How to tell if produce labeled “organic” is really organic

two heads of broccoli on a table before being steamed for babies starting solids

Given the markup value on organic produce, we have found there’s an incentive for stores to sometimes put an organic sign up in a stack of produce that is most certainly not organic. Most often, we find it with apples, which can have high levels of pesticide residue.

So how do you tell if the produce you want to buy is really organic? 

It’s easy. Look at the “PLU” numerical code on the sticker on the produce itself.

In the U.S., organic produce will always start with a number 9. 

If you see any other number (most commonly it’s a number 4 for conventional produce), it is *not* organic produce (or at least not certified organic).

A conventionally grown lemon with a sticker that starts with the number 4. In the U.S., this indicates the fruit was not organically grown.
An organically grown apple with a sticker that starts with the number 9.

When it comes to produce, there are certain foods that are much more likely to have been sprayed with pesticides. These include:

Produce Highest in Pesticides1

So, if you want to be sure that the pretty penny you are spending is for true organic food, always look for a number 9 on the sticker and be particularly attentive to this when it comes to the foods listed above…

And if you’re not able to swing the cost of organic food, here’s a list of foods typically low in pesticides:

Raising a plant-based baby? See our guide to the Best & Worst Plant-Based Foods for Babies.

  1. EWG Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce (website) Retrieved December 26, 2019
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