Having gone mainstream in the realm of celebrity and music, and having been adopted for advertising of everything from liquor to real estate, the tattoo is set to move into a new arena. If the world of agri-business gets approval, a permanent marking will take the place of a mundane label. Get ready for tattooed fruit!
If you take a look at many of the piles of fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, you'll notice that most of them have had some sort of individual label applied. This serves to not only identify specific varieties of edibles, but also handles pricing. However, if any of that information needs to be changed or updated, it's all manual labor. And then on the consumer end, the buyer must find and remove the label before consumption or cooking. Ever go to add something to your compost pile and find a little neon label mixed in with the food refuse? Any labels you miss then don't decay along with the rest of the rinds and peels.
Inspired by tattooing, citrus companies have been searching for a way to replace the lowly label. And a laser tattoo may be the answer. Technically, the fruit isn't really being tattooed, since no ink or material is deposited into the fruit or vegetable skin. A laser is used to burn an identifying mark into the food, so really it's a more accurate description to say that the fruit is being branded. Depth can be controlled so that a permanent mark can be created while not going so deep as to breach the covering of the food, which would cause it to spoil prematurely.
In addition to eliminating a variety of manual steps in processing, proponents also point to the information which could be included as benefiting food safety. Now once fruit is shipped and repackaged, tracing it back to its source of origin can be confusing and take time. With a specific marking on each fruit, a bar code scanner could reveal instantly where the food was produced, and what the chain of distribution was that took it to the consumer market.
This technology has now been in existence for over ten years and yet the inventors are still struggling to bring it to market. Apparently one of the biggest stumbling blocks is that the consumer audience doesn't care if fruit bears a little paper label or a fancy laser etching.