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Low-Energy Laser Etching May Replace Fruit Labels 475

Posted by samzenpus
from the tattooed-fruit dept.
MikeChino writes "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label? The small sticky labels have long been the bane of waste-conscious fruit and vegetable eaters, but that might all change thanks to new technology that uses a low-energy carbon dioxide laser beam to etch information directly onto produce. No more peeling those annoying labels! So far the technology is being used on a number of fruits and vegetables in New Zealand, Australia, and Pacific Rim countries, and it's currently going through the final stages of review by the FDA. Once the technology is approved in the US, researchers from the University of Florida and the USDA Agricultural Research Service hope that it will be used in Florida's massive grapefruit industry."

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Low-Energy Laser Etching May Replace Fruit Labels

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  • by happy_place (632005) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:01AM (#29993580) Homepage
    I can't wait til they're required by law to give us all the nutritional information of every piece of fruit, down to the calorie count and the chemical breakdown. Perhaps government will put missing persons reports on them, or government mandated reminders of what it means to be a good citizen! So many useful applications!
    • by Scutter (18425) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:10AM (#29993644) Journal

      No, they'll just etch "This unit not labeled for individual sale" on each one and make you buy them by the bag instead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by think_nix (1467471)

      and next thing will be company xyz etching commercials , or marketing crap into it.

    • by cptdondo (59460)

      I can't find it now, but several years ago someone floated this idea. Etching ads on fruit with a laser.

      While technically possible, it was roundly rejected by the "consumer test group".

      I guess an apple just doesn't taste the same when an add for Preparation H is tattooed on it.....

    • by Dan541 (1032000) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:16AM (#29993704) Homepage

      "This Apple brought to you by Apple"

    • because I would select "Scary but True +1" for your post.

      We could have the reverse too "Turn in your tinfoil hat -1"

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mea37 (1201159)

      Yeah, yeah, the big nasty government has been waiting for the day when it could piss you off by putting information you don't want on your fruit. They just couldn't find a way to put that information there until now.

      We were counting on them never hearing of adhesive labels, but now they have lasers! Damn you to hell, lasers!

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pz (113803)

      I can't wait til they're required by law to give us all the nutritional information of every piece of fruit, down to the calorie count and the chemical breakdown. Perhaps government will put missing persons reports on them, or government mandated reminders of what it means to be a good citizen! So many useful applications!

      I know this is meant to be funny, but the parent poster is missing the point. This technology is useful to the manufacturers for three reasons:

      1. it is lower total cost than sticky labels
      2. it makes it easier to custom label each shipment (Walmart gets its own SKU, Costco a different one, etc.) and to uniquely identify each processing batch
      3. it opens up a HUGE new opportunity for advertising

      The technology is only marginally useful to the consumer. After all, we got by without labels of any sort on each p

  • by bcmm (768152) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:02AM (#29993582)
    What chemical change is caused in the skin to form the pattern? How deep does it go? The skin is a protective barrier, and if it's compromised by the process, this could have a negative effect on shelf-life.
    • by John Hasler (414242) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:12AM (#29993664) Homepage

      The process must be approved by the FDA. You can be sure they will ask all those questions and some you haven't thought of.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Xest (935314)

        Exactly, because government departments are completely infallible.

      • by jimicus (737525) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:20AM (#29993732)

        The process must be approved by the FDA. You can be sure they will ask all those questions and some you haven't thought of.

        I'm always very leery of that sort of assurance because I've heard very similar things from my own MP (I'm in the UK) and IME it invariably means "I have so much blind faith in the system that I'm not even going to take your query seriously enough to forward it on to the relevant people".

        And it later transpires that the relevant people had not thought about it...

    • Something makes me think he meant for this post to be modded funny...
    • by clone53421 (1310749) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:34AM (#29993898) Journal

      I'm waiting for the mandatory notice that the laser-charred fruit contains substances known in the state of California to cause cancer.

    • I think it's just like burning. After all it's only light. Like heat. So it's like a very browned spot on something you put in the oven.

      Don't get confused by the obviously wrong image that came with TFS. (Cyan? Really?? FAIL!)

      • by bcmm (768152)
        I know it's just burning, but how deep? The skin will inevitably be thinner where it's been burned, and that could allow it to rot sooner.
    • by Atraxen (790188) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:42AM (#29994004)

      A CO2 laser has a wavelength of 10600 nm (i.e. pretty deep into the infrared). I'm not seeing any specific reactions or chemical absorbers in the literature on a quick check, nor would I expect to - a single photon of 10600 nm light contains far too little energy to break any bonds. Instead, when the photon is absorbed it makes the molecule vibrate a little, and the kinetic energy is transferred to the surrounding water (or other) molecules as heat energy. This is where the misconception stems from that IR = heat; heat results when the photon of IR light is absorbed, but a photon is a photon is a photon... Basically, the color change is going to be a burn pattern, so there's nothing to fear from it over and above any concern you'd have for cooked fruits (e.g. pie filling).

