|New laser labels. Photo: ARS/USDA.
The FDA is expected to approve laser-etching of fruits and vegetables in the next month or so, paving the way for produce "tattooed" with product information to hit store shelves, an official with the USDA tells Slashfood.
"We figure maybe next month or the month after it will get FDA approval," says Jan Narciso, a research microbiologist with the USDA's Citrus and Subtropical Products Laboratory in Winter Haven, Fla.
But will these new labels affect the taste of your fruits and vegetables?
"Not at all," Narciso says. The laser beam penetrates the outer layer of the fruit or vegetable's cells, exposing a bit of the pith. "What this does is just penetrates the few cells of that colored layer and exposes the underlying layer. So it doesn't go anywhere near the part of the fruit that you eat. It's just on the peel."
To make sure the technology was safe, Narciso's lab tested it on foods painted with pathogens and disease organisms to see if they would infect fruit that had been labeled with lasers; they didn't. The laser "zaps the tissue, and it makes kind of like a callus, so that nothing gets through there," she says. "It's really very, very clean, and you can eat it."
The technology was invented by Greg Drouillard, the director of research technology for laser development for Sunkist Growers Inc., in Sherman Oaks, Calif., according to the Packer, a trade publication for the packing industry. Time called it one of the best inventions of 2005.
"It can print anything," Drouillard tells the Packer. "The criteria of what determines what you're printing are how fast the product is moving on the packing line and how big the product is. How much of the tomato do you want to cover with information?"
Narciso says their tests of the technology shows that it can print on just about any fruit and vegetable.
"We determined you can use them on just about anything except leafy greens, which we don't stick labels on anyway," she says.
The new labels could hit shelves as early as late autumn.
What do you think of the new labels? Let us know in the comments below.
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