Thanks to Gre for this one….-A.M.

  • Latest EU ruling allows grocers and retailers to use hi-tech lasers to mark the skin of fruit
  • The approval applies to citrus fruit, melons and pomegranates
  • Laser fruit tattoos can replace sticky labels and the iron-based chemicals were previously banned

By Victoria Woollaston

PUBLISHED: 12:24 EST, 18 June 2013 | UPDATED: 12:26 EST, 18 June 2013

Sticky labels on supermarket fruits are set to be replaced by laser ‘tattoos’ printed onto their skin, under new rulings from the European Union.

The EU approved the use of iron oxides and hydroxides in lasering citrus fruit, melons and pomegranates last week and the law comes into force from 23 June.

Although the technology has been around since 2009, the use of these chemicals – which enhance the contrast between the lasered and non-lasered parts of the fruit making the mark much clearer – had previously been banned.

A new ruling by the European Union means grocers and retailers can now use lasers that contain iron oxides, hydroxides and other e-numbers to 'tattoo' the skin of fruit. A new ruling by the European Union means grocers and retailers can now use lasers with iron oxides, hydroxides and other e-numbers to ‘tattoo’ the skin of fruit. These lasered marks can contain barcodes or fruit information and could be used to replace sticky labels

From 23 June, shops can laser branding information to the skin of fruits.From 23 June, shops in the EU can laser branding information to the skin of fruits. Suppliers can use the technology to trace where their products are picked and where they’re sold

Retailers and suppliers can use the ‘tattoos’ to mark the fruit and track where it has been and where it is sold. 

Under the new ruling they can additionally add barcodes or other information to the skin of fruits which removes the need for sticky labels.

Trade magazine The Grocer said that the previous ban on the chemicals hindered the adoption of lasering and the publication, along with suppliers, have welcomed the EU’s decision.

The company behind the technology is Valencia-based Laser Food. 

It has spent three years liasing with the EU to get the use of iron oxides and hydoroxides approved.

It claims that one of the main benefits of laser technology is ‘improved traceability for shoppers.’

Jaime Sanfelix, managing director of Laser Food, told The Grover: ‘Consumers will have absolute certainty the product they are buying is fully guaranteed.’

He said that currently loose products were removed from cartons and sold ‘anonymously.’


Lasering would also bring considerable cost advantages and environmental savings for retailers and suppliers as it would remove the need for paper, ink and glue typically used in sticky labels to add information and branding to fresh produce.

Mr Sanfelix added: ‘It limits the risk of losing, mixing up or inverting food items and therefore facilitates transportation and storage.’

The EU ruling initially applies to lasering citrus fruits, such as oranges (pictured), melons and pomegranates. The EU ruling applies to lasering citrus fruits, such as oranges (pictured), melons and pomegranates. Valencia-based company Laser Food, which develops the technology behind the ruling, worked with the EU to get approval. It has previously branded fruits with Valencia FC badges and other sporting brands

Suppliers also believe the hi-tech change will provide a huge marketing opportunity for retailers as the lasering could be used as a promotional tool to mark products with motifs during special events during the year.

For example, Laser Food has previously marked fruit with the Valencia FC football club badge.

The company has also previously branded fruit with the Hello Kitty logo.


The amended EU regulations now allows the use of iron oxides, hydroxides, hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose and polysorbates for marking certain fruits.

These are all examples of so called E-numbers and can be used to create a contrast between the laser marking and the fruit’s skin.

Iron oxides and hyrdoxides are know as E172.

They are natural minerals commercially made from iron powder which can be yellow, red, orange, brown or black in colour.

Manufactured by treating a solution of ferrous sulphate or chloride with an alkali and oxidising the precipitate in hot air. As the iron present in these oxides is in the ferric form it is not very actively available to body tissues.

E172 can be found in cake and dessert mixes, meat paste, salmon and shrimp paste.

They are only used for coating the surfaces of things but are safe to eat because they are not absorbed into the body.

Hydroxypropyl methylcellulose (E 464) is made from cellulose and commercially prepared from wood and chemically modified.

It is mainly used as a thickening agent, but also as filler, dietary fibre, anti clumping agent and emulsfier.

Hydroxypropylmethyl cellulose is soluble and can be fermented in the large intestine.

Large doses can cause intestinal problems, such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea.

Polysorbates (E 432-436) is a synthetic compound made from ethylene oxide, sorbitol and lauric acid  – a naturally occurring fatty acid.

It is mainly found in ice cream and soft drinks.

Humans can take in 25mg for each kg of body weight and there are no known side effects, although people intolerant of propylene glycol should avoid the E430-E436 group.