Do you know where your food comes from?

Milk Codes
Reading Milk Codes
We all see the news stories and the posts on facebook about what chemicals are being dumped into the food we eat daily. It’s out there, and I can’t say it’s all true or not, because I honestly don’t know. However I am a big supporter of know what is in the food you’re eating, as well as where it comes from. The only way to make the best decision for you is to know how to find the information right? We eat mostly clean in our house due to allergies, but if you eat boxed food mostly and it works for you that’s awesome.

Reading Milk Codes 2

Despite what I try, there are a few things you can’t buy straight from the farmer or butcher in the city. Well, that may be a lie – I could probably find most of these items downtown at the market if I knew where to look. However some items are easier to buy at the grocery store – and I’m mostly talking dairy products. We go through a lot here, and this week I spoke with some dairy farmers who say they do the same thing – go buy that gallon of milk at the store. It’s easy, it’s convenient and it’s priced to move.

Yes, we’re going to talk about dairy here – it’s a staple of our every day diet and it’s also National Dairy Month! You will be getting a lot of milk facts and information over the next week or so, including information I learned on a dairy farm just the other day. I will also put a quick code guide at the end for those fruits and veggies – trust me you’ll be reading everything soon.

When you go the store pick up your milk, your butter, or cream what is the first thing you look for? Or you should be looking for? That expiration date right? I never knew that the rest of the printed information on the container could let me know so much more about my food!

If you’re like me I always grab the gallon and check the date and plop it in the cart and don’t worry about it until it’s sitting empty in the recycling bin at home. I try to find brands that I know come from Michigan, they usually are stamped right on the front. Why not buy local if you can? But not every brand does that, and where you’re milk traveled from might actually shock you.

Reading Milk Codes 3

Do you see that number code right under the sell by date? I always thought that was just a packaging code and didn’t know I could actually find out what it meant! That is until the other day someone explained to me the first two numbers are the state code and the last 2-5 numbers are the plant the product was processed in.

So how do you know? What the heck do those codes mean? Well, in Michigan look for the code to start with a 26. We’re the 26th state alphabetically. If you see that, you know your milk came from Michigan! Neat right? You can actually find all of the state codes for dairy production on the FDA website. They even break down other codes on that page – it’s really interesting and a bit technical.

Now let’s go a step farther – where is my milk processed? There is a great website I found called “Where is my milk from?” You type in the code and it will tell you the state and the processing facility used.

With just those two sites you’re armed with enough information to figure out where every dairy item you get is from! I, of course, went to the fridge and pulled out my milk goods to see just how “local” I had been buying… Milk, cream and whole milk for ice cream… how did they stack up? Keep in mind these are all Kroger brands, the whole milk is their Organic Simply Living brand.

Milk code:  26-784 – Facility: Meijer Distribution, Holland, MI
Cream Code: 21-031 – Facility: Morningstar Foods, Murray, KY
Whole Milk Code: 20-283 – Facility: Jackson Milk Plant, Hutchenson, KS

Just this quick check shocks me and one makes me laugh just a little bit. I’m amazed at how far some of my dairy products have traveled to make it to my table. And while it doesn’t actually surprise me, to see Meijer’s name come up on a Kroger product just makes me giggle. But other than knowing if you’re buying local or not, this is extremely informative if you want to know where things are coming from!

Keep in mind that a lot of major brands cross process and package with store brands and “off” brands. You’re getting the same product just at a lower cost. The best way to check this out: find the major brand in your area and check the code, then find the store brand. If they’re the same the milk product inside came from the same plant and therefore the same dairies. You may reconsider buying the lower cost one right? Packaging codes are an amazing thing!

So what about those fruits and veggies? 

Reading Fruit Codes

We’ve all seen those stickers on our fruits and veggies we buy at the store. They’re not just there to tell the cashier what to type in (although they do that as well). They also are full of information you can use while shopping!

For example this watermelon I grabbed at the Farmer’s Market yesterday. I know it’s not locally grown, if it was I wouldn’t eat it – our season has just begun. Not all tags have as much information on them as this one. This tag tells me what it is, it’s code, where it was grown and where it’s “processed” or labeled.

If you ever wonder what those 4 digit codes mean you can always look up the PLU codes here. They’re basic names for the fruit or vegetable you’re purchasing. If you ever were as lucky as I was to be a cashier at a store you may still know half of the codes and can tell your cashier what is when they get stuck!

But there is a bit more to them!

If you’re code is a 4 digit code like the one in the image: 4032 it means it is a conventionally grown product. That means standard farming, standard chemicals etc FDA approved processes.

Now if you have a 5 digit code and it starts with a 9 that means your fruit or vegetable is organically grown. 94032 would be an organic watermelon – they have those I’m sure somewhere. This means they use organic growing processes, less chemicals and stricter guidelines to grow that fruit or vegetable.

Finally if your 5 digit code begins with an 8, your food has been grown with genetic modifications. The GMO are grown with genetically engineered. You wont see them too often but check your food before you buy. If you’re worried about GMOs in your food you can check out the “non-GMO shopping guide

To purchase your food locally, organically or to consume GMO’s is a personal choice. You make the decisions that you feel are best for your body and your family. Just be sure to make those decisions informed and know what and where you’re food is coming from!

Happy Shopping!



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