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Fruit Tattoos: The Next Step in Produce Labeling

Food processors' labeling options expand as the European Union approves the use of iron oxides and hydroxides when laser etching citrus fruit, melons and pomegranates with information such as PLU codes, QR codes and barcodes.
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  • The EU approves change to laser etching produce. Source: Laser Food

  • In addition to adding PLU codes, the technology allows decoration of produce. Source: Lase

  • Food labels decoded

Food processors who package fresh produce for retail sale may want to plan for new equipment on their labeling lines.

According to the U.K. business publication The Grocer, last week the European Union approved the use of iron oxides and hydroxides when laser etching citrus fruit, melons and pomegranates with information such as PLU codes, QR codes and barcodes. The chemicals make the “fruit tattoos” more readable by enhancing the contrast between the lasered and non-lasered part of the fruit, but they previously had not been permitted under EU law. The new legislation is due to be effective June 23, 2013.

Direct laser labeling promises cost and environmental savings for retailers and suppliers, as it eliminates the need for the paper, ink and glue of traditional labels. “Suppliers also believe the change provides a huge marketing opportunity for retailers as the lasering could be used as a marketing tool to mark products with motifs during events such as Halloween and Valentine’s Day,” said The Grocer.

'Fruit tattoos' eliminate the need for the paper, ink and glue of traditional labels.

The main supplier in this case is Valencia, Spain-based Laser Food, which began developing the technology in 2009 and has been lobbying for its approval by the EU. Eurofruit, an international marketing magazine for fresh produce buyers in Europe, reported in February that Laser Food’s Laser Mark technology “is rapidly generating interest from retailers and producers across Europe…. Initially available only in Spain, over the last 12 months the system has come into use in France, Italy and Poland.”

In the Eurofruit article, Laser Food Managing Director Jaime Sanfelix said his company’s Laser Mark System offers a clear differentiation over laser labeling systems currently available because it “is not burning the surface of the fruit, but instead removing a microscopically small area of fruit skin that discolours rather than burns the product without touching or harming cells in the skin surface.”

Not surprisingly, Sanfelix called produce stickers “little more than a decoration, which consume a huge amount of resources and are thrown away by consumers, contributing nothing to the product.” Those are, no doubt, fighting words to the likes of JB FoodTech, ProLabel International and other makers of traditional produce-labeling machines, but how much a Valentine’s Day heart tattoo “contributes” to an apple remains to be determined.

The new EU ruling clearly paves the way for alternatives to fruit and vegetable stickers, so food processors and the labeling-machine builders who serve them now have more to think about.

Renee Robbins Bassett has covered industrial automation for more than a decade with a focus on applications of technology and the engineers who design and implement them. Her principal areas of coverage include batch process, HMIs and other interfaces, and trends in the food & beverage, CPG, and pharmaceuticals industries. Contact Renee at [email protected] or follow her on twitter @AutoM8now.
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