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Low-Energy Laser Etching May Replace Fruit Labels 475

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 clone53421 ( 1310749 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:40AM (#29993970) Journal

    Wow, do you just totally not understand laser etching or are you acting ignorant on purpose?

    Laser etching uses thermal energy (heat) to burn the surface, causing the colour to change. There are no inks, acids, or any other additives. It's no different from sticking it under a broiler and waiting, but with a laser you pack the energy into a small burst so you don't cook the whole fruit, just the surface.

  • 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).

  • Re:Lecture Fruit! (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheLink ( 130905 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:23AM (#29994450) Journal
    > Just remember: fruit is healthy. It never hurts to eat it. Why have a label if this is true anyway?

    Because it isn't true.

    There are very many fruits in the world that are eaten by humans. They can be very different in their effects.

    Many fruits contain lots of sugar. That's not good for diabetics.
    Some fruits have very high potassium levels - this is normally good for people with high blood pressure, but bad for people with very bad kidney problems.
    There's a fruit called Ackee that can give you hypoglycemia or even kill you if not ripe or not prepared correctly. But apparently it's popular with Jamaicans.
    Grapefruit interacts with many drugs - it can make many drugs way more effective than expected.
    Starfruit (carambola) has significant amounts of oxalic acid which can give kidney patients problems.

    And there are still very many fruits which while might be commonly eaten have not had much research done on them on their health effects and nutritional values.

    Lastly, I wonder how the laser etching would look like on a whole durian or a rambutan ;).
  • Re:Lecture Fruit! (Score:5, Informative)

    by digitalhermit ( 113459 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:49AM (#29994764) Homepage

    I'm Jamaican and enjoy ackee :) The fruit is poisonous if eaten at the wrong time. You need to wait until it opens naturally on the tree before harvesting. Once prepared, it looks a like scrambled eggs and tastes somewhat acrid. Traditionally it's eaten with salt fish or bacon, biscuits similar to buttermilk biscuits, or with a vegetable called "breadfruit".

    Grapefruit and starfruit are also very popular in the Caribbean. I never got the hang of durian fruit :D.

  • Re:Wrong problem (Score:5, Informative)

    by OrangeTide ( 124937 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:08AM (#29994962) Homepage Journal

    The labels aren't advertisements. they have a 4 or 5 digit code on them which is used to identify what kind of fruit it is specifically. The prices for honeycrisp apples is different from fugi apples which is different from gala apples (the price difference is pretty large between different varieties). The clerks at the store aren't knowledgeable enough to tell the different of the 10 or so varieties of each kind of fruit sold to tell the difference. With the abundance found in wealthy nations comes a way to organize that abundance, and keeping things organized is what those labels are all about.

  • Re:Lecture Fruit! (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:19AM (#29995092)

    Grapefruit interacts with many drugs - it can make many drugs way more effective than expected.

    Thanks for the tip!

    Seriously tho, i have never bitten in to a piece of fruit and found i have bitten a label. In fact the more i think about it the less likely it seems to be, apples/pears are the only fruits i can think of where it would be a possability as all the other fruits i can think of have a skin that would be removed before eating anyway (except very small fruits ie cherries which are usually sold by the punnett and not labeled anyway).

    After another moments thought, how many fruits actually have stickers? Most supermarkets (where i am, UK) don't have labels on the fruit (excluding bananas, apples and pears which have labels to show which country they were grown in) pricing is done at the till (barcode sheet by the till, scan and input amount if by quantity or place on scales if by weight).

  • 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.

  • Re:Wrong problem (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cormacus ( 976625 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:32AM (#29995274) Homepage
    Have you ever tried to purchase a pomegranate at a grocery store? I've had clerks try to ring them up as apples - that is if they don't stare in consternation at this vegetable (as in "not animal") monstrosity that has come across their conveyor.
  • by Atraxen ( 790188 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:45AM (#29995416)

    Last time I checked (in my lab yesterday afternoon) most lasers don't take much energy to run at all. My Nd:YAG pulsed laser is pretty beefy (Class IV, back of the envelope calc puts the intensity at 100 MW/pulse) runs on 110/120/220 V wall power, 50/60 Hz, and only pulls 10 amps. That's my big laser... then there's my two laser pointers that are run by AAA's or the little watch batteries, and have powered times in the hours range. Looking on the Coherent website (first one I came to) I see CO2 lasers with a "marking" application that use 12A power average (from a DC power supply). So, the power requirements are certainly no worse than that of the labeling machine that has to apply the stickers, and given the higher speeds possible for laser printing vs mechanical printing the throughput might make them far more efficient.

