Etched Citrus Coming Your Way!

June 10, 2012

By Diane B. McColl

The days of having to deal with those pesky adhesive labels on citrus fruit may be over.  FDA has announced a final rule approving the use of a carbon dioxide laser for etching information, such as product code, on the surface of citrus fruit.  The surface etching is intended to replace the adhesive label.

More than five years ago, Durand-Wayland, Inc. (later joined by Sunkist Growers Inc.), represented by Hyman, Phelps & McNamara, P.C., filed a food additive petition (Docket No. FDA-2007-F-0390) for the use of a carbon dioxide laser for etching information on the surface of certain foods.  The Petition was subsequently amended to focus on the etching of citrus fruit. 

FDA evaluated both the potential chemical effects and the potential microbiological risk from etching the surface of citrus fruit.  The Agency concluded that use of the carbon dioxide laser to etch information on foods does not generate any new chemical substances that are not also typically generated by conventional cooking.  The agency evaluated a study conducted by the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center and concluded that “Salmonella bacteria present on orange surfaces prior to etching by the carbon dioxide laser, and that contaminate orange surfaces after laser etching, do not infiltrate, survive, or grow during subsequent storage to a level that presents a potential public health hazard significantly greater than the survival or growth of Salmonella bacteria on oranges that are not etched by the carbon dioxide laser.”  No Salmonella was found in the juice portion of any sound, decay-free etched oranges.   In other words, there is no material difference between etched and unetched citrus fruit.  FDA concluded that the laser etching of citrus fruit is safe and the food additive regulations are amended accordingly.  Public comments may be submitted within 30 days of publication of the final rule.

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