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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 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 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.
  • 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:Lecture Fruit! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by think_nix ( 1467471 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:13AM (#29993682)

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

  • by Xest ( 935314 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:19AM (#29993726)

    Exactly, because government departments are completely infallible.

  • 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)

  • by locksmith101 ( 1017864 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:25AM (#29993792) Homepage
    Maybe it's just me, but I feel that I haven't tasted a real fruit (or vegetable) for some years now. Non-organic fruits have a similar tasteless taste. Anyway, making fruity flavoured edible stickers would make just as much sense as tattooing food.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:29AM (#29993824)

    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.

    Uh huh.

    1. It's a small sticker. Small. Understand the word small? It won't hurt if you have to drop the small sticker into the trash can. Small. Get it, small. It won't club seals, cause global flooding, or turn the planet into the next ice age/green house.

    2. Those stickers are usually paper. Paper does in fact compost. It's a small little paper sticker. Did I mention small and paper?

  • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:33AM (#29993874)

    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 hyades1 ( 1149581 ) <> 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 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.

  • by Magreger_V ( 1441121 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:36AM (#29993930)
    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.
  • by clone53421 ( 1310749 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:36AM (#29993934) Journal

    No, no, no... you have to take the bite. It's not the Apple logo unless you take the bite.

  • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @09:55AM (#29994130) Homepage

    Do you expect me to just take your word for that?

    I'll report back here in one year.

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

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:08AM (#29994276)

    Our fruits do not need labels.

    The labels on fruit in the UK supermarkets are there so the cashier knows what you've chosen. The labels on the apples I eat say "Granny Smith 4139", the cashier types in "4139" before weighing the fruit.

    They are annoying -- especially if they leave a residue, as I don't normally have a chance to wash an apple before I eat it -- so perhaps this is an improvement, so long as it doesn't affect the taste.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:24AM (#29994460) Homepage

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

  • Re:Dude (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:25AM (#29994466) Journal

    I gotta tell ya, "beach" is funnier. The mental image of bloated slashdotters flailing their useless arms about, stuck on the border of land and sea, loudly complaining about fruit labeling improvements that have literally zero downsides is difficult to suppress.

  • by mopslik ( 688435 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @10:43AM (#29994680)

    At my local grocery store, they sell three different types of bananas: "standard" (49c/lb), organic (79c/lb) and fair trade (89c/lb). Without some form of labelling, the cashier cannot distinguish between the types.

    Of course, the self-checkout lanes make this entire argument almost moot...

  • by rhp997 ( 250494 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:01AM (#29994886) Homepage

    Improve checkout speed and accuracy; etch barcodes!

  • by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:04AM (#29994910) Homepage

    This might be anecdotal, but I used to work for a big pharma company. We (or at least all of the people I encountered there) were terrified of the FDA.

    The FDA were reputed to be extremely thorough, and generally uncorruptable (the FDA is a sprawling bureaucracy, which though inefficient, seems to prevent any widespread corruption).

    The media might not have picked up on it, but the American pharma industry is hurting pretty badly right now, as many of the expected "blockbuster drugs" from the past few years didn't make it through the FDA's thorough approval process, while many of the existing big-profit drugs are about to lose their patents (which, in the US only takes about 7-12 years from the date of first sale).

    In America, you can create Mickey Mouse, and profit from your invention for a period of time double that of the average human lifespan. However, if you cure cancer, you've only got about a decade to reap the profits.

    I'm not going to apologize for all of the pharmaceutical industry's actions. However, it's very important to view behavior in the context of the regulatory environment in which they must exist.

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

    by mea37 ( 1201159 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:19AM (#29995100)

    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:Lecture Fruit! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:44AM (#29995406) Journal

    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 piece of fruit for decades, no?

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

    by Eponymous Coward ( 6097 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:45AM (#29995418)

    I'd also like to see where the fruit is from, possibly even identify the grower. There are three basic reasons:

    1. I prefer to buy stuff grown close to where I live. My grocery store will generally include the country of origin in the signage, but I really don't trust that they get that right.
    2. If there is some type of contamination problem, the CDC could more quickly track down the source and scope of the problem.
    3. I might discover that some growers produce better or worse food than others. The information could help me spend my food dollars more effectively.


