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How To Identify Organic Foods

Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on August 29, 2009 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Blog

These days everyone wants to eat healthier and most people do that by eating organic fruits, vegetables and meats that they purchase from their local supermarket. This is all quite fine, but, how do you know whether or not the produce you pick is really organic? Can you really trust what the shopkeeper is advertising?

It is very difficult to ascertain whether those lovely apples or those delicious oranges that are stocked high on the shelves in your grocer’s produce department, are organic, conventionally produced or genetically modified.

In case you are wondering why you would need to know the difference in the origins of your produce, consider this:

* Food that is grown using organic methods have been scientifically proven to be more nutritious than foods that are grown either conventionally or that have been genetically modified.

* Foods that have been genetically modified have not been around for as long a time as conventionally grown food or organically grown food. These foods only started to appear on store shelves in the early 1990’s and, therefore, scientists and nutritionists have not had enough to time to evaluate their long-term health risks. Eating genetically modified foods is quite similar to unknowingly being a participate in a science experiment of sorts.

* Some environmentalists are concerned with the possibility that genetically modified foods, and the seeds from which they are sprouted, will have a serious impact on native vegetation in the long run. Perhaps by eradicating them completely or altering their own genetic makeup.

* Concerns have also been raised over conventional farming methods as well. Nutritionists claim that mass farming has caused produce that contains fewer and fewer nutritional value. The soil that is used to plant the seeds has, over the many years of over-farming, become depleted of their natural nutrients and minerals. The pesticides that are used on these crops have been scientifically proven to cause various cancers and other diseases, yet are still being continually sprayed onto the fruit and vegetables that you will putting in your mouth!

* Organic farming methods involve creating healthy food by maintaining healthy soil. This is accomplished by using crop rotation methods and other such organic farming techniques that work towards improving the quality of the soil instead of mindlessly apply harsh chemicals over everything.

Both large supermarket chains and small grocery stores usually keep the organic food that they sell separate from the conventionally grown produce.

Therefore, it should fairly easy to spot the organic produce over produce that has either been genetically modified or conventionally grown.

But not all grocers keep to this layout and sometimes produce can become inadvertently added to the wrong pile. Therefore, you will need to take it upon yourself to make sure that the produce that you are purchasing is truly organic. How do you do this?

The solution is simple. Just check the PLU numbers!

PLU stands for the international price look up system that every grocery chain has in place to help them make the grocery check-out as well as their inventory control a much easier process to handle.

Every produce item, including every apple or orange, will have a small sticker on them. On the sticker will be the letters PLU that are followed by numbers. Some produce, however, will not have stickers on them but will have a tag wrapped around them instead. Those numbers are codes that are used to replace actual pricing amounts as well as the names of the produce. Surprisingly, these numbers can also help you by revealing which produce is grown organically, grown conventionally or genetically modified.

Here is what you should look out for when reading the PLU numbers on the stickers:

* Organically grown produce usually has a 5 digit number that begins with the number 9.

* Conventionally grown produce will have a 4 digit number that will start with either the number 3 or the number 4.

* Genetically Modified produce will usually have a 5 digit number beginning with the number 8.

When you are choosing meats and other products for their organic properties, look on the product label for the USDA Certified Organic seal.

In April 2001, the USDA created very strict labeling requirements in order to assist consumers in purchasing organic products. By choosing products contain the USDA Organic seal you will know that the product is at least 95% organic.

However, bear in mind that the use of the USDA’s Certified Organic seal is voluntary and so, therefore, not every organic product will contain the seal.

Photo Credit: Tim Psych

Read also: Superfood from the Andes!

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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