The NYT reports on a new information technology that's coming to the produce aisle of your grocery store. Sometimes a very small innovation can make life a bit simpler and safer.
And that is what pears - not to mention organic apples, waxy cucumbers and delicate peaches - are becoming in some supermarkets around the country. A new technology being used by produce distributors employs lasers to tattoo fruits and vegetables with their names, identifying numbers, countries of origin and other information that helps speed distribution. The marks are burned onto the outer layer of the skin and are visible to discerning consumers and befuddled cashiers alike.
The process, government approved and called safe by the industry, may sound sinister. But it was designed with the consumer in mind: laser coding could mean the end of those tiny stubborn stickers that have to be picked, scraped or yanked off produce.
Beyond just the advantage of not wasting time and energy removing stickers and glue from produce the laser tattoo system provides information that will increasingly be of value to distributors, consumers and governmental authorities. If there were contamination the fruit could be traced back to the country of origin and eventually back to the plant of origin.
Tattoos on produce will also inform your kitchen robots how to handle and prepare them. You scoff at that if you will but then think about how different your cooking is from your parents because of devices like the microwave oven and the food processor. Change is coming.
Also of interest in the article is a explanation of how the current label and numbering system works:
The Produce Marketing Association and the International Federation for Produce Coding have established global standards for the price look-up numbers associated with all produce. Four-digit numbers denote conventionally grown produce; five digits beginning with a 9, organic; five digits beginning with 8, genetically modified. A conventionally grown ear of corn, for example, may be marked 4078; an organic one, 94078; and a genetically modified one, 84078. The numbers can also vary with the size of the fruit: 3069 indicates a small Gravenstein apple, and 3070 a large one.
Seems like there is an opportunity here for mobile device makers to build mobile applications that would enable consumers to scan or otherwise enter lookup information from their chosen food items to receive additional information directly in store.
NYT on Produce Tattoos