    • ...'cos if you don't then it's not really a problem, is it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kimvette (919543)

      I'd rather deal with the laser etching than adhesives on the fruits - especially since they don't indicate what the adhesives on the labels are. Are they allergens?

      It'd also be nice if they'd etch produce such as cucumbers with the type of oil/wax they use to preserve them; is it just paraffin? Is it hypoallegenic, such as canola? Or is it one of the big allergens like peanut or soybean oil? Is it palm oil?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by geekoid (135745)

      It adds a little energy to the skin, which causes the water to heat up and change color.

      It's pretty basic IR LASER stuff.

  • by anomnomnomymous (1321267) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:02AM (#29993590)
    "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?"

    Erm, never? Because I always wash my fruits (as in apples, pears) first before eating them?
    This is an answer in search of a problem: To be honest, I'd rather have a blemish-free apple, than one with carvings.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by FlyingBishop (1293238)

      I compost all of my fruit, and this will be great, as fruit like bananas and oranges will no longer generate any waste I can't compost.

    • by Ogive17 (691899)
      I think the laser etching would be ok for stuff like oranges, grapefruit and bananas (fruits where the skin is typically not eaten).. But stuff like apples and peaches I would not want it etched.
      • by jellomizer (103300) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:33AM (#29993874)

        Why?
        TFA shows that it works on delicate fruit like tomatoes too. In terms of heal and sanitary concerns the laser is probably still better.

        1. A sticker when placed will be a nice breading gown for bacteria. Then the sticker is often pealed off after the fruit is washed.

        2. Who knows what chemicals are left behind on the sticker.

        3. When pealing off the sticker people use their fingernail. Even when they wash their hands the fingernails tend to have the most bacteria on them.

        4. Stickers get toss into the garbage. Or worse if you are eating on the run just littered.

        5. Pealing off stickers on some fruit can tare off the skin of the fruit.

        6. Stickers that fall off fruit could mean be misplaced, wrongly priced at checkout.

        I for one welcome or laser etched fruit overlords.

        • by Kozz (7764) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:47AM (#29994722)

          1. A sticker when placed will be a nice breading gown for bacteria. Then the sticker is often pealed off after the fruit is washed.

          My eyes, my eyes! Spelling! Punctuation! Please, tell me that English is not your first language... otherwise I hope you're still enrolled in English 101.

          But on the bright side, you win Google Golf for "breading gown" [google.com].

        • by deemen (1316945) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:21AM (#29995118)

          2. Who knows what chemicals are left behind on the sticker.

          4. Stickers get toss into the garbage. Or worse if you are eating on the run just littered.

          There are no chemicals. The stickers are made of starch, are printed on with edible dyes and are stuck on the fruit with a thin layer of glucose. They are in fact perfectly edible and biodegradable. It's quite possible laser etching (by heating the fruit) will produce more dangerous compounds. Frankly, this isn't even a problem, people just like the lasers because they look cool.

    • by IBBoard (1128019)

      Washing fruit? Pah, I just give apples a quick rub on my t-shirt and then bite it ;)

      TBH it has been a long time since I last saw one with a label stuck on it, but maybe that's because I mainly get them at corporate lunches and from pre-picked bags rather than individual ones.

    • by Anonymusing (1450747) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:32AM (#29994540)

      "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?"

      Erm, never? Because I always wash my fruits (as in apples, pears) first before eating them?

      Even stupider, they're talking about laser etching on citrus fruit. You peel those fruits before you eat them (well, most people do). There are no stickers inside the fruit.

  • Boon! (Score:5, Funny)

    by aerthling (796790) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:11AM (#29993654)

    This is particularly good news for me, because I can only eat foods that have been etched with a laser. Goodbye scurvy!

  • The sales pitch: "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?"

    1. If this sales pitch were any dumber, I'd assume it was a quote from a Simpsons episode I had somehow missed.

    2. Getting rid of fruit labels is a bad marketing idea. Kids freakin love them.

    3. Any sales pitch like this is indicative of a solution in search of a problem. It sounds like a pitch from a bad infomercial.

  • "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?"

    What the hell? This sounds like infomercial lady. You know, the lady who can't open jars, puts her lamps too far away from the bed to be able to turn them off from the bed, learned basic household tasks like cleaning the bathroom or doing laundry by watching Vaudeville shows, can't figure out that she needs to wear a sports bra with a tank top, etc. This person is already too dumb to live. Let's

  • Dude (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:20AM (#29993738)

    For a technology site, most of the comments here are surprisingly anti-technology.

