Eating Well With Kim: Looking at the Numbers

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

Numbers, numbers, numbers ... you see them all over the grocery store and even on your foods.

Let’s start with taking a closer look at those little stickers on your fruit with codes. I have known they were part of a pricing and inventory system, but did you know there was more to the story? Here’s the lowdown on those pesky stickers.

PLU stands for Price Look UP. It is a numbering system used by supermarkets on produce since 1990 for easier checkout and accurate inventory control. All stores use the same codes. These codes are four or five numbers in length.

The PLU stickers can be found on produce sold by weight or unit in an unprocessed form and they originated as a service to growers, shippers and retailers to help with the supply chain for fresh produce.

What do those numbers mean? Well they actually mean more than price and inventory. The first number reveals the general category for instance 4 = fruit, 9 = organically grown and 8 = genetically-engineered produce. However, it is not really that helpful to use the leading “8” as a way to identify genetically-engineered foods just yet. The numbering system is optional. No one really uses the number 8 on produce. So although this system is in place to identify genetically-engineered produce, it is still optional and not widely used.

The second set of numbers to look at are the sell-by date, use-by date and expiration dates. As with most things grocery related, something simple like a date is actually more complicated than it might seem.

Here is some basic information regarding sell-by and use-by dates!

The sell-by date is a suggested date the manufacturers voluntarily use to stamp on their product packages to indicate when to eat for optimum quality. Not all products have this date (it is voluntary not a legal requirement).

Every carton of milk sold in the United States is clearly labeled with a “sell-by,” “pull,” “use-by” or “best-if-used-by” date. Each of these dates means something different. The “sell-by” and “pull” dates refer to how long a grocery store can keep the product in the dairy case. The product must be sold by the date labeled on the package. This date takes into account time for the food to be used at home, so you should buy the product before the “sell-by” or “pull” date, but you don’t have to use it by then. When properly refrigerated, milk will stay fresh two to three days after this date (perhaps longer).

The use-by date is similar to the best-if-used-by date; both refer to the last date that the product is likely to be at peak flavor and quality. These dates tell us how long the product will stay fresh at home. If kept cold and stored properly, you may have fresh, wholesome milk and dairy products for more than a week past the “use-by” or “best-if-used-by” date. When in doubt, let your nose be the guide -- milk that has gone bad has a sour scent. If it doesn’t smell right, toss it out.

The bottom line is: Pay attention to the dates, store foods properly and, if in doubt regarding food safety, toss it out.

Eat well, live well!

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