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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's PLU season

Coming to a super market near you this summer, sticker free produce. You know those annoying little stickers that Mini Pearl like seem to adorn every piece of fruit, every vegetable that you bring home from the market. They are called PLUs or Price Look Up identifiers and they have for years been mandated by the FDA as a form if tracking the origin of produce through the distribution chain from field to table.

Growers, distributors and retailers have also used them as a means of codifying the price index and sometimes, just as a means of identifying thousands of varietal fruits and vegetables to occasionally befuddled check out clerks and shoppers.

The technology that will replace these stickers is laser tattooing or the precise control of emitted light to remove the pigment layer from the surface of the produce to reveal a contrasting sub-layer. Developed by Durand-Wayland, Inc an agricultural systems company in GA. the process is hands free and so delicate it does not penetrate the surface or "skin" of the produce and doesn't promote decay. Product Look-up Code(PLU), Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), Grower Lot Numbers and any other requested security information can be easily etched on your vegetables. The laser light printing process is earth-friendly too, using no consumables to label the produce. Since 911 the FDA has also been charged with monitoring the safety of US food supplies and the new tattooing technology is seen as a vital tool for "trace and track" of our food supply chain.

Some coding markers, if you're interested, may benefit the conscientious shopper as well. For instance four digit numbers designate conventionally grown products while four digits preceded by a 9 denote organically grown items. A number 8 prefacing the 4 digits indicates genetically altered produce.

Of course we like the idea that those pesky, unappetising, germ catching stickers will be banished forever but what to do for a pretty bowl of fruit and would you have to make sure the tattoo side is faced away from your guests when serving a stuffed red pepper?

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