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FDA sees the light on label-less food marking

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By Jenni Spinner+

22-May-2014
Last updated the 22-May-2014 at 23:18 GMT

The Natural Light Labeling system from Laser Application Technologies marks produce without the need for stick-on labels.
The Natural Light Labeling system from Laser Application Technologies marks produce without the need for stick-on labels.

Laser Application Technologies has received a thumbs up from the US Food and Drug Administration for its Natural Light Labeling system, designed to get rid of stick-on produce labels.

Greg Drouillard, chief technology officer for Laser Application Technologies, told FoodProductionDaily the FDA approval sends the message produce marked with the NLL system is safe for consumers to eat.

“It was found the NLL system does not leave anything on the produce it only removes the pigment, and that it does not affect the shelf life of the produce nor does it increase the chances of the produce being infiltrated by or help harbor bacteria,” he said.   

Traceability capability

The system also promotes the safety of produce, Drouillard said, by offering secure, traceable labeling.

The NLL system is a true traceability labeling system, in that it meets and exceeds all traceability requirements, which are permanence, non-transferability, and tamper-resistance,” he said. “Adhesive labels do not meet any of these criteria.” 

Drouillard explained the technology marks produce by removing pigment form the produce; the contrasting color between the rest of the skin or peel makes the label information visible. The laser only barely penetrates the surface, does not affect the fruit or vegetable and is safe for consumers, he said.

The pigment is within the upper three cell layers of the skin of the produce, a typical tomato skin is anywhere between 50 to 60 cell layers deep,” he told FPD. “This is why the technology is safe and never penetrates the skin of the produce.”

Technology edge

The lack of consumables offers producers and packaging firms clears up cost, storage, and flexibility concerns, Drouillard said.

Storing labels is expense, and buying enough label inventory is also very expensive,” he said. “Because no consumable is used, that means less mess; also, the NLL system is a print-on-demand system, which means you can quickly and accurately change codes or messages on the fly without additional cost.”

Additionally, the NLL system meets proposed FDA rules, under the Food Safety Modernization Act, regarding traceability.

One of the proposed rules is that the traceability code be human-readable (alphanumeric), so that the consumer can check the traceability code to see if there produce has been placed on a recall,” he pointed out, adding it can print logos and other images, in addition to text.

Produce range

The NLL technology, Drouillard said, can image on nearly any type of produce. Though it cannot be used to label pineapples, corn, or leafy greens, it still can handle a broader range of produce than adhesive labels can, he explained.

Another advantage, according to Drouillard, is the NLL system’s ability to be incorporated into a producer or packager’s operation; it reportedly can be fitted onto any sizer, electronic or otherwise.

The typical eight-lane-and-up packing house can see a return on their investment within 18 months with no costs afterwards,” he said.

Laser Application Technologies is petitioning the FDA for approval of the NLL system to be used on avocados, bananas, melons, mangos, and kiwis, anticipating approval within the next six to twelve months. Petitions for other fruits and vegetables (apples, pears, peaches, tomatoes, potatoes, and peppers) are slated for this fall.

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