. Organic makes sense to me if your budget can afford the difference in pricing. Perhaps you might consider the use of organic products as an insurance policy especially when we continue to hear that many degenerative disorders are correlated to our ingestion of chemicals found in our food. Some have a more direct and recognized pathway while others appear present and their impact is suspect. 

Interestingly there have been a number of studies where families “donated” their urine for testing while eating a conventional diet and then had the same foods from organic sources substituted. The findings are not surprising that the tested pesticide levels declined radically, even in one day, when eating an organic food based diet. And there are published studies where the impact of using organic foods may correlate with better ecological impact, not surprisingly as well as the health benefits. For a bit more of a dive into the organic food consideration debate, two parents a mom and pediatrician wrote an easy to digest (pun intended) article citing more sources. 

And let’s also not forget that some pesticides are naturally occurring. When you analyse a food for certain natural pesticides they are present. This can be both form the soil or by application by the farmer. This does not exclude the label from stating it’s organic, if they use the USDA’s policy basis. On the other hand if the organic labeling is from the Oregon Tilth organization there are more stringent requirements.

Wondering if organic produce should be more expensive ? To qualify as organic the farm needs to comply with the standards of the  USDA National Organic Program. Its both time consuming and expensive, hence the additional cost. 

Take Aways:

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Alan Kadish

Dr. Kadish is an unusual physician often referred to as a “doctor detective”. His expertise is the evaluation and treatment of complex disorders, typically after other physicians and clinics have been stumped, is renowned. He provides care for all family members and has additional training in autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) and chronic complex diseases (focused on autoimmune and neurological conditions). If your wanting or needing some answers for your health issues call us at the Center of Health, 541.773.3191 .