Now this "laser" is used ubiquitously for everything from medicine to technology to tattooing fruit. Wait, what? Tattooing fruit?
The idea and the technology aren't new. As the NY Times said in 2005, "A pear is just a pear, except when it is also a laser-coded information delivery system with advanced security clearance."1 Consumers loathe the little sticky labels on produce, but how else were you going to communicate names, identifying numbers, countries of origin and other information? Science once again came to the rescue with a low-energy carbon dioxide laser beam used to tattoo or "etch" information on produce, allowing companies to "track and trace" much like RFID tags.
Anyway, the laser-labeling system is being advertised as a non-intrusive, tamper-proof method of labeling fruit and is in use in countries around the world like New Zealand, Australia, Central and South America and the EU, says PhysOrg.com. But little information is available on the impact of this new technology on the overall quality of labeled produce, especially its effect on water loss and decay during prolonged storage, a group of scientists noted, and therefore conducted a study aimed at investigating water loss, peel appearance, and potential decay in laser-labeled grapefruit.
Researchers postulated in HortTechnology that "water loss resulting from laser etching may
distort the physical appearance of the fruit's surface, making it less effective and appealing."
The pinhole depressions applied after washing and waxing disrupt the natural cuticular barrier and the protective commercial wax cover, seemingly creating open cavities that would allow for increased water loss and facilitating the entrance of decay organisms. These etched surfaces can promote water loss and may increase the number of entry sites for decay-promoting organisms.The researchers concluded that when compared with traditional sticker labeling, "laser etching provides a relatively tamper-free labeling method, while "the fruit quality remains high as the invasion of the epidermis does not incite decay, provide an avenue for food pathogens, and water loss is easily controlled."
The FDA is apparently already in the final stages of approving the system. The idea is interesting - I do hate peeling/scraping sticky labels off my produce. And the carbon dioxide isn't enough to create some sort of carcinogen on the surface of the fruit. The aesthetics bother me, though. Do I really want my pepper strips to have letters and numbers on them? And then there's the whole separate issue of custom tattoos - do you really want to have your boyfriend tattoo "will you marry me" on a rutabaga?
1 One lady in particular really hated those stickers. "Sticker-removal duty took Jean Lemeaux of Clarksville, Tex., half an hour one day last week. 'I was picking all the little stickers from the Piggly Wiggly off my plums and my avocado pears and my peaches,' said Ms. Lemeaux, 76. 'Then I had to make fruit salad out of the ones that got hurt when I took the stickers off, and then I had to wash the glue off the other ones before I put them in the fruit bowl. One time,' she said, 'I got up the next morning and looked in the mirror and there were two of them up in my hair.'" For shame, produce sticker makers, for shame.