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Food Tattoos

Ever peel one of those pesky stickers off a piece of supermarket produce, and end up with a gooey or skinless spot marring an otherwise lovely nectarine or tomato? Ever been stuck waiting in the checkout line while the cashier ponders whether to ring up organic or regular bananas, since the sticker...

Ever peel one of those pesky stickers off a piece of supermarket produce, and end up with a gooey or skinless spot marring an otherwise lovely nectarine or tomato? Ever been stuck waiting in the checkout line while the cashier ponders whether to ring up organic or regular bananas, since the stickers have fallen off the bunch you picked? I know I have.

Grapefruit labeled with a laser, courtesy ARS News Service

So I like the idea of "food tattoos," which I learned about today in a press release from the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. The concept is pretty simple—a carbon dioxide laser beam etches the words or numbers straight onto the fruit's skin, cauterizing it in a way that creates a permanent marking or "tattoo" (ironically, perhaps, the same type of laser can be used to remove human tattoos). The technique was developed by researchers in Florida and seems to work well on grapefruit; it's still being tested on tomatoes, avocados and other fruits.

Aesthetics aside, laser labeling could be a boon for food safety, since tracking down the source of pathogens (last summer's salmonella outbreak in jalapenos, for example) can be notoriously tricky in our complex global food supply.

What do you think of this idea? Would you rather buy produce labeled with lasers or stickers?

Beet tattoo, courtesy Flickr user rallycat!

Or did you think this post would be about something else—tattoos of food, on people—which is what our science blogger Sarah tells me she guessed at first glance?

In that case, here's some eye candy for you. There's even a whole Flickr group devoted to photos of food tattoos (warning: there's a lot of skin showing in several of the pics). My favorite is the guy who covered up his shark tattoo by turning it into an image of an eggplant; although I also like this simpler image of a cake. Very, um, tasteful!

Which brings up another question—is there any food you love enough to get it tattooed on your body?
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About Amanda Bensen

Amanda Bensen is a former assistant editor at Smithsonian and is now a senior editor at the Nature Conservancy.

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