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Lasers etch high-tech labels into fruit

Laser labels are the new face of fruit in some European countries, and the high-tech labeling could be coming to more U.S. markets too.

The technology uses a carbon dioxide laser to etch a brand name and tracking information onto fruit. It looks like a hot-iron brand, but it's really a light etching into the colored part of a fruit or vegetable peel.

The labels can be customized to include not only the brand name, but also specific information on the source of the produce. "You could have on each of these melons its own traceability number," Stephane Merit of the Spanish company Laser Food told CBS News' Jonathan Vigliotti. "This is not a melon anymore. It's a branded melon, a melon that has its own mark."

Advocates of the technology, sometimes called fruit "tattoos," say that it could be a major boon in tracing future outbreaks of food poisoning, and following the path produce makes on the way to the market to determine other points of risk.

All produce is required to be labeled as part of the FDA's Food Safety Modernization Act signed in 2011.

Though lasers may seem fancy and futuristic, replacing stickers with laser etchings could actually lower costs by eliminating paper, ink, adhesives and extra washing. The laser food label would permanently affix all the necessary information to each piece of fruit, eliminating the problem of stickers falling off in distribution, or stores or customers swapping stickers between differently priced items.

Laser labels were approved by the European Union in 2013. The technology is currently being used in France, Spain and Poland. Several companies in the U.S. have been working on developing the technology for years.

But it may take some work to allay consumers' fears about the safety of using laser labels.

The FDA reviewed several studies before issuing a limited approval to use the method for citrus fruits in the U.S. in 2012. The ruling was updated in 2014. Merit said that the laser labels don't break the skin, so there's little risk of exposing the produce to bacteria.