  • Re:Lecture Fruit! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Eponymous Coward ( 6097 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @11:49AM (#29995462)

    You know, this is one of the things about organic fruit and vegetables that bugs me. My grocer tends to have the organic fruits and veggies pre-packaged rather than lose. I might only want 3 apples, but guess what, they only come in 6 packs. Want a few organic bananas, too bad. The organic ones have a sticky plastic strip around them so you can't just break off the amount you want.

    I'm pretty selective about what I buy and I only want to buy what I need. And I definitely don't need a bunch of extra packaging. In the end, I often end up buying non-organic food just because I end up wasting less that way.

  • Re:Wrong problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The_K4 ( 627653 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @12:05PM (#29995632)
    Or they Just don't care and ring it up as what ever apple they know the code for. Same with things like mustard greens and kale, it usually ends up getting rung up as green or red leaf lettuce. I suspect there are some who can tell all the fruit and veggies by sight, and some who check the tag, and then some who just pick a code they know that the stuff kinda looks like.
  • by kimvette ( 919543 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @12:17PM (#29995814) Homepage Journal

    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:Dude (Score:3, Insightful)

    by businessnerd ( 1009815 ) on Thursday November 05, 2009 @01:44PM (#29996886)

    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 technology, that technology needs to be proven to us (exception being for those developing the new technology). We are smart enough to know what happens when you adopt a technology before its proven. You spend a lot of money on something that under delivers and maybe even disapears or is replaced soon by something better. Or maybe it was just never a good idea to begin with. Mini-discs come to mind as a technology that briefly filled a gap until CD-Rs and mp3 players were ready and accessible to the consumer. And that segways perfectly to my other point, that nerds are more aware of what else is on the horizon. For me, I'm hesitant to make my MythTV DVR ready for HD, when I feel the better solution is an internet streaming tv model like what Boxee is trying to do. We didn't buy the mini-disc because we knew that CD-R was out there, it just needed time for the costs to come down, so why spend money on mini-disc, when a more lasting technology is almost ready.

    Or maybe we're all just cheap at heart and know that with a little extra ingenuity, we can get the same benefit that this new technology offers without spending any money.

    But maybe the real reason is that we are all too smart for our own good. We're too skeptical. Maybe we're the only ones learning from Man's mistakes. Everything is too good to be true, so we have to think and analyze and try to poke as many holes in the technology until it is proven that its impenetrable.

    Or is it that new technology, in this 21st centuraly society, is now trendy, and when have nerds and geeks ever been trendy. I guess it is our curse. As soon as our own interests become trendy, we're no longer interested in them. Just wait, everyone will be using Linux, Anime will be on primetime TV, and all the popular girls want to date the president of the chess club. But where will all the nerds be, well, we will have moved on to evangalizing the next great OS that only works if you're a real techy, downloading Danish animation that makes Japanese tentacle porn look childish, and forming a professional Quidditch league complete with nuclear powered brooms.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 05, 2009 @04:47PM (#29999434)

    By design. With Mickey Mouse, someone can always come along and "invent" the Looney Toons. A painter can just make another painting. You can always create something new without causing any actual harm, because copyrighted works have no utility. There's never been a copyright that locked up all innovation in an industry, or one that's killed a man.

    Life-saving drugs, on the other hand, are not just the product of someone's whimsy and can't be replaced by a few imaginative pen strokes. The protection offered by patents is stronger than copyright and the counterbalancing social interests are orders of magnitude higher. The result is a short duration.

    Patents are meant to be short to make the benefits available to everyone as quickly as possible. The lifetime profit on a patent also exceeds the lifetime profit on a copyright in almost all circumstances. It's clearly worked for Big Pharma.

    Copyright was never meant to benefit peers, but to provide future society with a richer cultural base. Patents, on the other hand, are required to be immediately useful to society, and as a consequence, must mature with more immediacy.

    If you cure cancer, the profits you will reap in ten years would put businesses around the world to shame. But after a decade of obscene profits, the number of dead poor people would certainly outweigh any justification for continued protection.

    On the other hand, whether some pop song is or isn't freely available makes no difference at all to anyone's life. Your personal, recreational benefit from contemporary art was never part of the bargain.

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990