We all know that fresh fruits and veggies are a huge component of living a healthy lifestyle, but not all fresh produce is created equal. Whether you are on a mission to purchase 100% of your family's produce supply organic, or only what you can afford to buy, here are three things you can do to ensure that you purchase the safest and healthiest fruits and vegetables available.
Know the “Dirty Dozen Plus” & “Clean Fifteen”
Not everyone can afford to buy organic fruits and vegetables all the time. And let's face it, sometimes the organic produce available at the store down the street just doesn't look that great. Luckily for us, each year the Environmental Working Group comes out with their “Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce” which helps us determine which fruits and vegetables have the highest concentration of pesticide residue and thus are the most important ones to buy organic. Here’s the breakdown of their 2013 Dirty Dozen Plus (14 produce items that you should always try to buy organic due to higher pesticide levels) and Clean Fifteen (15 produce items with lower pesticide levels that are safe to buy conventionally grown).
Dirty Dozen Plus
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Hot Peppers
- Nectarines (imported)
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Kale / Collard Greens
- Summer Squash
- Sweet Peas (frozen)
- Sweet Potatoes
Learn to Decipher PLU Codes
What is a PLU code? PLU stands for "Price Look-Up" and it is a 4 or 5 digit number you will usually find in sticker format on fruits and veggies you buy at your local grocery store.
What’s the purpose of a PLU code? They've been used by supermarkets since 1990 to ease check-out and inventory control for the stores.
Why does it matter to you? If you know what to look for, you can gather three very important types of information from a PLU code:
- Is it CONVENTIONALLY GROWN?
- Is it ORGANICALLY GROWN?
- Is it GENETICALLY MODIFIED?
So, how do you know just by looking at a number? Here’s the breakdown:
- 4-digit PLU codes = CONVENTIONALLY GROWN (non-organic)
- 5-digit PLU codes that start with ‘9’ = ORGANICALLY GROWN
- 5-digit PLU codes that start with ‘8’ = GENETICALLY MODIFIED
If you are interested in only buying organic fruits and vegetables for your family (or at least the Dirty Dozen), you will want to keep your eyes open for produce with 5-digit PLU codes that start with '9.'
Keep in mind that the PLU system is voluntary, so you will come across some fruits and veggies at your local grocer’s that are not labeled. It’s just a nice added-bonus way for us consumers to verify what type of produce we really are buying.
When Possible, Buy Local
Not only is it a great way to support your local farmers and community, but buying produce that is grown nearby can actually be healthier for your family. Fruits and vegetables slowly lose nutrients the longer they sit after being harvested. So, if you are purchasing strawberries from Mexico, even if they are organic, how long ago were they picked? There’s a good chance that the nutritional value of those strawberries is not as great as the nutritional value of strawberries you purchase at your local farmer’s market that were harvested just yesterday. Not to mention that the flavor of fresh produce is so much better!