    A new graphics card comes out? Commentors will gripe that old school games with shitty graphics are better anyway.

    A new CPU comes out? Same thing : commentors will complain that extra CPU power is just more cycles for crummy, inefficient programming to squander with useless eye candy features.

    A laser that eliminates that annoying plastic label on fruit and the FCKING ARTICLE says that it's safe? Commentors say that THEY won't benefit because THEY always peel and wash their fruit, and they're afraid that the lasering will make fruit decay sooner (without reading the article that says the lasering does not appreciably damage the fruit's skin)

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Rude Turnip (49495)

      You must be new here!

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I've noticed that being technologically savvy or skeptical about one thing doesn't always translate well into other fields. I've seen people say that naturopathy is nonsense because natural doesn't mean beneficial, then almost in the same sentence praise organic food because it is natural and therefore better. Look at Bill Maher criticize creationism as unscientific, then spew fearmongering about medical science and support magic based alternative medicines. People, in general, don't seem to be good at a

    • Re:Dude (Score:4, Funny)

      by amplt1337 (707922) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @01:10PM (#29996476) Journal

      Arrogant tech nerds (myself included) are often suspicious of change. There's something just so satisfying about being able to say "Nuh uh, you're wrong!" or otherwise indulge in world-weary cynicism.

      Besides, I like to think of Slashdot as being populated almost entirely by Andy Rooney.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by businessnerd (1009815)

      I've noticed this here myself and after thinking about it, it makes perfect sense. You see, there is a perception amongst the general population that nerds/geeks are early adopters of technology because nerds love technology so obviously we're going to be the first to adopt. However, nerds also tend to be very practical and we generally would know more about what the new technology does, and what is already out there (that others may not yet know of). So our practicality tells us that before we adopt new

  • Finally. (Score:5, Funny)

    by NoPantsJim (1149003) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:21AM (#29993746) Homepage
    Thank god we've finally gotten to the bottom of that whole fruit label thing. Maybe now we can get around to tackling cancer.
  • Or... Don't label it on the fruit at all!

    If you need to label it "Florida citrus", do it on the outside the box in the supermarket.

    Actually that labelling on the fruit must be a US thing. They don't do it here in Denmark.

  • "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?

    Answer: Never
    They're quite easy to spot: they look like a little sticker label.
    In addition, most fruits here don't even have a sticker. We're quite capable of distinguishing between a banana and an apple without sticker. :D

  • If they can laser etch messages then the next step is using it to remove blemishes, enhance the appearance, and effectively "photoshop" food to make it appear more photogenic.

    Then again, am I the only one who thinks this could be the next step in tattoo art - never mind some hairy goth with a needle, give me a CNC laser that can print my choice of design onto my arm at 1200dpi and I might consider it.

  • they don't taste that bad, really.

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:32AM (#29993866)

    . . . I want to know if it tastes good.

    Fruit should be lasered according to how it tastes: "Good", "Great!", "Sweaty Tennis Socks", etc.

  • Considering the amount of fruit that is produced in a given year, even though the stickers are really cheap. This system will probably pay for itself fairly quickly just by removing the cost of putting the stickers on. I suspect that once the FDA approves it we will be seeing it all over the market more for this reason then for the consumers. I'm excited because all the people that litter and paste them on things won't be able to anymore.
  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:33AM (#29993884)

    Once this is in use, I don't imagine it will be long before your fruit is covered with more ads than a NASCAR racing suit. On the up-side, the opportunities for a bit of creative pranking are just about limitless.

  • by nmg196 (184961)

    "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?

    Never. Not a single time. Unless you eat fruit in the dark, or are blind, this simply never happens and this is a solution looking for a problem.
    Personally I think it makes the fruit itself somehow artificial and unappealing. I doubt this will ever catch on. I'd rather eat one that hasn't been maimed - it will also look nicer in the fruit bowl without the skin-spam.

  • How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?

    Exactly as many times, as a happened to be a complete and utter drooling retard with no right to live, who should have long ago received a Darwin award! (I.e. never!)

  • Sounds good as long as it doesn't compromise the foods shelf life in any way. The skin on fruits and vegetables is a barrier against pathogens. If the skin is broken or marked the fruit will spoil much faster.
  • "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?"

    ZERO. Don't you wash your fruit before eating it? Sheesh.

  • "How many times have you bit into a piece of fruit only to find that you're also chomping on a sticker label?"

    Honestly? Never. Ever. I didn't know this was a problem tha

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