Almost all fruits and vegetables have a natural wax coating to keep moisture in because they are made of 80 to 95 percent water. However, the coating comes off after extensive washing to remove dirt before packaging. Farmers then apply artificial waxes to replace the natural ones that are lost. Other reasons why they apply wax on their products is to improve the appearance and increase shelf-life. But are these artificial waxes really safe? This is the question many consumers are asking once they discover that many fruits and vegetable at the grocery stores have a waxy coating on them.
So, What Is This Wax and How Safe Is It
The waxes used to coat fruits and vegetables are made of sugar cane, beeswax, carnauba, resins, and petroleum based. The most preferable is the petroleum-based wax that contains solvent residues or wood resins. You should ask the storekeeper what type of wax they are using, although the problem isn’t with the wax type but the added compounds in it that cause allergy.
Also, the waxes used depend to some extent on regulations in the country of production or export. Generally, these coating must be approved as ‘Food Grade’ and certified for use on fruits and vegetables by the relevant authority. But you’re advised to buy fruits from markets and places, where they are grown since the chances of farmers waxing them, are minimal. Still, clean your fruits with lukewarm water before eating and you can use a paper towel with vinegar to wipe the apples before washing. Alternatively, the only way to be sure you’re not consuming any wax is to peel off the outer skin. Be keen to remove only the thin layer leaving the vitamins and minerals intact.
Fruits and Vegetables That Are Waxed
Farmers commonly wax non-organic fruits and vegetables which include apples, bell peppers, lemons, limes, oranges, eggplants, cucumbers, grapefruits, parsnips, passion fruit, peaches, potatoes, pumpkins, rutabaga, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, and yucca.
The U.S. Waxes Regulation
For starters, waxing doesn’t control decay, it’s therefore combined with some chemicals to avoid mold growth. These chemical’s safety and use are strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And farmers should follow the set guidelines if they want to wax their produce. Additionally, the coating used must meet food additive regulations.
According to research, the waxes used on fruits and vegetables are safe to eat as long as they aren’t combined with other chemicals. Plus, waxes are indigestible, implying they go through the body without being broken down or absorbed. Farmers are told to label waxed fruits and vegetables especially those waxed using postharvest or resin wax. In case the packaged product has some allergic protein, it should be clearly indicated on the list as per the Food Allergy Labeling Consumer Protection Act of 2004.
Details on Commonly Used Waxes
- Petroleum-based: It includes mineral oil, paraffin, and polyethylene. The waxes are applied on melons, stone fruits and tropical fruits and a variety of vegetables.
- Carnauba: This wax is derived from palm trees which are used to wax stone fruits and a variety of vegetables. Farmers sometimes add stearic acid or kosher certified vegetable stearic acid to the wax in very small amounts. These acids can be added in other wax like beeswax too.
- Resin or shellac: This is a product imported from India used to wax citrus fruits, apples, and pears. It’s secreted from the glands of a tiny lac insect into the host tree. Then farmers gather, crush, sieve, wash and purify it into food grade shellac. In the wax industry, there are two commonly used protein to thicken resin waxes but not necessarily in the petroleum based or carnauba waxes, which include soy and casein. These proteins aren’t used in large amounts although people with soy allergies are advised to keep off food coated with this wax.
Basically, wax coatings are used to keep postharvest fruits and vegetables fresh. All farmers and manufacturers should follow the U.S. government’s regulation of wax coatings. They should strive to provide consumers with choices, including waxed and unwaxed fruits and vegetables. Also, they should label their products without leaving out any details to avoid some adverse side effects on the consumer. For people who don’t want wax at all but they don’t have a choice but to buy waxed fruits, they should consider peeling them before eating since it’s the only way to completely get rid of the wax. Plus, most waxes are water repellant and washing them wouldn’t help.
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