  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Thursday November 05, 2009 @12:19PM (#29995842) Homepage Journal

    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 radl ( 1266970 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @12:48PM (#29996210)

    ...contains substances known in the state of California to cause cancer.

    I don't expect high doses, but I do expect the laser branding to create Acrylamide [], which is suspected to cause cancer. So maybe this technique is better for fruits, which skin is not eaten.

    However, I'm going to have a cigarette. Now.

  • Re:Wrong problem (Score:5, Informative)

    by MiniMike ( 234881 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @01:46PM (#29996924) I don't normally have a chance to wash an apple before I eat it...

    As someone who has worked in produce (college job, not now) I have to say that I am appalled whenever I hear this. The residue from the sticker is the least of your worries, there could be all kinds of other residue on that apple that you don't know about (not that though, that's only cucumbers). At least try to rinse them off, if you can't give them a decent wash.

  • Re:Lecture Fruit! (Score:5, Informative)

    by deathcow ( 455995 ) * on Thursday November 05, 2009 @03:17PM (#29998130)

    >> Grapefruit interacts with many drugs - it can make many drugs way more effective than expected.

    > Please elaborate. Please!

    My daughter had a liver transplant as a infant. She takes a single immune suppressant drug now called "Prograf" or known as Tacrolimus. The only warning on it is "Don't eat grapefruit while taking this." It makes the immune suppressing power much stronger.

  • Re:Lecture Fruit! (Score:3, Informative)

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @03:53PM (#29998664)

    Have you ever looked at the fat content of a Apple?

    Um... almost zero...

    There's about 10g of sugar in one apple. That's roughly the same amount as is in a 100ml glass of cola (and 100ml is a tiny serving -- less than the amount you'll get in a strong vodka and cola, most people will drink the whole 330ml can).

    You can pretty much let your kids eat as much fruit as they want. They'll feel full from before they eat too much sugar.

  • Re:Lecture Fruit! (Score:3, Informative)

    by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @05:23PM (#29999954) Homepage Journal
    "Have you ever looked at the fat content of a Apple? or and Olive?"

    Well as another person on this thread mentioned...fat in an apple??

    But sure, olives have fat...they also have olive OIL in them..which is good for you.

    Not all fats are bad, you actually NEED them in your diet...and more and more studies are showing that increased fat consumption (to a certain level) can actually help your metabolism and help you burn off body fat.

  • Re:Wrong problem (Score:2, Informative)

    by vericgar ( 627150 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:01PM (#30002434) Homepage

    You should take a look at the Produce Traceability Initiative (PTI). We are just getting into the first steps of implementing this where I work (a regional produce distributor). Much of the traceability is already there, BUT every company has their own system. Recalls are a major pain - this will completely solve the problems. PTI provides a universal barcode on every box that traces the produce in the box to the farm level and which specific day it was picked. []

  • Re:Lecture Fruit! (Score:2, Informative)

    by uniquegeek ( 981813 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:30PM (#30002840)

    Many fruits contain lots of sugar. That's not good for diabetics.

    Fruits aren't necessarily a no-no for diabetics. Fruit is fine for diabetics if you eat them like you're supposed to in the first place: in moderation, and a small portion size (i.e. 1/2 of a large banana). The glycemic index (effect on blood sugar) isn't necessarily high. Furthermore, the GI can be significantly modified by taking it with other foods such as protein, carbohydrates, and acids.

    Fresh apple with natural peanut butter or a couple of apricots? Fine. Peaches canned in juice with sugar added, or eating two freaking cups of dehydrated apricots... bad.

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