When we make our weekly grocery store run, most of us pay attention to the price tags of the items we’re buying. But these days, it pays to know what the numbers on those little stickers mean on the fruits and vegetables you buy and eventually eat.

Why the stickers?

The small, circular labels on your produce are used for more than scanning at the checkout. Produce stickers tell the story of how your fruits and vegetables were grown and it matters, as whatever we eat or drink can affect our health positively or negatively.

Ways Produce is Grown


According to the USDA, “Conventional farming is the use of seeds that have been genetically altered using a variety of traditional breeding methods, excluding biotechnology, and are not certified as organic. Some
conventional breeding methods have been used for thousands of years, often times to develop
plants with faster growth, higher yields, pest and disease resistance, larger seeds or sweeter fruit.”


Farmers who grow produce organically rely on natural substances in every aspect of the process. Produce labeled “USDA Certified Organic” is grown according to federal guidelines as it pertains to soil quality, animal raising practices pest and weed control.

Produce can gain the certified organic label if it has been grown on soil that has had no prohibited substances, like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, for three years prior to harvest.


According to the Food and Drug Administration, “A GMO (genetically modified organism) is a plant, animal, or microorganism that has had its genetic material (DNA) changed using technology that generally involves the specific modification of DNA, including the transfer of specific DNA from one organism to another. Scientists often refer to this process as genetic engineering.”

What the Numbers Mean

Numbers that begin with #4

Produce with stickers that begin with the number 4 are grown conventionally.

Numbers that begin with #9

Produce with stickers that begin with the number 9, followed by number 3 or 4, are grown organically.

Numbers that begin with #3

Produce with stickers that begin with the number 3 are GMO.

So which ones should you choose?

This is ultimately a personal choice. If you worry about pesticides but are on a budget, try buying a mix of conventional and organic. Click here to read more about the most and least pesticides-laden produce.

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